Tips for Managing the Transition Back Home

Tips you might find helpful as you navigate the coming weeks at home.

Counseling and Psychological Services Staff
March 20, 2020

This is an extraordinary period.  So many changes have simultaneously been taking place that can feel surreal and disorienting. You may be concerned about your health while also managing the stress of completing your remaining course work from home. And unlike going home for the holidays, returning now was unexpected, abrupt, and the timetable for return to school uncertain.

As many of you have settled back home with your family, some of you may be wondering, “Now what?”

Below are some tips  you might find helpful as you navigate the coming weeks at home:

Take a moment to feel what you feel

You may have had to be on “autopilot” in order to pack up all your belongings, arrange transportation, and travel home all within a few days. You may have multitude of conflicted feelings (e.g., relieved to be home but also anxious about not knowing when you can return to campus, happy to see your family but also feeling ambivalent about seeing them, etc.), and that’s OK.

If you feel like crying, find a place and time where you can let yourself cry without interruption, and if you are feeling numb, know that that is a very normal response to a highly stressful period such as this.

Try to set up a routine

You don’t need to keep the same schedule you’ve had on campus, but try to set up some kind of regular routine so that there is a degree of predictability and sense of control in your daily life. Try to wake up and go to bed around the same times each day – your body relies on the consistency of daily rhythm to stay healthy and be able to function optimally.

Reconnect with your other “family”

Once you’re settled, you may want to get in touch with your classmates, friends, significant others, and any other people with whom you haven’t had a chance to say goodbye before leaving campus. You might want to set up an online group chat to stay connected (to exchange photos, favorite songs/lyrics/recipes, watch the same movie/sporting events at a designated time and share comments).

Manage the flow of information 

In a time of uncertainty, people crave information. While it is important to stay informed of best health practices, too much immersion in social media and the news is likely to fuel anxiety not quell it. A measure of anxiety may spur you to wash your hands frequently and adhere to principles of social distancing.  By contrast, constant preoccupation with worst case scenarios will accomplish nothing but stress you out—and stress isn’t good for the immune system.

Try to stay connected to nature

Given the importance of social distancing and the closure of stores, restaurants, cultural and sports venues and the like, you may feel safest staying at home or have few of the usual options for getting out and about.

However, with the practice of safety hygiene (washing hands for at least 20 seconds after coming home, etc.) and assuming that you are able to maintain some distance (at least 6 feet from other people), you could still go out biking, running, or stay connected to nature around you. If that is not feasible, try having a plant or flowers in your living space.

Discuss your needs honestly and early

Some of you may be wondering how you will be able to complete the rest of your course work from home, particularly if  your home environment  comes with its own set of expectations and stressors. Your family members may or may not fully understand your academic lifestyle and the need for solitude in order to focus on your studies.

It may be productive to proactively initiate a conversation with family members about your particular needs and concerns as online teaching resumes after the spring recess (e.g., if you need a few hours each day to just focus on course work instead of socializing or attending to family chores).

Try to enjoy things that are only available at home

This could be catching up with your family, spending quality time with your pets, eating local food, taking a long soak in the bathtub, or enjoying some of the old movies/video games/books you haven’t touched in a while.

Find your go-to self-care

Take a moment to identify the set of coping and self-care strategies that have always worked best for you (e.g., exercising, cooking, listening to music), as well as a group of individuals upon whom you can reliably depend for emotional support. In addition, be aware of topics and situations that may be emotionally triggering for you and do your best to avoid or side-step them.

Remember, you’re not alone

Lastly, know that we’re all in this together, and you’re not alone even though you may be apart from your trusted sources of support and comfort on campus. At CPS, we will continue to provide useful tips and information as we all navigate this time together.

Visit our online Coping Tools page for self-help and crisis resources for coping with COVID-19 and other concerns. You can also check out the Virtual Community Forums CPS is offering. 

Columbia University Resources

  • The University’s COVID-19 website has up-to-date information.
  • Columbia Health’s COVID-19 phone line for your questions, Monday to Friday, 9 am-5 pm. Call 212-854-9355.
  • University Life’s website and app list many Columbia student resources, including contact information for Columbia Health and CUIMC Student Health Service.