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covid mental health

How COVID is affecting student mental health

5 top tips for students: Self-care to protect your mental health during the pandemic.

For many students, going to university or college is the first real taste of freedom we get. You studied hard to get your grades and a place on your chosen course, and then you get there – slap-bang in the middle of a global pandemic. And your mental health could be suffering.

Being away from home for the first time can be really hard. You may have left a big group of friends behind you, and your support network may feel a fair distance away. 

All you want is to get out there and meet new people. And then comes reduced opening times (or even closures) of bars, clubs and pubs; and social distancing is enforced wherever you go. 

There’s never been a weirder time to be a student. And it’s OK to feel a little short-changed, because – for many – student mental health is waning. Unfortunately, there have been some tragic circumstances, such as with Manchester University student, Finn Kitson, whose anxiety regarding the university lockdown led to his tragic death.  

This is not a time to handle your anxiety alone. Please seek help if you feel that your mental health is suffering as a result of COVID.

At SupportRoom, we’re here to help. We’ve produced this article to offer some advice with regards to self-care. But if you’re in immediate crisis, use the helpline numbers and websites at the end of this article to get rapid help. 

1. The Need for Structure

Most of us need structure to our day. And – of course – that’s precisely what studying under a timetable gives you; under normal circumstances. 

But:

Perhaps your face-to-face lectures have been temporarily postponed? Maybe you’re doing most of your learning online? 

And if the session is recorded, you can refer back to it whenever you want. This might feel like an excellent opportunity to stay in bed a little longer or put it off till later. 

However:

If your university is running live, online sessions, do your absolute best to attend (you’re paying for your tuition, after all). Live sessions help you get more out of your learning because you can ask questions and get feedback for live tasks.

Keeping your timetable as normal as possible is the best way to maintain the structure of your day. And if your day has structure, it’s one way of protecting your mental health. 

A day without a plan can feel meandering and meaningless; a day that follows a timetable offers a sense of achievement: tick off your tasks from your to-do list as you go, and feel like the day was worthwhile. 

2. Can exercise minimise stress?

It sounds patronising, we know. But lockdown has forced us to stay put where we’d normally be out and about. And that can make you feel like your world is shrinking – adding to the sense of anxiety many students are experiencing right now. 

A long walk every day is great exercise, and it gets you out of those four walls that can feel like they’re beginning to cave in. Contact sports might be out of the equation for the moment, but you can still play tennis or ride a bike. Getting outside provides a source of Vitamin D; even if it’s a little overcast. 

Half an hour’s exercise every day really does help lift your spirits (even walking to the socially distanced pub counts!). 

COVID has had a negative impact on emotional wellbeing for many of us. If you’re worried about depression, anxiety, or the psychological effect of lockdown, whether at university or at home, seek help before things become too difficult.

3. Can mindfulness help reduce anxiety?

Mindfulness is a practice that encompasses a range of what might be called “holistic therapies” – it’s stuff like yoga, pilates, and meditation. 

These practices help you find your emotional centre within your physical body – and that can bring a genuine sense of calm and release of tension. That might sound a bit dippy-hippy; but yoga and pilates are also excellent exercise regimes: challenging for the body and infinitely interesting for the brain. 

If you’ve never tried yoga or meditation, you probably have some reservations about it. Lots of men think that yoga and pilates are for women – and while you might find some daytime classes are mainly women, evening classes tend to have a more even gender split. 

Your Student Union should have information about yoga and pilates classes at your university or try some online courses

Mindfulness teaches us reflectiveness as opposed to reactiveness. It helps us focus on the present, and it’s a great way to minimise our anxiety because we focus on things other than our worries. 

Yoga is fantastic, challenging exercise; but you won’t feel exhausted afterwards. At the end of a yoga class, you’ll feel energised, focused, and positive. You’ll connect your body with the energy of your breath, helping you feel lighter. 

There’s a great saying in yoga: you don’t smile because you’re happy; you’re happy because you smile – and this is the philosophy of yoga in a nutshell. You’re happier because you’ve done yoga. 

That hour on the yoga mat is an investment for the rest of the day. 

4. Can I Still Socialise AND Social Distance?

Sure, we’re living in the age of social distancing and – for many – it still feels a little alien. But just because we need to practice caution, it doesn’t mean that we need to lock ourselves away (unless you’re COVID-positive, of course). 

University is a social experience as much as an educational challenge. And – perhaps – not everyone is playing by the rules as much as you might like; which can be awkward. 

Other students might not be socially distancing or wearing masks when they could. Perhaps you have a health condition, or you just don’t want to contribute to the spread of the disease. There’s a lot of stigma around students and COVID right now, and perhaps you want to show that you’re playing your part. 

You might be finding that other people’s behaviour is stressing you out – perhaps they’re not doing their bit to stop the spread. Ultimately, you can only be responsible for yourself. 

Good relationships are essential for your sense of mental health and wellbeing. Just make sure you’re doing whatever makes YOU feel comfortable (and others safe). 

It’s possible to remain at a safe distance and still enjoy a social life. If other people aren’t adhering to regulations, just be responsible for your own behaviour. 

5. Can I still go home for Christmas?

The hot topic on everyone’s lips: will I have to self-isolate at Christmas, away from my family?

While your university will advise according to the local risk, it’s wise to practice caution as we approach the Christmas holidays.

Make sure that you maximise social distancing behaviours at least two weeks before the end of term. That way, you’ll know that you’ve done everything you can to prevent spreading COVID when you get home. 

How SupportRoom can help

SupportRoom is a digital, behavioural healthcare company, connecting clients with a network of licenced therapists. 

Our web-based platform is easy to use and super-convenient – accessible on the web or our mobile-first platform. Our therapies and web-based services are fully HIPAA-compliant and offer 24/7 support from qualified therapists. 

Access our friendly, confidential services via text, video- or voice message at any time of the day or night; from anywhere with an internet connection. 

SupportRoom offers student therapy where you need it; when you need it: realtime treatment from skilled, experienced, qualified therapists. 

I need immediate help

If you feel that you’re in immediate danger as a result of a mental health crisis, DO NOT suffer in silence. 

Seek immediate help:

  • Call Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected] (they’ll reply within 24 hours).
  • Contact the Shout Crisis Text Line. Text “SHOUT” to 85258 (or “YM” if you’re below the age of 19).
  • If you’re under 19, you can call Childline on 0800 1111. The number is free to call and won’t appear on your phone bill.