Navigating a Health Crisis as a College Student
College is a crucial period in an individual’s life. It is probably the first time many teenagers get freedom from home, and as part of this newfound freedom, many have new experiences. Adolescence is also the time when a person builds a sense of identity. For many teens, college provides the opportunity to build out a career path and develop new friendships.
It is therefore no surprise to learn that the health crisis and subsequent lockdowns are particularly difficult for college students all over the world. A number of challenges are being faced by teenagers - many of which have an underlying theme of uncertainty.
Those who were going to start college this year may be worried about the state of exams, applications, acceptance, and even admission. Many existing college students are worried about the continuation of their studies. While some colleges and universities have begun organising online classes, there are still many institutions that have not yet set up the same services. Some students may also not have access to the required technology or infrastructure to access classes online.
Students who were close to the end of their course may worry about the postponement of examinations and what it would mean for their graduation. A delay in graduation may cause a delay in getting a job and beginning one’s career. This may very well throw a wrench in the plans that many adolescents have for their future.
Those who were studying in a separate city, state or region might now have to deal with the sudden change of being back at home. International students may struggle to get back home in light of the travel bans that are being imposed.
If you are a college student, it is not uncommon to experience depression, anxiety, loneliness, panic, stress, anger, insecurity, uncertainty or mixed emotions at this time. Amidst the uncertainty, it’s important to prioritise and focus on your emotional well-being. Here are some strategies to cope with the current situation.
Get the basics right
Follow a balanced diet - Your eating habits may change because of stress. Try to maintain a normal appetite and build your immunity by eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Get your body moving - At the current point of time, gyms may be closed and you may not be able to go out frequently. Regular physical exercise is important, as it can keep your body and mind active. Use this time to discover fun indoor workouts such as kick-boxing or turn your chores into exercises by rearranging your furniture. You can also follow online tutorials available on YouTube and other platforms for free.
Get enough sleep - Sleep is important to help you feel productive and energetic in a day. Ensure you get 7-9 hours of sleep each day. Engage in a series of relaxation activities before you go to bed so that you sleep better. You can also steer clear of screens 30 minutes before bed, and avoid caffeine and large meals a few hours before bed.
Adjust to change with ease
Establish a new routine - While you may feel lost amidst this sudden change, one thing that can help you get through it is sticking to a routine. Create a new schedule and incorporate time for classes, chores, and leisure. Make a list of your online classes and assign a specific space in your home as your “school space”. Set clear boundaries with people at home - let them know about your class timings and request them to avoid disrupting your schedule.
Keep in touch with friends - Even though you may now be living with family, they do not have to be your only social interactions. Stay connected with your friends via social media, messages and frequent calls. In addition to having conversations online, find things that you can do together - play games online, watch your favourite shows, and/or attend classes together. This can help you feel more connected to others.
Remember that this will pass - At times, you might get overwhelmed with all that is going on. You might get frustrated about being indoors all the time and might even feel bogged down by your roommates or family. Having parents, siblings and any other relatives in your personal space may bother you. Everytime you feel like you may snap, pause. Take a time out and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Tell yourself that this situation will pass.
Set concrete goals - Having goals to work towards can motivate you to study. Don’t just write down what goals you want to achieve - define them clearly, so you know when you have achieved a goal. To make this technique more effective, you can create a plan with steps to achieve a goal. You can also note down why a goal is important to you - this can drive you in times you feel unmotivated.
Leave your bed - This may seem obvious, but it is important to get out of bed. When you wake up, get out of bed, wash up, make your bed and don’t go back to it. Leaving the bed also involves leaving your sleepwear behind. Change out of your pyjamas and fuzzy socks and put on fresh clothes. This can put you in the frame of mind to focus and study.
Take regular breaks - Taking short but frequent breaks can help you stay motivated and productive through the day. Use your breaks to stay hydrated, get a snack, take a walk, do a quick chore, or connect with your friends. You could also try meditating or taking a quick nap during a longer break.
Set up a study area - If you start studying anywhere in your house, you may struggle to be productive. Designate and prepare an area to study. Put your laptop, notebook, sticky notes and whatever else you may need to study on the table. Make sure it’s well-lit and gets plenty of fresh air.
Chunk your attention - A simple productivity tool that you can use to work better is the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is to work/study in 25-minute periods, and then to follow each focus period with a 5 minute break. After 4 focus periods, it is recommended that you take a longer break of 20-25 minutes. This technique can give you a sense of urgency to complete your tasks and provides your day with some structure.
Enhance your psychological health
Learn something new - If you find yourself with more free time on your hands than before, you could pick up a new skill to learn. You can learn to cook, play an instrument, or start an online course. Set a broad goal you want to achieve, and define what you will each day to move closer to achieving it.
Make time for enjoyment - In the chaos of the changes brought on by the pandemic, you might struggle to take time out for yourself. This can affect your mood and lower your energy levels. Take time to rejuvenate yourself each day. Be proactive about doing the things you like - schedule time for what is fun for you. It could be something as simple as spending time with a pet, making a cup of tea, reading a book, or watching an episode of your favourite show.
Do something kind for someone else - Kindness has been linked to higher levels of well-being and happiness. Look for small ways in which you can be kind to someone - in person or online! It could be something as simple as complimenting someone for something they did. You could also try volunteering online. This can help you learn new skills, and be of service to somebody else in these difficult times.
Be grateful - The truth is there is a lot of negativity present all around us. Being grateful for the things going well in your life might seem difficult - but it can make you more optimistic, hopeful, and motivated to get through your days. Note down up to 3 good things that happen each day - try being grateful about even the smallest things to help yourself feel better.
Be kind to yourself - This is a difficult time for everyone - including you. It's important to be kind to yourself in whatever little ways you can think of. Do things you like, take breaks when things seem to pile up, and remind yourself that it's okay to take it easy sometimes.
Most importantly, know that this is a difficult time and acknowledge the effort you are putting in to take care of yourself. In moments you feel lost, distressed, or demotivated, ask yourself, “What can I control?” Focus on what you can do and remember that even though things are difficult right now, they will get better.
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If you or anyone you know is struggling with adjusting to college in these stressful times, please reach out to an InnerHour therapist today.
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