Coping with the demands of studying for a university degree in the current world pandemic
This post is contributed by Louise Heard, LLB Undergraduate student, due to sit her Level Four exams this year. Louise shares her experiences of the lockdown and explains how she is managing in the current situation. She shares her tips and suggestions for coping with study at this time .
First. Breathe. You Are Not Alone.
These are unprecedented times and it is OK to feel overwhelmed and unsure. Anxiety and stress are all understandable emotions. Many of us around the world are isolated, either by government restriction, or because we know it is best for us and our families to stay inside, yet whether you are alone or with others, all of our normal lives have been suddenly, and without warning, interrupted.
Whatever your situation, below are my top ‘quarantine’ suggestions that have worked very well for me, to benefit from this extra time we have due to the exam delay. I hope these tips help you too, so we can all emerge from this situation poised and prepared for the next stage in our careers.
The Importance of Assessing Your Situation
Every one of us has a completely unique situation and may experience feelings of distress, frustration and uncertainty are normal and as difficult as they may feel – they are not insurmountable. We can do this.
At the beginning of lockdown most of the mental exhaustion which I experienced came from the fatigue of constant decisions. We all face decisions each moment, of each day; what to eat, what to do, what to watch, what to study, when to study, what to do with the children, who to call, when to watch the news, how much to worry about what is being said. Usually, we would probably just do all of these things without thinking, as part of our normal routine but in quarantine, making decisions and trying to structure your day suddenly becomes a big challenge.
The best decision you can make today is to change this narrative in your own mind and decide what you are going to do with this pandemic, not what it is going to do to you.
How to Cope During Lockdown
1 First, Fight Any Fires
Prior to lockdown regulations being introduced, many of us went to work or a Teaching Centre, saw our friends, went to the park or a restaurant when we wanted and time moved without us giving it too much thought. Suddenly being quarantined in our homes, many of us have lost our jobs and support network. It feels like an infinite amount of time is stretching out ahead of us. It’s hard not to worry.
For me, sleep quality was suffering due to financial stress, so the first thing I did was fix my pressing financial and rent situation. I realise this isn’t always possible for everyone but if you too have lost your job – have you checked your local government advice to see if there is any financial support? Is your employer required to offer a different financial package? If not, could you apply for other work-from-home sources of income in the meantime? Do you need to speak to your landlord or bank? Although this can be very difficult it’s best to identify and deal with any key areas of stress that are urgent and cannot wait. In order to move forward, first ensure your homes and health are taken care of.
2 Establish a Routine
Establish a routine to introduce structure and calm into your life once more. It may sound like a strict regime, but I found setting an automatic timer reminding me when to eat at certain times, get up or go to bed kept my body going physically when mentally, I couldn’t face the decisions ahead of me.
You might find including chores, or other responsibilities into your day’s structure, more realistic. Perhaps you will need to consider how your routine will work in practice with your other household members or children.
The knock-on effect of a routine has ensured I have kept a great sleep pattern – important for mental functioning and wellbeing, but also I don’t overeat or waste time standing at the fridge.
3 Introduce Exercise
In order to ensure a good night’s sleep, you may wish to introduce some exercise to help feel more ‘worn out’ at bedtime. It also acts as a great stress-buster for all those anxious, angry feelings. I, connected with some friends and set up a weekly ‘work out’ alarm to meet via the online meeting App Zoom where we motivate each other to exercise. You could also connect to various Instagram accounts providing live guided yoga sessions or even family-friendly workouts. If you haven’t gone to a class before you may find a new activity that you love in the comfort of your own home!
There are so many options available on the internet for inspiration, or if you are struggling with access to a connection for live feeds, be creative and do some old style PE learned at school such as star jumps. In some jurisdictions it is permitted to go for a walk outside, so do take advantage of this if regulations allow it. At first it may feel like an extra chore, but in a week you’ll start to feel the benefits. I couldn’t believe it when on week 2, I actually started to look forward to both the social aspect of a workout online, but also I started to feel more powerful.
4 Designate a Study Space
If you are not used to studying at home, or working from home, the idea of sitting on your bed, sofa, or at your kitchen table with books when you’d rather watch TV can be very disorientating and de-motivating. To beat this, create a small space or change up your area as much as possible to help differentiate when using spaces for different purposes. I find it better to work at my desk then change to the sofa when calling friends. Even using different sides of your bed for work or social time will help.
Additionally, you can:
- Get dressed and avoid working in pyjamas!
- Open the curtains or shutters
- Choose the kind of lighting most effective to work in- try not to make it too dark.
- Keep the TV off
5 Create a Study Plan
Consider how much dedicated ‘study time’ you have left from now until the exam month begins. This is the time to plan it in advance. I find I am far more productive if I can just open a study plan and see exactly what I have to do, rather than spend hours flicking through books and not really knowing where or how to study. Write down a plan of what and how you are to study such as:
- Excel spreadsheet or list of areas you’d like to cover
- Past exam paper for each from the VLE
- Lecture Plus resources
- Recorded Lecture
- Associated readings
- Examiners Report
I find writing answers to past papers is the perfect practice to find weak spots in my knowledge. Try to set goals for activities rather than time. I find it’s much more productive to say ‘I’ll make notes on this reading before making a cup of tea’, rather than saying ‘twenty more minutes’. It’s also very satisfying crossing off a task or activity at the end of each day once completed!
Everyone is experiencing the lockdown in different ways and will have to try to deal with the associated stress. Did you know there are a range of resources on the University of London website which support mental wellbeing? Check out these links:
Or you can access TalkCampus, the app-based peer support network for students on the ‘Wellbeing’ tab in the Student Portal.
We Can Do This Together.
Do you have some tips that may help others?