Since early 2020 we’ve all done our fair share of work to keep our wellbeing in check and spirits high despite long periods of isolation, canceled plans, and being away from loved ones (just to name a few!). With lockdowns across Australia being extended and exams looming, you might find yourself frustrated, confused, and angry at the situation. While we know how important it is to continue to keep up self-care, you may be finding it tough to stick to an action plan right now.
The things that got us through the first, second, or even third time round may not be so useful, so we’ve compiled a list of gentle reminders and considerations for creating a digestible and quick action plan if you are struggling to have one right now. Think of it as your mental health tool kit!
1. Find your non-negotiables and come up with creative ways to stick to them.
Gamify your healthy habits! Make them fun and think of ways to encourage you to keep them up. Things like drinking 8 glasses of water, moving your body, getting enough sleep. How can you get creative about making sure these are constants for you daily? See if you can get a group of friends together and have a step competition over the month to encourage you to get outside and get active. If you’re looking for a new reusable water bottle, we’ve seen some amazing 2, 3, and even 4 litre ones being sold online with time markings on the side to make sure you are getting your daily intake. If you struggle staying off social media in the evenings, look into downloading one of the many apps that reminds you to hop off or can even help block them after a certain time in the evenings. Think about what is a non-negotiable for you, what makes you feel your best and affects you the most if you go a day without it or with too much of it? Then think about how you can creatively make it a priority every day.
2. Take control over the good you can contribute to those around you.
There is a lot we are unable to control at the moment, so think about those things that are in your control and how you can use them to contribute goodness to the world. Have you ever done a good deed and felt a rush of satisfaction and gratitude after? This is your brain releasing endorphins, your feel-good chemicals, which in turn helps to reduce stress and anxiety, giving your mental health a natural boost. Check in to see if there are any online volunteering projects you can join through your university, college, or local community. You could also sign up for our TalkCampus Buddy program where you will learn a range of peer support skills and have the opportunity to support your fellow students all over the world.
3. Practice setting boundaries.
There are two types of boundaries that are essential for your mental health as a student, those with yourself and those with others! Exam time can feel daunting and overwhelming enough without a lockdown, and while you want to schedule time to study and learn, scheduling time to wind down, socialize and sleep is just as important for your success. Try and set yourself a structure that allows you to work, play and recharge, enabling you to make the most out of all aspects of university life.
The same goes for things in your life that may give you a short-term happiness boost, only to affect your mood later on, like social media. We aren’t saying you need to cut these out - but be mindful of how you are feeling when you engage in these activities and recognise when you may need a break for your mental health.
When it comes to setting boundaries with those around you, it can be really hard to feel comfortable saying no. But with all of the changes that come with being a student, you need to ensure you are always prioritising yourself. Let people know if you don’t have the mental capacity to support them with something. If they care about you, they will understand!
A boundary affirmation to remember: Saying no to something gives you the capacity to say yes to something else.
4. Prepare some personal care strategies.
Think about times in the past where you have felt overwhelmed, anxious or low. What are some of the things that helped you to feel grounded and re-center yourself? It might be a call with a specific person, a mantra, things that can momentarily distract you. Make a list of all of these things and keep this somewhere to prepare you for moments during this lockdown when you need an extra boost.
5. Focus on yourself, not on the expectations or achievements of others.
Committing to a course or degree takes courage and ambition, so you are already a success! It can be so easy to focus on the expectations that family or friends may have of us as well as the achievements of others. And you may find yourself getting hyper-focused on everything you feel is going wrong, rather than all the small wins, especially if you are remote learning or you feel like you are struggling to settle.
Remember that no matter how small your wins are, they deserve to be celebrated, and getting into the habit of doing this is really good. Even if things sometimes feel really hard, persevering through is an achievement in itself. Finding your strengths and acknowledging your weaknesses come hand in hand.
Try to separate any negative feelings you are having from facts. Get a piece of paper and write down all of the small wins, everything you can think of. Then put the piece of paper somewhere you can readily access. Better yet, write it on sticky notes and stick them to your mirror! Use these as evidence and come back to them whenever you hear the negative self-talk start to creep in. Remember that, everyone is completely winging it, all of the time. No one knows what they are really doing. No one is perfect, and you don’t need to be.
Finally remember that you will have ups and you will have downs and this is a natural part of life, as well as your studies. Be mindful that wherever you are on the roller coaster of life you don’t let your self care slip. It’s just as important when you’re at your peak than when you’re feeling at your lowest. Self care is like a muscle that we need to continually flex to stay strong. The more you can invest in yourself the better you will be able to navigate the challenges that life can throw at you.