Following Boris Johnson’s recent announcement on our way out of lockdown, there is optimistic news on the horizon. However, we still have a long way to go before life is “normal”. Over the last few months, we have been experiencing a warped sense of reality, having to get used to a way of life that seemed foreign only a year ago. This time last year a meeting on zoom was a rarity whilst now it has become the norm. Though it is completely understandable that we have had to adapt to this lifestyle without friends, without seeing loved ones and online learning that does not mean that it has been easy to adjust to. The charity, Mind has recorded that 73% of students have said their mental health has declined over lockdown. A significant contribution is the worry and anxiety that the pandemic has brought to students surrounding their degrees and future prospects, as well as the lack of social life that is usually so prevalent at university. An added factor can be the feeling of the lack of support, from both the University and government. However, please know that you are not alone during this time. If you are feeling the effects of the lockdown on your mental health or generally, then please do reach out to the University’s mental health services or your friends around you. Here at the Exeter International Law Society, we wanted to share some support on how to improve your mental health regarding your studies at University. Please note that these tips are not professional guidance and are only taken from the experiences of committee members, these are intended to support you in your current studies.
1. Having a good routine
It’s never been easier to have an extra lie in and sit in bed watching Netflix all day. Whilst we all need these days occasionally, making these days a norm over lockdown can impact on your mental health. Small changes in your routine can have a massive impact on your mental wellbeing and productiveness. Wilma Thomalla writes that “it is not the outer circumstances that change a life but the inner changes which manifest themselves in life”. The pandemic is a unique circumstance; however, it is a great opportunity for self-improvement and to improve your habits. It has been proven scientifically that having a good routine can help people better manage stress and anxiety. For example, a recent study empirically proved that having a routine can:
Lower stress levels
Take better care of your health
Help you feel more productive
Help you feel more focused
(Eilam D, Izhar R, Mort J. Threat Detection: behavioural patterns in animals and humans)
Sticking to a good morning and evening routine can help bring structure to your life which is currently lacking at the moment due to the pandemic. Whilst we are not endorsing getting up at the crack of dawn every morning, waking up at a reasonable time every morning and planning your day ahead is an excellent small change to your life that can massively impact your mental wellbeing.
Everyone says it, I know, that you should exercise to make yourself feel better. We all intend to do it but then the miserable cold weather or lack of motivation stops us. With the gyms being closed it can be hard to think of other ways to exercise. However, an excellent way to get out the house and get the endorphins going is to go on a run or walk. It has been proven that 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which includes walking or running, can reduce the risk of depression by 30%. Running is excellent for a range of people from beginners to professionals. You don’t have to be the next Mo Farah to start running, anything is a good start even 5 minutes running if you walk the rest. There are great apps, such as couch to 5k, that can encourage beginners to get into running. With current restrictions you are allowed to exercise with one person outside, therefore this is also a great way to stay sociable over lockdown whilst also improving your mental health.
3. Stress and uncertainty surrounding your degree
Anxiety surrounding the effect of the pandemic on our degree and future job prospects are completely understandable. However, try not to worry about the things you cannot control. Instead, focus on what you can change and to carry on working to the best of your ability under these circumstances. Employers are understanding of the current situation, they are having to adapt to the current restrictions themselves and are making sure they do not disadvantage others. Currently most student vacation schemes are taking place, even if it is virtual, and barristers are still offering provisional mini pupillages. Additionally, some parts of our degree have become more accessible for example a lot of legal events have now moved online which means you can attend from the comfort of your own room. There are also excellent online resources available, LinkedIn is a great place for virtual networking. Please do ensure that you do not compare yourselves to the others on these social media platforms though, as social media only presents the highlights of one’s life so do not get lost in this. To conclude, it may be harder to realise your prospects at the moment, however you can still attain your end goal, albeit under different circumstances. A Law degree is hard under any circumstances, but the stress has been magnified this year, but do not lose hope as there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
*DISCLAIMER: please do not take this information as professional guidance. This is from my own experience and circumstances. If you are really struggling please get in contact with a professional. Helpful contacts include:
University of Exeter Wellbeing Support: 01392 724381 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans: Phone 116- 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Rethink Mental Illness: 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)
Written by Carolene Clarke, Social Secretary for EILS