What I Wish I Knew Before Returning To University

This year has proven to make itself a struggle for those like myself at university, and despite the growing dialogues about mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, there are still some things worth learning.

Students are often placed under the stereotype of being all about the party life, and caring little about their work. For the majority, this isn’t true, but in a year where partying isn’t possible and workload seems to have doubled, it’s integral that the student community share their experiences to help one another through these challenging times.

Mental health is a topic spoken about at an increasing rate, and for the student population, it’s never been more important to do so. It’s a conversation students are encouraged to have, yet, over the past year, I’ve found that there is still a lot to learn about keeping in-check with your mental health and wellbeing at university.

These things aren’t exactly something I learnt by the book, but from what I’ve experienced. I’m in my final year, and despite what I thought I knew beforehand,  I’d have gone into this pandemic-ridden academic year a hell of a lot more confident if I knew some of these things.

You won’t always be motivated to do work.

No matter how hard you tell yourself this isn’t the case, it is. And if you aren’t aboard, it means that feeling is soon around the corner.

Accepting that you aren’t motivated to work is something most can do with ease, but it’s actually kickstarting that motivation that proves to be of significance.

Try writing a to-do list at the start of every week, adding and crossing off as you go along. It not only provides a sense of achievement when something is completed, but it also really does help organise your thoughts that may feel overwhelmingly jumbled from time to time.

Establish a consistent routine. Waking up early in the mornings (as awful as that is) has proven to really make me feel as though I’m raring to complete necessary tasks, and give me enough time in the day to do so.  

Try and utilise the living space you have.

Working where you live is difficult. I started out hating it: the morning venture from my bed to my desk – and if I were lucky enough, I’d treat myself with a trip to the kitchen!

Whether you’re staying at home or moving back to your university accommodation, make an effort to allot times of the day away from your bedroom. Maybe go and bother a housemate – let them let you distract them. Stand outside for a few minutes. Maybe even have a Just Dance exercise session in the kitchen (it’s enjoyable, I promise).

You will cry. And that’s okay.

Whether that’s to a sad playlist at 4am or a work-infused sobbing session at your desk, crying isn’t a bad thing. I can admit I’ve cried more in this last term at university than I ever have throughout my years of education – and I’m not the only one.  

While it may not always feel like it, crying can provide a feeling of catharsis that just allows you to let it all out. Regardless of if it’s about work, your environment, or even your relationships, shedding a tear or two is nothing to be ashamed of.

Being emotional can really help set yourself into gear. Students often find themselves most emotional when the stress of work hits them hard. In my case, I find a good cry can offer spurs of motivation I didn’t even know I had in me.

Feeling upset and overwhelmed isn’t the best feeling, but don’t hold it in. Have a good cry, and you’ll thank yourself afterwards.

If you don’t look after yourself, it’ll catch up with you.

I learn this one the hard way. So much so, I was Googling my symptoms and convinced myself I had only days to live.

Something as simple as taking a daily spoon of a liquid multivitamin that you can purchase from most supermarkets or pharmacies. I found this to be a real help with the inevitable fatigue that comes in tow with a poor sleeping pattern.

Or, better yet, you could just sleep at an acceptable time.

The neck and back pain.

This, well, I learnt the hard way too. Although working at a desk isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with, working for the majority of the day in the same position is.  

Investing in a good office chair, or even pestering your landlord about needing a new one, is an important life lesson I learnt along the way.

Try your best to support your neck when looking at laptop screens. In my case, I used an old shoebox to keep my laptop at eye level, which proved to play a significant role in alleviating some of the neck pain I was experiencing.

If that isn’t quite working – as ridiculous as this sounds, try using a travel neck pillow (yes, I am being serious). I purchased one online when it seemed as though all stress in my life was going towards my shoulders and neck area, and haven’t looked back since.

Just don’t fall asleep.

Have the COVID conversation with those around you.

While this may seem obvious, it’s surprising how many people aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. Tell those around you that you are going to be following the rules, that you are not comfortable with going to illegally hosted parties.

And again, as ridiculous as this sounds, don’t back down if others try and make you bend the rules.

Protect your eyes with Blue Light Blocking Glasses

This phenomenon was only recently introduced to me after I complained about long working days resulting in headaches. Blue Light Blocking Glasses. I was always under the impression you needed prescribed glasses to wear a pair of these, but I was wrong.

They’re easy to purchase – I bought a pair online for around £8, and have found a major difference in how long I’m able to look at screens without feeling a real amount of stress and overall fatigue.

Check on your friends and family.

While this seems fairly obvious, I found such simple gestures can even uplift your own spirits.

Check if a friend or any of their housemates need any shopping. Give someone a call if you know they’re struggling. Involve people in Zoom socials.

Try to use whatever technology you have to communicate with those you can’t be with in person. Compared to my first two years at university, I’ve felt more of a need to FaceTime my family and friends for a check-in. It’s important to remember they’re all going through this too.

It may prove motivational – and maybe even sometimes a little emotional, but more importantly, it may even give you a little escape from the reality that’s going on around us.

Words by Cerys Holliday

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