By Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC

Slowly, but surely, our world is returning to normal. The only problem is… who even knows what “normal” is anymore? While the world is no longer shut down so to speak, there are still so many unknowns and so many aspects of our lives that have not, and possibly will not, ever go back to the way they were. This has required our entire society to start to navigate a new norm, which has been incredibly stressful and confusing.

You might be hearing the term “re-entry syndrome” getting thrown around as most people are attempting to navigate how to function in society post-COVID. Many people got used to being isolated and remaining in the safety of their home for over a year and are now being requested, or even required in some situations, to return to work, school, and social engagements. Thus, the idea behind this term is that as people have adapted to staying home andhave engaged in a severe lack of social engagements, there is now fear and anxiety about returning to our previous daily interactions. One of the most common concerns for “re-entry syndrome” are for the multitude of students who have been participating in remote learning and are now returning to in-person learning in The Fall.

For many students who have continued to engage in remote learning, and will be stepping back onto campus this upcoming school year, there might be fears about their health and safety, insecurities about the increase in socializing, and even dread about sitting in a classroom all day. While returning to school in the fall might not be optional, the way that we handle it is. Here are a few ideas for navigating your new norm:

  • Focus on what is within your “circle of control”:We will consider the inside of the circle the things you can control and change, and the things on the outside you have no power over. For example, on the inside, you can control your clothing choices, your food choices, your grades, the people you hang out with, etc. On the outside are things such as the weather, how other people act, COVID, returning to school post-COVID, etc. If we put our focus and energy on trying to change things outside of our circle, we will merely become tired and defeated, as we have no power over these things. However, if we work to recognize what is on the inside of our circle, and choose to put our energy and focus there, we can feel much more empowered and in control of our life outcomes.
  • Focus on the things you like: Being willing to challenge and change our perspective of a given situation is something that is inside our circle. While our gut instinct might be to feel upset and complain about returning to school, we do have the power to look at this situation from other angles. For example, what are some positive memories you have from previous school years with your friends?Or, maybe you are excited about back-to-school shopping and getting that backpack or those shoes you have been wanting. You can also consider that the structure of being in a classroom, with a teacher present in the room, can be really helpful for learning more and getting your work completed more efficiently.
  • Have some coping skills prepared: A coping skill is something that can help us to distract from our anxious thoughts and manage those feelings of anxiety and worry more effectively. Examples of coping skills could be deep breaths, fidget items, or even talking to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Coping skills are unique for each person. What helps you calm down and feel better might not be the same thing for someone else. It is beneficial to take time to reflect on what is helpful for you and be prepared to use these coping skills as needed.

There is no doubt that a new school year can be scary and overwhelming in the most normal of circumstances, and therefore, when we add the pandemic on top of that, there is certainly a good chance of increased anxiety and apprehension. The bad news is the increased anxiety. The good news is that you now know how to manage it. Consider making a list of five things that are inside your circle of control, five things that are positive about returning to school, and five effective coping skills. All of these tools will greatly assist you in changing your perspective and being prepared to navigate this new norm.


Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owns a private practice, Evolve Counseling, in Gilbert, Arizona. She specializes in various areas, including depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, and personal improvement. In addition to providing therapeutic services, Elizabeth also teaches Behavioral Health courses for Grand Canyon University.