As we've entered uncertain times, it's easy to become overwhelmed. David Mair, author of The Student Guide to Mindfulness, has kindly put together some helpful tips to support any students who may be stressed by the current situation, whether isolated as universities close, or worrying about studying and assignments.
If you're stuck at home and worrying...
Much of the media runs on a 24/7 cycle, meaning that there is virtually no gap between an event happening, or an announcement being made before it is being streamed into our minds via whatever platform we are using. This usually means, too, that there has been no time for editing or real understanding of what is being reported. Our brains have not evolved to withstand the onslaught of constant, dramatic or upsetting news stories, and if we expose ourselves to such input on an ongoing basis our brains' 'threat' system will be switched permanently 'on'. This will affect our sleep, and leave us with a constant sense of unease or anxiety. Decide on a news outlet that you trust and then limit yourself to a once-a-day update of what has been happening in the world. You may have a fear of missing out on something important if you don't keep checking - but nothing vital will pass you by. Take control of your exposure to the media, or you will end up feeling exhausted by the relentless drama and sensationalist reporting.
Taking a mindful walk can be wonderfully restorative. When we are lost in our thoughts - many of which will be fear-based and anxiety-driven - we miss out on the beauty that so often surrounds us. If you can get to a park, or even just a garden, try to spend half an hour a day there, noticing as much as you can with all of your senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and maybe even taste! Consciously switching off from your thinking mind and tuning in to physical senses is a good way to diminish any sense of dread or overwhelm that has built up inside you. You can also make a commitment to explore mindfulness and discover some of the benefits of a regular practice.
When we are anxious, we automatically slip into 'fight, flight, freeze' mode: this can lead to unhelpful behaviour such as panic buying or focusing solely on our own fears. Each day, aim to do at least one 'random act of kindness'. Send a friendly email; call a family member; buy someone a coffee; take a neighbour's dog for a walk. Fear keeps us isolated and suspicious. Kindness breaks through the prison of fear and reminds us that we are all coping as best we can and that others' support and friendliness can make a huge difference in difficult times.
It's tempting, at a time of international upheaval, to let go of our helpful routines: studying, exercising, sleeping, eating. But letting go of routine completely can exacerbate a sense of crisis: our minds and bodies respond well to a certain degree of routine - it provides a sense of safety and normality. Try to stick to your usual bedtime and getting up time. If your lectures move online, turn up just as you would to a lecture theatre. Get familiar with what's available through your institution's online library provision. Eventually, this sense of crisis will pass and life will return to a more normal sense of rhythm. Your routine keeps you anchored to that normality - even when times feel far from normal.
These are difficult days, with much uncertainty around. This is hard for everyone. So if things really get on top of you, don't try to cope alone - let someone know that you're struggling. Your institution's website will have details of support available to you, and there are other services such as The Samaritans or Befrienders Worldwide where you can talk to someone who will listen without judging. If your main concern is about academic work, reach out to your tutor or academic liaison person via email - there is a lot of support available if you have concerns about exams or handing assignments in on time. Whatever concerns you have, the main thing is not to keep them bottled up which will only make them worse: there are lots of ways to find support - online or in person - so make as much use of them as you need.