University is typically one of the most social times of your life. The first few weeks on campus usually involve partying at Freshers’ events and beyond -and meeting scores of other young people, all keen to make friends.
To have that all stop suddenly can be jarring, to say the least.
With social distancing measures in place to help curb the spread of Covid-19, students in the UK are being urged to limit socialising, stay within separate households and even attend virtual lectures.
Suffering with homesickness and being away from your family can be hard at the best of times, but when you throw a global pandemic into the mix, it can suddenly make moving into a student flat a lonely prospect.
Here are some helpful steps you can take to find positives during your first term at university.
1. Reframe your thinking
David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of mental wellbeing and self-development platform, Remente says the key during this time of uncertainty is to consciously reframe your mindset.
He believes that students can build resilience if they “accept that the restrictions that they are facing have not been put in place to punish them,” but to save them and many other people from a real-live threat.
If this kind of positive thinking doesn’t come naturally to you, he suggests that mindfulness and goal-setting practices can help us manage how we react to, and feel about, the spread of Covid-19 and the subsequent need for social distancing measures.
You can practise daily reflection by journalling, and there are lots of specialist journals out there with mindfulness ‘prompts’ to help you settle into the habit. You could also exercise some bigger-picture thinking by writing down a weekly or monthly list of goals – whether that’s acing a test or working on a creative side project.
2. Maximise your ‘social media’ friendship groups
You might be missing out on Freshers’ Week parties and events, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still socialise with other students.
“Cook, talk and laugh together, even if it’s just through virtual means,” says Priory’s Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London.
It’s important to make sure you are up-to-date with the latest government rules, but Campbell says that currently you should be able to hang out with those in your student ‘social bubble’ at your halls of residence – which may positively strengthen your friendships.
Additionally, he suggests joining student WhatsApp or online groups. “If you have access to social media platforms like Zoom, you can still hold virtual parties, and link up online to socialise,” he adds.
“Try to get out of your room and spend some time in safe student common areas, where allowed. Many students will feel like you do, and it is a good way to start interacting.”
3. Exercise to keep mentally healthy
While it’s easy to focus on how to manage your mental health during a period of loneliness, we sometimes forget that our physical and mental health can have a direct impact on one another.
“Keep strong mentally and physically by keeping up a regular exercise regime, whether it’s running, yoga or team sports, where allowed,” says Campbell.
“Get outside as much as possible and meet a fellow student for a regular walk or run. Sports, music and drama activities might be altered to comply with social distancing rules, but not cancelled entirely, so check the policies on extra-curricular activities.”
4. Get involved in everything
If you’re finding that you feel not just bored, but also as though you’re isolated from your friendships, it’s a good idea to look at what university-hosted activities are on offer.
Campbell says that many student unions are planning a mix of digital and in-person activities, which follow the latest social distancing guidance.
“Current plans are that students live and study in ‘bubbles’ composed of people from the same course, to reduce transmission of coronavirus on campus.
“These groups will share a timetable to restrict exposure to other bubbles. New students can join online or virtual fairs and social events, where you will make new friends.”
Campbell stresses that your student union will have developed risk assessments with its societies to ensure that their events and any volunteering opportunities have appropriate measures in place. Try to do “as much as you can alongside your studies” he suggests, adding that a part-time job, where possible, may also enable you to meet new people too.
5. Seek further help if you need to
Students’ social spheres might be much smaller as a result of Covid-19, but universities will take students’ feelings of loneliness and isolation very seriously, so make use of all confidential support and counselling, says Campbell.
He adds: “Many universities have a ‘wellbeing information directory’, wellbeing societies and there may be a ‘buddy’ system if you are a fresher.
Feelings of loneliness, if left unsolved, can trigger depression and anxiety, says Brudo, so it’s important to seek help if its beginning to affect your day-to-day life. “Local mental health helplines can be contacted through the phone, if you are in need of professional support.”
Importantly, never suffer in silence. “Going to university during a pandemic will be more difficult, but huge efforts are being made to support students and their welfare,” assures Campbell.