Advice and tips

Looking after your mental well-being whilst studying online

The pandemic we are all currently facing has changed every aspect of our daily lives in one way or another. For many students, this means a lot of online learning. For some, the idea of being able to learn and gain qualifications whilst dressed in their pyjamas and without needing to venture outdoors is a win-win situation. Previous research has highlighted the positives of online learning; it allows individuals to learn at a time, place and pace at which they find comfortable (further research can be found here and here).

Online learning environments offer a great opportunity for students to continue learning throughout the pandemic. But these learning environments aren’t beneficial for every student, especially when considering their general mental well-being and there are a number of reasons suggested for this: 

  • Fear of the unknown – For some students, the level of unfamiliarity with these new methods of learning can be overwhelming. They have to relearn how to learn and this can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress and worry. 
  • Lack of enjoyment – Other students may not enjoy learning online, having difficulties with the quality or usability of the meaning material that has been provided for them (link to research here).
  • Loss of structure – Online learning allows students to learn at a time which is most convenient for them, but this lack of structure can also leave students feeling like they can’t turn off and that they are constantly in ‘student mode’, which can increase levels of stress.
  • Isolation – One of the biggest negative aspects of online learning is the lack of in-person relationships and face-to-face interactions (link to research here). This can make students feel lonely, isolated and unsupported by their peers as they would be in a physical university environment.

Considering the reasons mentioned above, it’s no wonder that some students may be struggling with their mental well-being. I thought for this post I could conduct a bit of research to try and find methods for supporting mental well-being whilst learning online. I found a number of tips, which I’ve outlined below.

1. Take a break

Research has shown the benefits of taking regular breaks from learning and instructions. Just as you would in a physical setting, try to ensure that you take a 5 minute break every hour away from the screen. Maybe go and get a snack or sit outside with a beverage of your choice if you are able to. Sitting at a screen endlessly for multiple hours a day is definitely not going to benefit your well-being.

2. Create a routine

Just as you would within a physical learning environment, try to create strict boundaries between work and play. Online learning can make it difficult to turn off from learning, which can make it difficult to relax. Try to plan the specific time each day you will dedicate to learning material online and stick to this. But also try to schedule other ‘online learning free’ activities into the day, such as exercise, eating or maybe even a power nap. 

3. Keep in touch

Although your friends, fellow students and teachers aren’t there in the room with you while you learn, they are still available for you to talk to. If you are struggling with the material you could drop an email to your teacher who I’m sure would be more than happy to help. You could also call up a friend for a general chit chat and find out how their day is going. But don’t feel like a burden, by reaching out to others you may actually be improving their mental well-being as they may be in the same boat and would like someone to talk to. 

4. Celebrate small achievements

When our mental well-being is low, even doing the smallest things like getting out of bed can seem impossible. At the beginning of each day, try to set yourself a set of small but realistic and obtainable daily goals. As you achieve these, reward yourself (maybe by watching an episode of your favourite tv show). But if you don’t achieve your goals, don’t worry. Just focus on what you have achieved and celebrate this!

5. Take up a new hobby

Developing a new interest or hobby can be a welcome pastime for a stressed or anxious mind. Try to do things that are away from the screen or that take place outside. For example, meditation, yoga or knitting are all great ways to wind down and spend time away from the stresses and strains of online learning.

6. If you feel like you are struggling, seek help

These are difficult times for all of us and online learning definitely isn’t suited to everyone. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help if your mental well-being isn’t feeling great. It’s so much better to ask for help at an early stage than to let your mental well-being deteriorate to the point where it’s affecting your daily life (which isn’t fair on you either!). If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a family member or a friend, there are a number of resources you can reach out for help which I shall link at the end of this blog post.

Although I’m no expert and the tips above aren’t extensive, I hope this post has been helpful for some of you. These are challenging times for all students but hopefully we will all be allowed back into the classroom very soon! Until then I hope you are all staying safe but also looking after your mental well-being as best you can.

As promised, I leave you with a list of further resources which may be helpful:

Student Minds – a great charity that works with students through peer support programs and workshops.

Student Space – a dedicated service providing help, support and guidance for students throughout the current pandemic situation.

Turn2Me – a community of mental health professions provide free support online in a confidential environment.

Nightline – an anonymous support service run by students for students. Individuals can talk through phone, skype, email or live chat in complete confidence.

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