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  • Isabelle Morley, PsyD

Summer 2021 is Freshman Year All Over Again

This post-pandemic is starting to feel a lot like freshman year of college. There is a lot of excitement, expectation, and energy. Let's take a look at how they're similar.

After over a year of isolation, boredom, sadness, and waiting, our summer has finally arrived. Vaccines are available, the world is opening up again, and we are finally able to resume a more normal life again.

However, excitement and anxiety are very similar emotions, and some people are realizing that what they thought was eager anticipation is actually stressful pressure. Many people spent quarantine thinking about all the things they would do and people they would see once they got the chance to again, and now that they have that chance, it's a lot to manage.

This summer is feeling a lot like freshman year of college. There are so many parallels of behaviors and emotions, and perhaps viewing this summer in this way will help us make the most of it while staying sane.

Freshman Year and Post-Pandemic Summer Similarities

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

With both freshman year as well as this summer, there is a sense of urgency about enjoying our lives to the fullest. In college, it was about attending every possible ent. If there's a party, we want to be dancing. If there's a game, we want to be in the stands. If there's a club meeting, we want to be present. And if we aren't there, we feel like we're missing out.

FOMO can be painful and anxiety-provoking, but trying to take every possible opportunity can also be painful and anxiety-provoking.

This summer, there is a similar sense of excitement and urgency. We don't want to miss an opportunity make a fantastic memory, and as lovely as this sounds, it's really not sustainable. We need rest in addition to adventure. We can't spend every free hour seeing friends, going to events, or sitting inside a restaurant (sitting inside?! who knew such a thing would seem so thrilling). Sometimes we need to sit at home folding laundry while listening to a favorite podcast in order to feel recharged. And on those days, when you want to be skip the barbecue and curl up in bed an hour before your usual bedtime, you need to be kind to yourself. It's perfectly alright to miss out sometimes.

FOMO can be painful and anxiety-provoking, but trying to take every possible opportunity can also be painful and anxiety-provoking.

The Friend Scramble

Early in college, everyone wants to make friends. In fact, they want to make the type of friends that they'll have for a lifetime. Isn't that what college is for? High school friends lose touch, but college friends are forever, right? This excitement can quickly become stressful as people engage in the friend scramble- trying to connect with as many people as possible, decide who they want to spend time with, and figure out what their friend group will be.

We are also now currently in a friend scramble. Many relationships changed over the pandemic, with people losing touch because they weren't able to see each other in person, or distancing themselves from those who didn't share the same beliefs and values about the pandemic. If you're one of these people who's ready to make new friends, you should know it's a great time for doing that because you're not alone. Many people are in a friend-making mindset, which means they will be more open to meeting new people, and this will make finding a friend that much easier.

Weirdly Missing the Before Times

Most students are elated to begin their college experience and may feel confused when they find themselves homesick on their first weekend on campus. While they may enjoy the new freedoms and opportunities of being an independent college student, many also feel sad to not be at home with their families. It's not that they'd rather be back in high school, but still, they miss the old times and have a new appreciation for the way things were.

Similarly, while people have been saying, again and again, how they can't wait until the pandemic is over, there is also a strange feeling of missing it. Not the pain and suffering of it, but the fact that they had become accustomed to living in quarantine. Some people are missing the time at home with loved ones, the long walks for a daily outing, the lack of social obligations, and perhaps most of all, the lack of commute. Most people struggle with change, and will choose the status quo just because it's familiar and thus comforting. It was also nice to have something to look forward to during quarantine- when life could return to normal.

Feeling Disappointed

There is so much anticipation of what college will be like. From the movies that show adventure and love, to the teachers who say how difficult classes will be, to the parents who say it was the best time of their life, it's hard to not set unrealistic expectations. Some college students feel disappointed after a few months in. "All the hype, for this?"

Now we're facing the same potential disappointment. All the hype, for this? Over a year of waiting and anticipating, but now that we're in it, it might not feel as great as we'd hoped.

The truth is, research shows that the anticipation can be better than actually getting the thing we want. Thinking about the vacation can bring us more joy than being on the vacation. Anticipating college can be more exciting than being on campus. And looking forward to life post-pandemic can be more fulfilling than actually living it.

All the hype, for this?

Our fantasies about how things will be can make it difficult for us to enjoy the reality. Let go of what you imagined this summer would be or feel like, and instead, enjoy it for what it is.

Saying Yes To Things We'd Usually Say No To

Freshman year is a time of saying yes to absolutely everything. This is, in part, because people want to be involved and busy, don't know what things will be right for them, so they go ahead and try a little bit of everything. That's how they find out if they like club volleyball or a volunteer organization, they try both and see which one sticks.

We're in the same situation now. Have you agreed to go to a concert you don't actually want to see? Or attend a game for a sport you don't care much about? Or to try a new hobby, even though you aren't interested in learning it at all?

Because of the pandemic, an unnatural void was created in our lives. Our previous routines, relationships, and activities were tossed up into the air, and we are now seeing what lands. This means we have the rare opportunity to rethink our lives and figure out what we actually like, what we really want to be spending our time on or with, and rebuild our lives around what we find meaningful. But, in order to figure out (or confirm) what those things are, we're casting a wide net.

Being Exhausted

The increase in energy output is exhausting. In college, students are tired because in high school they weren't used to staying up until 2am hanging out with friends, and the abrupt sleeplessness from dorm living is tough. Likewise, after the pandemic we aren't used to having plans and leaving the house this much, and it's tiring. Think of it like conditioning- if you walk a little bit each day, it will feel easy and you won't be sore. But if you go from a year of being sedentary to suddenly running a marathon, you're going to feel pretty rough the next day.

If you're feeling spent, physically or emotionally, that's perfectly normal. This is a big adjustment to make and you're allowed to go slowly. Try seeing one friend this weekend, and taking the rest of that time for yourself. Try getting an extra hour of sleep when you're feeling especially drained. Exhaustion isn't just a nuisance, it's a sign that we need more rest, so let yourself take time off and fully relax.

Advice From Freshman Year

The frenetic energy of freshman year doesn't last. Everything is new and exciting, opportunities are endless, and eventually we all find the activities and people that we want to invest our time and energy in.

View this as a season. The pressure you feel to live life to the fullest will fade, and you'll find a new normal that feels right to you.

Enjoy every season, including this one.

The best advice I can give is to enjoy every season, including this one.

This summer is a chance for exploration, but that doesn't mean you have to explore. Meet new people and try new things if you want, but also give yourself permission to spend a weekend at home with a book.


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