The news has definitely kept a close eye on Notre Dame and its daunting goal of bringing all students, undergraduate and graduate, back to campus this Fall 2020. Understandably, this task required the utmost attention to testing, surveillance, rules, and regulations unlike the campus has known previously.
There were to be no guests in dorm rooms, no eating in indoor common spaces, no large gatherings, and no time where people weren't wearing a mask (except for inside one's room or while eating outside). This was all in addition to new rules: social distancing, common room occupancy limits, kitchen and fitness room sign-ups, and assigned bathroom stalls.
This was very demoralizing as many students, especially seniors, saw the promise of one last year transform into foreign territory. Overnight, our aspirations became a checklist of dos and don'ts.
We became even more isolated during the two-week cooldown period, where we all watched ND's HERE dashboard display an exponentially growing COVID-19 positivity rate. The rapid spread of COVID-19 on our campus stole almost all privileges of a normal life that we had here, home under the dome.
My greatest concern was not that I would contract the virus, but rather that I would go into a bottomless spiral of isolation and anxiety. As a senior, the majority of my friends live off-campus. Given the two-week cooldown, off-campus residents were being advised not to come onto campus and that meant that the weekly lunches and dinners I had with some of my closest friends were vanishing.
Dorms also became restricted to residents only. In other words, my friends from Walsh, Keenan, and Dunne could not visit - even if only to hang out in common spaces.
It was after three days that my extroverted self realized that I only had two options. Either, I could sit and stew *queue downward spiral* OR I could be creative with my now, anti-social social life.
I chose the latter.
Day four was a Saturday and without a doubt, the very day that changed my outlook on college during COVID-19.
My plan was three-fold:
- Utilize resources on campus
- Don't be afraid to text first
It definitely sounds funny out loud, but UND really was my key to success.
First, I took advantage of the University Counseling Center, McDonald Center for Well-Being (McWell), and participated more in clubs and events on campus! Honestly, this was the step that let me vent, relax, surround myself with like-minded individuals, and distracted me from COVID-19. This first step provided me with a security blanket of good vibes and great times that I was severely lacking in the days prior. Before addressing any other aspect of myself, I knew that I had to help my mental state.
Second, I made sure to treat myself to well-balanced meals and the occasional Ben & Jerry's. When life is challenging, good food really helps. I began cooking for myself first and even mastered a homemade lasagna, with sauce made from scratch! I ate a lot of fresh vegetables and produce thanks to Instacart. It was probably the best decision I've made in college to cook and meal prep. It was so relaxing and rewarding to take off the student hat and put on a chef hat, even for only 30 minutes to make some chicken and pasta. Once my mental and physical were in better shape, it was time to conquer the hardest one of them all...the social.
My social life, bizarrely, increased over the cooldown period. I was taking the fear away from initiating Zoom calls, dining hall runs, or even studying outside with my friends. For me, I always get a bit of social anxiety about starting the conversation, even with those I've known for over a decade! However, out of necessity, I overcame that fear.
Looking back, I realize that the two-week cooldown was...well...only two weeks; but, it had lasting effects for my self-care and friendships. It's going to be hard remaining close to our friends and loved ones during COVID-19, it is no easy feat, but it will be manageable so long as we acknowledge what we are truly lacking in our lives. I prioritized my mental, physical, and social health. For others, priorities will vary, and perhaps U.N.D. won't be your key for success. While we can't be physically close to our contacts in life, we can remain close to them emotionally and mentally. All that matters at the end of the day is that we are taking care of one another and ourselves, the best way we know how!