Over half of people under the age of 25 feel their study has been negatively impacted by COVID-19, according to new research by Headspace.

The turbulent changes brought on by the pandemic has created difficulties for students across the globe and on the frontline at UC Medical and Counselling was psychologist Dr Stuart Cathcart.

Here is his advice for students starting semester two.

Reflecting on last semester

“It’s interesting that some aspects are specific to COVID-19. Like being locked down, the lack of face to face social connectedness and social gatherings and closing down venues. For some students that was a real source of stress,” Dr Cathcart said.

A woman sits on the coach hugging her knees to her chest.
Sudden changes can impact your mental wellbeing. Source: Maheen Fatima

Despite a constant stream of students throughout the year, Dr Cathcart noticed that anxiety in conjunction with daily stresses intensified psychological impacts for students.

“There is a threshold of stress that we can take before we feel overwhelmed… if people are already dealing with a lot and you add the slight extra stress or frustration of being locked inside, that can be enough to tip you over that threshold,” he said.

“There was also a general increase in anxiety and stress around the pandemic. Am I safe, is my family safe and what is the future?”


Read More: 5 Tips for Online Learning


Coping with online learning

The transition to online learning and physical distancing rules have impacted the social and academic lives of students.

According to YouGov ‘one in four relationships are under strain, one in two people are feeling isolated and 57 per cent are feeling stress’ during COVID.

“You physically will tend to be more isolated and sedentary in your own house or room…so that lack of activity and basic movement and going places and seeing new things has a negative impact on people. They lose that sense of collegiality of the class,” Dr Cathcart said.

A person writing in a notepad with their laptop and phone on their desk.
The change to online learning comes with new challenges. Source: GoDaddy

He also explained that while some students thrive with an online style, others have felt less supported.

A concern for many students is that these changes will negatively impact their academic performance. Dr Cathcart advises students not to become ‘caught up’ in unsatisfactory marks.

“There is more to ones life than the mark they get on that final exam,” he said.

“Although uni is important and individual units are important, and individual grades for assessment items within units are important, they are just one part of your life and you as a person.”

Dr Cathcart also said that students with atypical results should contact their tutors or faculty member to see what assistance is available.

Looking ahead

Headspace’s new research released last month shows 40% of young people have felt impacts to their confidence achieving future goals.

As we return for another COVID-19 impacted semester, Dr Cathcart suggests that students engage in a variety of activities. This includes maintaining a healthy balance of study, physical exercise, socialising (with physical distancing measures) and making time for hobbies. He also emphasises the importance of routine and making time to ‘wind down.’

A man and woman sit opposite each other looking at a laptop.
A social life is still possible this semester. Source: GoDaddy

“Small changes in behaviour have large physiological consequences and that works both ways. So it may seem like spending more time isolated or online isn’t a big deal. But that small change and lack of activity and social engagement can have a big effect on your state and physiological health. The reverse of that is, a small change in the other direction can have a big positive effect.”

Some of these small changes could be joining a club at UC, setting up a zoom chat with your friends or simply going for a walk to break up the day.

Other lifestyle changes to keep in mind include eating well, getting between eight and ten hours of sleep each night, drinking sensibly and taking deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed.

If you notice obvious changes to your normal behaviours, feelings or thoughts or notice a friend who is struggling, UC Medical and Counselling are offering online and in person sessions.

“If people want help…come and see some of the councillors here,” Dr Cathcart said.

For more information and support you can also us the links below.

UC Medical and Counselling

Beyond Blue

Black Dog Institute

Life Line Australia

Headspace

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