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Tips for a mindful return to campus

Reflections, tips and practical strategies to help you check-in with yourself as we return to in-person activities
By Counselling and Psychological Services

Tips for a mindful return to campus, with Dr. Jade-Isis Lefebvre, Counselling and Psychological Services

Video: Dr. Jade-Isis Lefebvre of Counselling and Psychological Services discusses tips to manage anxiety and stress as we return to in-person activities.
To get started, follow along with the video or read the notes below!

Introduction: Preparing for change

After the change and adjustment of the Covid-19 pandemic and remote learning, the thought of more change as we return to on-campus activities and reintegrate into our communities can bring up many feelings.

For example, many students have reported that they are:

  • Excited for opportunities for socializing, or challenged by the prospect of meeting new people and being social after spending more time alone.

  • Nervous about change and uncertainty, including the logistics of returning to pre-pandemic activities, the application of health protocols, or adapting to a more fast-paced lifestyle.

  • Wondering how to maintain the positive adjustments, reflections and values garnered from the pandemic into their lives.

During periods of change, many people feel some degree of anxiety. We can think of anxiety as an embodied, emotional and mental response to perceived fears, threats or situations that might be uncomfortable, particularly when we don’t know what the outcome will be.

The following exercises offer tools and suggestions to manage the anxiety of transitioning back to campus and can serve as a reflection for this change, or others in the future. 


Reflection: How are you feeling?

It takes courage to face change. Acknowledging this, it can be helpful to reflect on how we are feeling physically, emotionally and mentally.

Consider the different contexts and circumstances of your life (personal, academic, professional, family, community, etc.) and note how you're feeling in your heart (emotional self), body (physical self) and mind (mental self).

Ask yourself the following reflection questions to identify specific areas where you may be feeling anxiety, struggling, or flourishing:

  1. What am I worried about?

  2. What barriers might arise that would be difficult for me?

  3. What are some of the values that I have integrated or developed during the pandemic that I would like to maintain?


Strategies: Practical tips and exercises

There are practical strategies that can be useful in managing anxiety in many different situations, including as we return to in-person learning.

Here are a few suggestions:  

  • Mental preparation: Visualize yourself in a situation you are concerned about (for example, being back on campus). Imagine yourself moving through the situation with confidence (for example, asking questions in class, meeting new people, enjoying the change of scenery). Now, consider what might be difficult and visualize ways you might navigate these challenges.

  • Grounding: Re-centre yourself in your body by feeling your feet on the floor. You could also ground yourself in your environment using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique

  • Identify worries: Challenge automatic negative thoughts with a more accurate or positive thought. This strategy is part of cognitive restructuring.
  • Breathing: To cope with physical anxiety and regulate your body, try introducing a breathing technique. One way to do this is to identify something as a reminder to take a deep breath - for example, take a deep breath every time you see a particular colour. You could also try box breathing
  • Buddy system: Talk about your concerns and successes with an understanding friend to help you feel safe. This could be in-person, or through texts, voice notes or other virtual check-ins.

  • Identify a safe space: Find a favourite space on or close to campus where you can relax. This could be a study space, an office, an outside space, a cafe - wherever you feel comfortable. 

  • Engage in self-compassion: Self-compassion teaches us that it’s normal to struggle and encounter challenges - in fact, it’s part of the human experience. Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as three interrelated aspects of mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. Mindfulness allows us to notice our reactions and choose to be kind to ourselves rather than critical. Research shows that this practice can help you be more resilient and open to challenges.


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