As the world struggles to contain coronavirus, students have been bitten many times. Unfortunately, nothing is set in stone, and this uncertainty can send many into a spiral of anxiety when trying to speculate or plan for the future. Anxiety is often referred to as the fear of the unknown; it is a feeling of worry or unease that frequently occurs when an outcome is uncertain. As we are living through an incredibly uncertain time, it is entirely normal to be feeling anxious about protecting your mental health at University. You may feel levels of anxiety surrounding returning to campus, face-to-face classes and about your health and safety. This is normal, and your worries are valid.
- Nearly one in three adults (30%) and over one in three young people (34%) said that their mental health has got much worse during the pandemic.
- Over half of young people (59%) said they will enjoy school, college or university more once restrictions ease. But around one in five (21%) do not think they will enjoy school, college or university without restrictions.
What these statistics suggest is the student experience is not a monolithic one. Everyone’s experience of both coronavirus and university is unique. As such, it can make it feel isolating when you are struggling to know what feels right for you. It may feel exciting to go back to university with the possibility of fewer restrictions. However, as we are all aware, Covid has not gone away which emphasises the importance of protecting our mental health at university. Thus, this apparent freedom is hard to trust. With this in mind, the unease that is central to anxiety is grounded in some level of truth. It is anxiety-provoking to know that the freedom of face-to-face study, and the lifting of restrictions, can be taken away from you at any point. If you are reading this, and this resonates with you, please hear that everything you are feeling is valid. These uncertain times are just that, uncertain. Our mental health thrives when we have stable, firm and dependable surroundings. It is no wonder that many of us are struggling when the fundamental principles of everyday life that we have grown up trusting are no longer something we can depend on.
Return to normal?
Returning to normal is no longer good enough. The pandemic has caused unspeakable pain, loss and uncertainty. However, it has also illuminated just how much of our pre-pandemic lives did not serve us. Universities recognise this. They recognise that in-person interactions, deadline pressures and navigating the social scene are more nuanced than ever before. As a result, there will be systems within the university that may not have been there (or been easily accessible) before.
What kind of systems?
Many campuses will have a Covid testing centre on-site or LFD (Lateral Flow Device) collection points. Regular testing can help to alleviate anxiety, both of your health and the safety of others. If your test is positive, there will be people to advise you of the correct procedure from there.
If you experience COVID-19 symptoms at any time or get a positive LFD result, you must immediately self-isolate and book a PCR test. There will be advisors on your campus who you can contact to guide you through this process if you need extra help.
Whilst there is the return to face-to-face teaching, many universities will still uphold a 1-metre distance rule. While no longer a mandatory rule, many universities will encourage the use of face masks indoors and in classrooms. Having the freedom to choose can be a relief for some and anxiety-provoking for others. We suggest talking with your course leader and get their advice on what they would like in the teaching space.
Every university will have a wellbeing centre/office. You can go here for advice on anything from financial help, assessment extensions, mental health advice and peer difficulties. In short, anything that affects your wellbeing. Make sure you find out where this is at the start of the term. Even if you don’t need it right now, you might do it down the line.
Normal is no longer good enough
The conversation surrounding mental health has been given a different platform since coronavirus, with many of us being forced to confront grief, unemployment, economic and social uncertainty and loneliness. With the rates of poor psychological health rising at an alarming rate, the topic of mental health can no longer be avoided. The UK COVID-19 impact inquiry found that depression and anxiety were most prevalent in:
- Young adults
- People with lower household incomes
- People from ethnic minority backgrounds
- Those with a physical health condition
- People living with children
They also cited that The Resolution Foundation found that 41% of previously healthy 18-24-year-olds had a mental health condition in April 2020. This is double the ‘normal’ level (19 per cent in 2018-2019).
Within all these demographics, students make up a large proportion. Thus, we cannot underestimate the detrimental impact that coronavirus has had upon the students in this country (and indeed, worldwide). There is a mental health crisis worse than ever before. However, the discourse has shifted surrounding mental health. With more people experiencing it, the more it is demanding attention. It can no longer serve the government to consistently underfund and undervalue the impact of mental health on the population. At Hope Therapy, we welcome any positive steps that are being made to ensure that there is help for everyone who needs it.
How to protect your mental health at university.
- Practice physical and cognitive grounding techniques. Head to our website to find out more about this.
- Consider journaling as a way to process and manage your thoughts.
- Limit your news intake. Trying to control the future by having a grasp on the news will only fuel your anxiety. Instead, try to keep your news intake to 2-3 reputable sources.
- Use the resources your university has for protecting your mental health: the wellbeing centre, academic advisors, peer support networks, and societies. All will be able to help you find your feet, especially when you are feeling lost.
- Talk to people. Most of your peers will be feeling the same way as you. Feeling like you have a space to talk is healthy and vital to ease your transition back into face-to-face study.
- Try to keep active. Even just a short walk in the fresh air can help to ground you. It is incredible how even the most terrifying problems can feel that little bit less scary after taking space from it.
- We have a team of counsellors, many of whom are trained in counselling for students who will work with you to alleviate and help you control your anxiety. https://www.hopefulminds.co.uk/services/student-counselling/
Like anything, if you are aware of what may affect you, you will be in a stronger position to respond. It may not make what you are experiencing any easier. Still, it will ease the intensity of your reaction/response to it—having someone to talk to guide you through the process of returning to university can be beneficial. We have a number of student counsellors here at Hope who can support you in dealing with various emotional and psychological challenges.
Your studies are important but no more important than your mental health. The journey through further education is filled with challenges and obstacles for your mental wellbeing. Please take a moment now to recognise how strong you have been, to not only face these challenges but manage them alongside a global pandemic (that, of course, brings with it its host of challenges).
Other articles of interest
- Treating anxiety wothout medication
- Does the easing of lockdown mean its all over?
- Pandemic Stress is Real and Serious.
- Managing Anger During Coronavirus
Owner and lead counsellor of Hope Therapy & Counselling Services.