Managing mental health during lockdown
Five weeks ago, life at university came to an abrupt end. I was forced to shut down my lab, say goodbye to friends and leave my excitement for Easter Term at university. I was lucky to be welcomed back into my family home, however for various reasons, many of my friends were not so fortunate and had no choice but to remain isolated in university accommodation.
We are currently four weeks into the lockdown and, unfortunately, I do not see that changing anytime soon. Everyone is experiencing huge amounts of disruption, despite the inspiring commitment of essential workers, without which I don’t know what would happen – so thank you! Whilst we are all affected in different ways, students face unique issues, including but not limited to, their studies, accommodation costs and graduate jobs. The anxiety associated with these concerns is only compounded by the psychological effects of staying at home, social distancing and self-isolating. It is, therefore, essential to stay physically and mentally healthy whilst being surrounded by this amount of uncertainty and stress. I have found these ten tips extremely useful at adjusting to lockdown life and would like to share them with Thrive and Survive and its readers.
Whilst this article is aimed at students, the tips I mention can be applicable to anyone and although they worked for me, other things may benefit you more. But I hope that within them, there is something for all – lets get into it.
1. Structure, Structure, Structure
You knew it was coming, STRUCTURE. Build and adopt a routine. This starts in the morning, try to rise relatively early. If you struggle with this then have something to look forward to in the morning, whether that is a cup of tea, a bike ride or a refreshing shower – it doesn’t matter. I promise you, if you stick to a routine you will feel more productive and fulfilled.
2. Be socially creative
It is vital that physical distancing doesn’t turn into total social and mental distancing. Thanks to technology we have never been in a more connected time. We cannot be afraid to use this blessing to get socially imaginative. I already have seen people participate in pub quizzes, poker tournaments and beer pong matches over video calls. Be creative, keep pushing the ways we connect.
3. Restrict your social media
Remaining social is important, but we need to be careful to not spend our time endlessly scrolling through social media. It is not healthy – cut down on social media. I dare you to look at the change in your phone screen time since lockdown commenced – frightening, I know. Use the time and energy saved on something else, read a book or the news – although be careful not to overconsume news at this time.
4. Exercise regularly
There is a reason that we are allowed to break lockdown for exercise – it is important for physical and mental wellbeing. Whether you use it to get outside, release stress or temporarily escape the relatives, exercise should be included in your routine. Despite being an avid cyclist and runner, I still believe nothing can beat a walk to clear your head.
If you struggle to get active there are endless articles and resources online to help you. My quick mentions would include online exercise classes, setting goals and using Strava to track activities. Alternatively, if you are already active, use some of your energy to encourage others around you.
5. Snack police
For me, pretty much every emotion I feel results in me raiding the cupboards to find my next delicious treat. Boredom, dislocation, loneliness, you name it, I am hungry. My point is that it is important to be aware of snacking. Unfortunately, it took me drowning in a sea of Malteser bunny wrappers to realise.
I hate to say it, but, for me, this all comes back to having a structure. I now eat three healthy and substantial meals a day which really reduces my urge to snack.
6. ‘Working from home’
The disruption to our studies has created large amounts of disparity between universities methods of teaching and assessing students. As tempting as is it to lay back and relax due to safeguarding policies and/or formative assessments, it is important we continue to work. Whilst it may be difficult to work outside of a university setting, here are some ideas to help you create an environment that encourages productivity:
- If you can, work outside of your bedroom – this avoids the temptation to have a quick lie down which ends up lasting the whole morning. If the bedroom is your only option then try to disconnect your bed from the area that you are studying in.
- Out of sight, out of mind. HIDE THAT PHONE! In general, keep distractions to a minimum.
- Treat working like a 9-5 job, you will feel a sense of accomplishment when you check out every afternoon.
- Make sure to get changed in the morning… pyjamas may be comfy but can you really concentrate on work in them?
7. Create opportunities
Whether it is time saved by not commuting or socialising, the majority of us should theoretically have more free time on our hands. Capitalise on the abundance of time by creating opportunities.This could include contacting a professor whose work you have always admired, starting your own blog or thinking about what life after university entails for you – as sad as it sounds, we cannot be students forever…or can we?
8. Stay curious
As students, we should all inherently share a passion for learning. This really is a time to fuel our curiosity by expanding our knowledge base, trying new things or picking up something you lost touch with. I picked up an art project that I lost touch with last year and although I enjoy painting, I benefit more from the therapeutic relief it brings.
9. Look after yourself
I have found that there is no pressure to present yourself in any way during the lockdown. Whilst I enjoyed the first week of letting myself go, by the end of the week I couldn’t shake off feeling sloppy. I believe that looking good helps you feel good, just like the feeling of getting a new haircut (if you remember that sensation). Find your balance of feeling comfortable and looking well.
I typically don’t wear shoes in the house, but I find that wearing shoes whilst working weirdly boosts my productivity. I imagine it helps me to forget the fact I am working from home.
10. Check in, talk about mental health
The psychological implications of the lockdown can affect anyone and things that you may have done to manage your mental health, such as seeing your friends, are no longer possible. The difficulties in modern society associated with discussing our emotions have only been amplified by social distancing. Consequently, taking a proactive approach can help break down any stigma and awkwardness surrounding mental health. This article does not discuss initiating mental health talks, but there are an array of good resources online which I implore anyone who is struggling to have a look at.
Thank you to those who read this article. I hope you all take away something new with you. Good luck with your studies and stay safe!
MPhil in Chemistry, University of Cambridge