August 6, 2021

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Are You Nervous About Returning to Normal Life?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

As more people are vaccinated and the world starts to imagine what postpandemic life looks like, are there aspects of going back to “normal” that make you a little apprehensive?

Right now, many schools in the United States are starting to welcome classes back to at least some in-person learning, and The Times interviewed students ranging from a 5-year-old kindergartner to an 18-year-old high school senior to see how they felt about it.

According to the senior pictured above, Jzayla Sussmann of New Orleans: “It was like a whole new beginning. I was so nervous, I didn’t sleep the night before.” The article continues:

On the day before classrooms reopened last month, Jzayla begged her mother to take her to the mall to buy a new outfit. She cleaned her room and got her book bag together in preparation.

Waiting for the school bus the first morning, Jzayla grew anxious each time another bus drove by. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s our bus. That’s our bus, get ready,’” she recalled telling her brother.

Once they arrived, however, she was dismayed to find only three students in her classroom, and social distancing made it hard to break the ice. “I didn’t know if I knew how to make friends anymore,” she said.

Still, she said, just being around other students makes her happy. And having her teachers nearby gave her a fresh boost of confidence. “I felt motivated, like I wanted to do more,” she said. “I haven’t felt that way in a while, and I got a lot of work done.”

For other people, the feelings go beyond nervousness. In “The U.S. Is Opening Up. For the Anxious, That Comes With a Cost,” Matt Richtel writes:

When the pandemic narrowed the world, Jonathan Hirshon stopped traveling, eating out, going to cocktail parties and commuting to the office.

What a relief.

Mr. Hirshon suffers from severe social anxiety. In the past, casual get-togethers and meetings came with a rapid heartbeat and clenched fists. He preferred to interact virtually, and welcomed the Zoom meetings that others merely tolerated. Even as he grieved the pandemic’s toll, he found lockdown life to be a respite.

“There is cognitive dissonance to feeling good in the middle of the pandemic,” he said.

Now with normalcy about to return, Mr. Hirshon, a public relations consultant, finds himself with decidedly mixed feelings — “anticipation, dread and hope.”

Mr. Hirshon, 54, belongs to a subset of the population that finds the everyday grind not only wearing, but also emotionally unsettling. These include people with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, but also run-of-the-mill introverts, who are socially uncomfortable.

A new survey from the American Psychological Association found that while 47 percent of people have seen their stress rise over the pandemic, about 43 percent saw no change in stress and 7 percent felt less stress.

Mental health experts said this fraction of the population found the quarantine protective, a permission slip to glide into more predictable spaces, schedules, routines and relationships. And the experts warn that while quarantine has blessed the “avoidance” of social situations, the circumstances are poised to change.

Students, read one or both articles, then tell us:

  • Do you feel concerned or anxious about resuming some aspects of your prepandemic life? If so, which, and why?

  • Do you relate to some of the things people in these articles had to say? For instance, even if you don’t identify as an introvert, do you worry that increased in-person interactions — whether in school or out — may feel draining at first?

  • Are you reluctant to give up routines you have developed this year that work well for you? If so, which do you hope to somehow maintain as we transition back? How might you do that?

  • According to a Mary Alvord, a psychologist quoted in the article by Matt Richtel, though many teenagers have suffered during the pandemic, “there is a subset of kids who are doing better”:

Some adolescents, Dr. Alvord said, have found a respite from bullying and social anxiety, and students struggling in school now get more help from their parents and worry less about their in-classroom performance.

Does this describe you or someone you know? How do you think schools could respond and ease the transition for students who have “done better” learning remotely?


About Student Opinion

Find all of our Student Opinion questions in this column.
Have an idea for a Student Opinion question? Tell us about it.
Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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