It was the news we’d all reluctantly expected. Just four days into the new year and with the hangover from 2020 still very much present, Boris Johnson confirmed that England would enter a national lockdown for the third (and hopefully final) time. These new restrictions would confine people to their homes unless exercising or shopping for essential items, force pubs, restaurants and gyms to close, and put a pause on all organised sport and leisure activities – you know the drill by now. As for universities… your guess is as good as mine.

This announcement was met with concern and angst by university students across the country, not least because the government gave no indication as to what the 400,000 or so studying throughout England could expect with regards to travel, exams, or reimbursement, but also due to the extra stress and complications that lockdowns can bring – especially during exam season. At a time when students’ mental health is already placed under strain, the frustration of not being able to enjoy the liberties one is accustomed to, combined with the fear of actually contracting the virus and becoming ill, is disruptive and damaging.

Yet, in spite of this, I have reason to believe that this lockdown will be the easiest to endure yet and that 2021 may in fact turn out to be the promised saviour we are all championing it to be.

 

In my experience, the best way to handle a disappointing situation or outcome is to accept that it has happened, look for any potential positive that has come about which wouldn’t have had the event not happened, and progress by using this positive as the main takeaway from the experience. Call it looking for the silver lining, call it not crying over spilt milk, call it whatever you wish; the key is to simply identify that positive aspect (or aspects) in the situation and build a platform off it which we can use to move forward.

The beauty in such an approach is that it benefits us mentally not only now, but also in future. For starters, it helps us in the present as we are able to make light of a dark situation and become more accepting of the hardships that life can thrust upon us. I don’t identify as being particularly religious, but I’ve always found consolation – and a useful conciseness – in the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

By acknowledging the situation for what it is and realising that it cannot be changed by anything we do or think, we’re able to use our energy more effectively by focusing on the positives we can take from it and how we shall use those to move past.

The second benefit we derive comes upon reflection at a later date. We’re able to look back on the moment with pride; pride both that we were able to flip a dilemma on its head in the heat of the moment, and also in the knowledge that we have grown since that time and come out on the other side a better version of ourselves.

And finally, it gives us the confidence and belief that we will be able to act in a similar manner in future, when other hardships inevitably arise. This in turn enables us to be more courageous and risk-taking in both our careers and personal lives, safe in the knowledge that any potential downfalls or setbacks will be easier to manage, as we’ve done it before.

 

So how does all of this vague, LinkedIn influencer-esque drivel apply to the current situation? Well, let’s begin by looking at what may be causing us issues currently.

A good place to start is the weather. And by good, I mean terrible. The British weather can be bleak even at the best of times, so the height of winter isn’t an ideal time to be locked down. Short days and poor weather limit the amount of time available for outdoor exercise and add to the general melancholic mood, and when studying at home both begins and ends in total darkness it can feel as if days slip by unnoticed.

But there are ways to use this opportunity (or seemingly lack thereof) for the better. Spending more leisure time inside the house allows you to take up new activities or hobbies which you may previously have not found the time for, such as painting or baking. These were both common pastimes in the first lockdown last year, with sales of painting sets and flour 64% and 90% higher (respectively) in April 2020 than they were during the same month a year prior. Also, having poor weather gives some consolation in the fact that you wouldn’t be doing much outdoors had lockdown not been in place, therefore you aren’t really missing out on anything. Though this may not count for much, it does makes a nice change from the relentless, wall-to-wall sunshine which mocked the UK throughout the whole of April and May last year.

Another difference between this lockdown and the previous is where affected students are located. When the UK first went into lockdown on 23rd March 2020, most students (myself included) rushed home in the days prior in order to be with their families before domestic restrictions came into place and flights were grounded. Being with family provided a feeling of safety at an uncertain and frankly scary time, and this is a feeling which many students who have returned to Bath after the Christmas holidays won’t be experiencing.

However, being at university rather than at home means that many can now spend lockdown with some of their closest friends – something which we all began to envy towards the end of the first lockdown. Not only does this make leisure time more enjoyable, but it also helps with study as students are now in an environment with people who share similar responsibilities and priorities as themselves. Granted it does mean that tasks such as cooking are no longer done for you, but this too can be used as an opportunity to use the spare time you now have to hone your skills in the kitchen.

Finally, there is the general feeling that we’re back to square one. This is something which people tend to gloss over when discussing the mental health ramifications of the previous year, but it’s something which I feel is important. Time flies when you’re having fun, and this can make time at uni feel unfairly short. Days turn into weeks which turn into months, and before you know it you’re halfway through the academic year, travelling home for Christmas from the house you seemingly just arrived at. So for students to have had almost a year of their uni experience taken away, just for the country to have ended up back in a national lockdown with an uncertain end date, can feel demoralising and depressing.

But the simple truth is: we aren’t where we once were. Between now and then we have made great advancements in the pandemic, from discovering new drugs which can significantly reduce the deadliness of the virus to developing several vaccines at record-shattering speed which – at the time of writing – have been administered to over two million people across the country and counting. Should the government’s target of vaccinating the 15 million most vulnerable in the country by mid-February be met, the death rate from COVID-19 will fall by approximately 90%, therefore reducing the level of restrictions required upon everyday life.

 

Each passing day brings us a step closer to Spring: a season of life and new beginnings. And as the days get warmer and longer and our time left in lockdown continues to tick down, there is a genuine feeling that this year may very well bring the fresh start we all desire. So here’s to the future, and the genuine hope of spending our one year COVID-versary by the lake, in the sun.

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Looking after your mental health at university, Placements, Undergraduate

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