For Mental Health Awareness Week, University Centre Leeds answered students’ questions in relation to home learning/working and provided some tips. Some of the key points are detailed below.
Students said working from home has positives including less commute time, time to do housework and time with children or pets but it can be hard to be as productive as they would like. Getting dressed as usual for lectures/work can help motivation. Many people will have to use the same space to study/work and relaxation. Having regular start and finish times helps distinguish when a space is designated for study/work and when it’s time to relax. If there is an office space, keep all work in there and when finished for the day, close the door and don’t go back in. After study/work is finished for the day, it can be helpful to go outside for some exercise. Physically leaving the room gives the brain time to differentiate between study/work and home, meaning greater likelihood of feeling comfortable – and not thinking of assignments or emails before bed!
Sleep can have a big impact on mental health. Having a regular bedtime and wake time is important. Apps like Headspace and Calm provide breathing and meditation techniques to clear the mind before rest. Use these roughly an hour before sleep, as screen time often keeps the mind engaged, lowering levels of melatonin (hormone responsible for sleep-wake cycle) and possibly leading to insomnia. Increasing exercise can also help improve sleep. Try starting with a longer walk than usual, or a gentle workout routine that can be done at home. Where possible, try not to study/work in the bedroom to avoid the brain associating the room with daytime activities as this can make it harder to mentally switch off.
Many students are experiencing increased anxiety levels. Reaching out to someone trusted, like a friend, family member, or mental health first aider, helps relieve some of the stress that comes with feeling anxious. They can support students in finding solutions to the problems that are causing anxiety. They may also be able to signpost to further support resources if needed. University Centre Leeds students have said that support services can be effective but only when highly publicised, with events to provide awareness about counselling services available to students. The availability of counselling is something they praised. “Students are also able to talk to their tutors and wherever possible, reasonable adjustments such as deadline extensions can be put in place.” They encourage colleges and universities to keep in constant communication with students who are struggling either through emails, face-to-face meetings and phone calls. This is to make sure those students in need know they have the support they require.
Having a daily routine can help. Planning a few blocks of time each day such as lunch, time for study/work and a regular time for bed can help by providing focus and less time to overthink. A to-do list can help students keep track of what needs to be done each day. Ticking off completed tasks can make their anxiety and daily stress more manageable while giving a sense of achievement. By having smaller, achievable goals, they’ll quickly be ticking off tasks, giving them the confidence to conquer some of the bigger goals they thought were too big. Students should include something they enjoy in their daily routine, like drawing or playing an instrument, or if they’re a very social person, a call with friends or a catch up with family. Include time outside in the daily routine as exercise, a change of scenery and vitamin D from the sun can help with anxiety and lift the mood.
Students that are frequent social media users were encouraged to look at how what/who they were following made them feel. Clear out those that cause negative feelings. For positivity or guidance for looking after mental health, some Instagram accounts to follow include: Time to Change, The Doodle Doc, Stacie Swift, Anxiety Wellbeing and We Are Feel-Good Club. Websites such as Mind, MindWell and Every Mind Matters provide even more tips on what to do when feeling anxious. Mind also has information about counselling, crisis support or advice from a GP.
For students feeling lonely or isolated, it was suggested they open up to family or friends about how they’re feeling and try to spend more time with them doing fun activities that distract from feelings of loneliness. For those living alone, getting online and socialising is the best way to reduce loneliness – video calls are a fantastic way to do this. University Centre Leeds has been using video calls to take part in coffee catch ups, bingo, quizzes, board game nights and fancy dress competitions. Planning these types of activities with classmates, peers or colleagues offers a focus, provides something to look forward and can reduce feelings of loneliness. Writing someone a letter or sending them a postcard can be an offline activity if preferred.
Students finding it hard to talk to friends and family can reach out in other ways. The Samaritans helpline is available to call for free if students grow anxious about the coronavirus pandemic, struggle with isolation or just want someone to talk to. An online option is Elefriends – a community created by Mind, where people can communicate anonymously with others who might be feeling the same way.
Jo Tyssen, HE Business Development Manager, University Centre Leeds