Relaxation and downtime are key components of student life; college can be strenuous and demanding both mentally and physically. The evening is traditionally an opportunity to settle down and meet some friends, have a few drinks or just generally switch off. All of this has been shaken up by Covid-19. In the midst of a new full lockdown, students find themselves unable to socialise as they usually did, which can bring its own set of stresses.
Keeping exclusively to one household may mean a chance to get closer to housemates who usually are extremely busy and find themselves spending more time out of the house than in it. However, the reality is that spending time with the same few people every day is not normal. The “new normal” does not suit the average student. One of the biggest advantages of college is being surrounded by your peers at a time in your life when meeting new people with new ideas, outlooks and backgrounds is a major part of the experience. Meeting new people can happen at any time or from a variety of situations, but it is primarily made successful by simply putting yourself out there. Of course, now, physically putting yourself “out there” is off the cards. Without the possibility of in-person events, socialising in its usual sense is no longer possible.
“Socialising offers students the opportunity to meet new people and create their own sense of community, but that has all changed in recent months.”
Take students living in student accommodation for example. Just over a month ago, residents might not have known the four or so people they now spend all day with. Some of these people may have come from various countries and may be struggling, and it could be the first time someone has lived away from home. Oftentimes, particularly in first year, students don’t have control over who they end up living with. Sometimes, it might be that you just don’t click with that flatmate for any number of reasons. Previously, this wouldn’t be a dealbreaker; there was always the opportunity to explore beyond the confines of one’s apartment and find one’s own social group. Often the most natural of these friendship groups would be formed through common society involvements or between people within the same course. With these avenues out of the question, it’s difficult to find alternatives to waiting around in your accommodation with the same people every day. Socialising offers students the opportunity to meet new people and create their own sense of community, but that has all changed in recent months.
During the first lockdown, the general consensus was that no one was overly delighted to be stuck indoors with their families nonstop. The heightened intensity of constantly sharing the same space caused tension in even the most secure households. Without a release, this tension is increased again. This is no different for students now. Everyone has their own issues and their own way of dealing with them, but even this aspect of life has been severely compromised. One of the joys of friendships is merging friend groups – introducing one friend to another. Perhaps they have similar interests or you simply care about both of them and would love it if you could all hang out. Seeing the first conversation between two people brought together by your own action can be a very meaningful moment, though this is now virtually impossible, unless you can figure out how to blur the line between awkwardness and friendship via Zoom.
“Societies are also a great way to meet like minded people, but it can be difficult to forge relationships while glancing at yourself in your own Zoom box.”
In the past, college students often looked forward to the weekend as a chance to let off a bit of steam, take some time to themselves, or to get out and about after a hard week of lectures. Those plans you made to go to the cinema on Saturday night, or for that day out to Howth or Dun Laoighaire on Sunday, would serve as motivation when you were feeling disheartened or burnt out by Thursday. Those training with their various sports teams during the week might see their match on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon as the highlight of their week. Relaxation can be escapism, and sports offer that in abundance. Societies are also a great way to meet like minded people, but it can be difficult to forge relationships while glancing at yourself in your own Zoom box. Now, the trip to your favourite local pub on a Friday or Saturday night for a few drinks with your closest friends is now a non-starter. The lack of a distinction between the weekday grind and the weekend vibe is potentially very wearying, with no injection of excitement or adventure, and the sense of each day indistinguishably rolling into the next.
However you choose to put yourself out there, do try to remain as involved in social aspects of life as much as possible. While Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on people’s mental health, it is important to remember that we are all in this together. Join a society Zoom event or find some creative ways to stay sane of your own. Life as we know it is gone for the foreseeable future, but everyone is still in need of a good laugh. Change your routine and stay socially active. It’s normal to feel disheartened at times, but it’s important that we cherish those moments with those we’re fortunate to have close by as we navigate these unusual times together. With a bit of luck, we actually will be all back together soon, sharing and enjoying each other’s company once again.