With a bit of luck, a few face-to-face classes will be starting soon on campus. And by the summer life might look a lot more like ‘the old normal’. These are cautiously optimistic messages, but we all know the last lap is the hardest. So here are a few tips from the pros about keeping going in the face of the curfew, remote working and studying and a severely limited social life.
1. Structure your time
‘If you are at home all day, it is not as clear when studying time or work starts and when it ends,’ says student psychologist Roeland Cloin. ‘So set clear boundaries: this is time for studying or working, and this is my spare time. And try to fill your spare time with nice, relaxing activities, as far as possible.’
Even during your home-working or studying hours, it is important to structure your time. Take regular breaks. Corporate social worker René Hoevenaren: ‘As a minimum, take a 10-minute break every two hours. Move around a bit, have a chat with your housemates or go out for a breath of fresh air. If you are in the office or in class, this happens automatically because of the built-in coffee breaks or colleagues who drop in for a chat. Now you have to consciously plan these breaks.’
‘Not got as much done as you would have liked? It happens, tomorrow is another day’
Not got as much done as you would have liked? It happens, says Hoevenaren. ‘You are not equally productive on all working days, and that is the same at the office. Tomorrow is another day.’
2. Don’t go it alone
The past year has felt lonely for a lot of people due to lack of contact with their friends, colleagues and fellow students. ‘We tend to focus on what we lack,’ says Cloin, ‘rather than on the question of what is possible. You could ask a fellow student to go through the course material together now and then, or you could make brief contact with a colleague every day just to vent your frustrations. A lot of people think they are bothering others with questions like that. The funny thing is that if I ask people how they would feel about such a request, they never have a problem with it. So, ask for help.’
Hoevenaren agrees: ‘It is fine to admit that you’re going through a rough patch. That’s why there are other people in the world. Look up a friend, your boss, or your GP. Within WUR there are many professionals who would be happy to support you, including study advisors, student psychologists, the corporate social workers, doctors or the confidential advisors.’
3. Accept that it’s a difficult time
‘Accept that you’re feeling sad, anxious, angry or hopeless,’ advises Hoevenaren. ‘Face the facts of your situation. This is your life at this moment. It is what it is.’ Not an easy tip, but one that really can help you get out of a rut, say both the psychologist and the social worker. ‘Sometimes it’s totally OK to feel terrible; in fact, it is functional even. It’s not surprising that after a year of being more or less confined, we’re feeling gloomier,’ says Cloin. ‘It’s easy to get into a vicious circle if we think we should change but we feel powerless to do so. Life just isn’t fun at the moment. If you accept that feeling, it will immediately be a little easier to bear.’ Hoevenaren adds: ‘To experience your negative feelings without judgement is a fine art. But if you can do it, it will help you move on. The second stage is simpler and can only work after the first stage. Ask yourself: what could I do now to make myself feel better? It can be little things like enjoying watching a butterfly in the garden or laughing at a silly joke.’
4. Listen to each other
Not everyone is affected by the Covid crisis in the same way, and people have different attitudes to the restrictions. Maybe you stick very strictly to the rules – for whatever reason – and you know others who are more casual about them. Maybe you can’t concentrate at all online, while someone else adapts to it easily. Some people hate the curfew while others think it makes life nice and quiet. How do you cope with differences like that?
‘Listen to each other and don’t be too quick to judge’
A tip from the student psychologist: ‘Listen to each other and don’t be too quick to judge. Respect the fact that people see the measures differently and make different choices around them. Try and understand that. Because it’s when people don’t understand each other that things really go wrong. That makes people feel really lonely and let down. Whereas we could get a lot of support from each other.’
Exercise, eating well, routine and structure, keeping in touch, enjoying nature, singing a song, dancing in your room, tidying up, lazy moments, finding inspiration in hobbies (maybe a new one), art, literature, film, dance, your faith, gardening, photography, music, opera, old recordings of the Eurovision Song Contest or sweating through an online workout.
Bonustip: To grapple with the Covid blues, Surf your Stress is organizing an online encounter between Emma Holmes, Ernst Bohlmeijer (psychologist and professor at the University of Twente) and Roeland Cloïn (student psychologist at WUR) to talk about happiness and resilience. 31 March, 19:00 – 21:00.