Social distancing on campus

Facilities Services disinfect desks inside a HSS classroom on July 7.

This semester will be unusual, to say the least. COVID-19 has done a number on us. Many of our classes and clubs are virtual, stadiums are empty and we’re not getting any of our usual breaks.

Though it’s clearly not ideal, it's the hand we're dealt and we can still make the most of this strange situation. 

So to help you make the most of this time, here are some tips and tricks to navigate this semester.

Wear a mask, maintain distance and wash your hands

The virus isn’t taking a break now that school's in session. First things first, stay safe and healthy. We must do what we can to slow the spread and protect our fellow students, staff and faculty. 

Whenever you go out, wear a protective mask and maintain at least six feet of distance from those around you. After using the restroom or making physical contact with someone, be sure to wash or otherwise sanitize your hands. You could invest in a small bottle of sanitizer to keep in a pocket or bag. 

Be careful who you hang around other people and get tested if you suspect you’ve been infected. Similarly, remember to do your daily self-screening whenever you come to campus.

Make a schedule

We’re facing a busy semester. We have no labor day weekend, no fall break and all classes will wrap up by Thanksgiving. Add the need to stay in your dorm to the mix and it all seems mighty stressful.

Time management is more important than ever. You needn’t plot every hour but following a loose plan for spending time will keep you ahead of the game. Learning from home brings its own issues, an increased desire to procrastinate among them. Creating a loose schedule avoids this by providing a certain amount of structure without overly constricting you.

Motivate yourself and organize your time with one simple activity. Invest in a calendar or planner, or just write a timetable on a piece of paper. As long as you have some structure, everything else will become easier. 

Join a virtual club

Even though it may seem like it, clubs are not completely gone, they’ve just taken a new form.

Many clubs are hosting virtual meetings or doing a physical-virtual hybrid. Either way, you’ve still got some options to meet new people and pursue non-academic passions. Every club is different. If you don’t know about UT clubs, head on over to VolLink and get searching. If you’ve found one that interests you, email them and ask about their meeting policies.

You don’t need to neglect socialization this semester, just as long as you aren’t risking your health or the health of others.

Keep your room clean

Your environment affects your mindset and your mindset affects your environment. A new school year can be hard enough without the added stress of an ongoing pandemic and a shorter semester. It’s always easy to get in your own head and stay there, but managing your environment is even more critical this semester than semesters before. 

Despite this, we must stay positive and hopeful and much of that lies in our perspective. Understanding that nothing lasts forever if we don’t let it, including the bad stuff, is crucial. However, perspective requires a clear head, and a cluttered environment encourages a cluttered mind. 

Make like Marie Kondo and clean your condo. Put your laundry in your drawers and your school supplies in your desks/backpacks. Understand where you'd like to keep everything and make it so. 

The experience is meditative if you let it be. It gives your time to calm your mind and focus on a singular goal. You can then take that focus and apply it to the rest of your UT experience.

It’s harder to navigate through fog, so clear the fog.

Stay active

I may be a biased party, but I’ve never encountered a physical activity that didn’t help destress. Your academic and social life can go much smoother if you maintain some level of fitness.

This does not mean you have to bulk up or slim down to impossible weights. We have enough to worry about without all the nonsense of body shaming.

What can be helpful is a healthy dose of exercise. Like decluttering, physical activities like jogging, hiking or sports can clear your head and leave you with a better, more focused mindset. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but a little goes a long way.

Stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy your time on Rocky Top.

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