Guest Blogpost from Anna Shea, Counsellor at the University Counselling Service
Many students I’ve spoken to recently are finding it particularly hard to get through their course work right now – and that’s not a surprise. We’re living in genuinely traumatic times, and it’s impacting all of us, in a variety of ways.
Perhaps you’re stuck on your own during the lockdown – or perhaps you’re suddenly back at your family home. Maybe you and a friend or partner are now living together, 24/7. There will be lots of tricky bits to deal with in any of these situations.
Other changes will include not being able to rely on many of the routines, structures and strategies that we build up to help us get stuck into studying when we need to – and on top of that, we can lose sight of how to enjoy our time off fully when we’re taking a break.
So we’ve all lost our normal lives, for the moment. Many students will also have lost their plans for the summer, and perhaps are newly uncertain about what they’ll be doing after that. Wherever there’s a loss, we feel grief – and I think everyone is currently being affected by that feeling, on some level.
Here are a few ideas that might be helpful while we’re trying to get through this very strange situation.
Acknowledge your feelings
We’d expect it to be hard for someone who is experiencing grief - and a whole bunch of other difficult emotions - to manage to be productive and organised, so please cut yourself some slack. It’s completely reasonable (if uncomfortable) to be feeling fearful/depressed/frustrated/overwhelmed/exhausted right now. It maybe sounds a bit odd, but - relax, and let yourself be anxious!
Don't keep quiet about the problem
If your work is overdue, or you’re worried that you’ll not be able to meet deadlines, reach out to your personal tutor, your course coordinator – and anyone who’s expecting work from you. Do it today! Let them help you! Telling people that we’re struggling can seem like a step we’d rather put off until things are really bad, but often we’re just avoiding facing up to the problem – and in the meantime, it gets worse. It feels so much better to stop beating ourselves up for not managing to sort things out on our own, and instead let people know we need their support.
Try do to less work
Yes, really! Sitting staring hopelessly at an open laptop for 12 hours a day is not going to get things written up. If this is where you’re at, things have gone beyond whether or not you have the ‘willpower’ to make yourself work. Instead, shut down your open documents, close your books, and do something else. Or even - do nothing! It’s important to let your mind have a proper rest from the pressure and stress of the situation. So - set yourself a daily ration of only 30 minutes to work in. You can build up from there, but start with half an hour for a least a couple of days. Choose a start time in advance, and set a timer to make sure you stop working after 30 minutes. It’s important to stop when your timer goes off. If you’re stuck feeling unable to work, you need to re-set your studying pattern, and this is a good way to begin that process.
You're a social animal!
Humans need to be in connection with other humans – it’s crucial to our wellbeing. So think ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’, and interact as much as you can. Hang out, play, cook, laugh with others if you’re not living alone. If you are on your own, or missing people you care for, make time every day to get in touch with friends and family. Use an app that lets you see each other if you can - it’s a much more meaningful connection than texting. If you’re thinking about setting up an online coffee morning, a study-together session, a weekend drinks-with-friends evening, a quiz night – DO IT! The other people you invite were probably trying to get round to organising something themselves, and will be glad you asked. Doing things for others is the one thing that makes us feel most connected and less lonely - which makes us feel better, which makes it easier to cope with this weird time - and to focus on the work you need to get done.
You need to move it, move it
Movement doesn’t just keep us fit, it helps us to regulate our emotions, especially repetitive, rhythmical movement like walking – our brains find it calming. Do two good things for yourself at once and call a friend when you’re out on a walk, or exercise together online. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, pay attention to your breathing – we tend to speed up when we’re not feeling okay. Concentrating on breathing in a relaxed and regular way helps to take the edge off the anxiety.
Helping yourself is a great plan - and looking for external help when you need it is a great plan, too. The Infohub can be still be contacted by email and are ready with practical assistance and support for a huge range of issues. The Counselling Service are still here too, and we can speak with you online or on the phone – please get in touch if you’d like to. The Multi-faith Chaplaincy are hosting a weekly virtual Student café, to give you the chance to socialise and chat. Find details for all of the above here: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/students/support/index.php
Remember: you'll get through this
Remind yourself of other times when you’ve managed difficult situations – you can manage this one, too. Things may be really challenging now, but they won’t always be. Even after a trauma, everything can be alright again.