Social Anxiety Around Returning to School

Stella Gunn, News Editor

C.H.S. students have not had in person learning for a whole year and with this drastic change of everyday habits, it’s easy to feel like our social skills have deteriorated, if not escaped us all together. People may find the things they once found inherent or easy to now seem daunting and frankly terrifying. With the return to school nearing, many students may be feeling like an ominous boulder is placed precariously near the edge of a cliff and you are standing right below it. This overwhelming anxiety about what lies ahead is universal: 75% of students surveyed said they were feeling either scared or anxious. Perhaps knowing that we are all feeling this can help to alleviate some of the doubts we are having. 

The first and most important combative measure to take against anxiety is to seek information. Anxiety often roots from irrational fears, such as imagining things and situations that will likely never even happen. By gathering information we often come to realize that things aren’t as scary as we thought. Knowing that in time we will be given all the information we need to take on in person learning once again should be taken as a comfort. 

Many students have questions about what lies ahead. A junior at C.H.S. asked, “What will the flexibility look like? If you go in and it’s just not for you, will they make you keep coming in? Could you choose to come in one week and then stay home for a couple? What does lunch look like?” Freshman, Ta’Niyah Brown, simply asked “What are the rules?” I think that many students have wished there would have been more communication from the administration this year.Often many students only hear large announcements through the grapevine. 

In many ways the most nerve-racking things are also the things we miss the most. Take this as solace or deprivation, but this transition will be assisted by the limited social aspect to which COVID guidelines will impact our in-person experience. If you feel particularly anxious about the return, know that many of the challenges will be eliminated. For instance*, we will likely have lunch in smaller groups, terminating the pinnacle of anxiety which is the lunchroom; many classes will have assigned seats; football games will not be the overwhelming congregation they once were; and classes will be smaller. Although some of these aspects feel negative, they will make the social transition smoother as things slowly return back to normal.

Many people feel like after the many days of isolation, interacting with your peers feels foreign, and although we may all have to relearn society’s customs, there will also be so much joy around making connections that we have been deprived of for so long. To us it seems almost incomprehensible that we used to spend all day in a building with over a thousand kids, but we did do this. There very well may be some hard days in making this adjustment, but we are much more adaptable than we know. Just like we adjusted to moving online, we will adjust to going back to school. 

Mr. Wilkerson, one of Charlottesville High Schools guidance counselors, eloquently comments on the subject. He said, “To a person, the adults who returned to the building for the first time a few weeks ago expressed that we were physically and emotionally exhausted after leaving the safe, but deeply unstimulating confines of our own houses.  Anxiety is our body’s way of declaring that something is amiss and uncertain and what has ever been more ambiguous than the human experience of a global pandemic? It is a natural response to feel anxious about returning to school and we should all honor that personal reality.  We are all well aware that it’s going to take some time to reacclimate to the building, other people, and the demands of wearing real clothes again.  School counselors will be highly accessible, teachers will be understanding, and we should all give ourselves a little extra grace as we make this transition.  Ultimately, it is a tremendous gift that we’re all allowed to share a space again and it will be so worthwhile, but like so many worthy life experiences, it won’t be easy.  That’s why we’re going to do it together, with care and intention.”


*all of this is speculation, as C.H.S. has not released conclusive plans on specific gatherings. This is just simulating a likely outcome to help cope with the anxiety of students.