This is how you deal with isolation anxiety
Get out of your pyjamas
When you’re used to spending your days surrounded by others in the UB, being stuck in your room can be a confrontational change of pace. Your bed, television, and the fridge take turns distracting you from your studies. Or you just can’t weed out the positive thoughts from the negative ones.
‘But staying in bed, wearing your pyjamas all day, watching Netflix and ordering pizza is the perfect recipe to feel bad’, says Eva Slot, student psychologist at the Student Service Centre. ‘Do realise this is a difficult time, with a lot of challenges and doubts, but also focus on what you can do: find out how to take care of yourself.’
Academic advisor Mirjam Nederveen in the mathematics department and her colleagues at the Faculty of Science and Engineering hear from a lot of worried students. They not only have practical concerns about the switch to online education, but they’re also struggling with finding a new routine at home. ‘We started thinking: what can we do?’
Nederveen and her colleagues created a ‘studying at home’ quiz. It asks you about your habits and comes up with tips on how to adjust or improve on your studying behaviour in isolation. In the two weeks it’s been online, the quiz has been taken nearly four hundred times.
So with all those distractions, how do you find the discipline and motivation to cope with isolation?
1Be kind to yourself
‘We have to realise that this crisis situation confronts us with a lot of new things, which requires a lot more energy than usual’, says Nederveen. So maybe it just isn’t possible for you to function as usual. ‘Don’t focus on the seven and a half hours you weren’t productive today, but look at the things you did accomplish.’
Perhaps if we consider this new situation as an experiment, it could allow us to be more lenient with ourselves, thinks Nederveen. If one approach doesn’t work, this way we can more easily adjust and try another.
This is likely to be more difficult for international students, Nederveen realises. There’s more financial pressure on them to finish on time than for many Dutch students. ‘But do what you can, and be kind to yourself.’
2Do something fun
Many fun things typical to student life have fallen away right now, and you have to find something to do to oust the boredom and loneliness. The internet is also buzzing with articles calling for self-improvement: if you haven’t learned at least one new language before all the measures are lifted, you’ve wasted your time in quarantine.
‘This can create something like corona FOMO’, says Slot – the fear of missing out. ‘People are excellent at finding new pressures to put on themselves as soon as another has lifted’.
So make sure the something fun you’ve found to do doesn’t exacerbate your stress, says Slot. Keep it small: ‘Some students like to go for a run, others enjoy taking a luxurious shower.’
3Maintain social contact
‘People are inclined to struggle alone’, says Slot. ‘But if we talk about our worries with others, we figure out that they might be going through the same thing, and we can share the burden.’
Slot has noticed how some student houses have morphed into tight-knit families over the past weeks. ‘They’ve found a way to make it work together.’ But if you’re not that tight with your housemates, try to find the social interaction online. Instead of eating your dinner while watching Netflix in solitude, make an appointment to eat dinner together, via Skype or Zoom, Slot offers.
Social contact can help you beyond staying sane. ‘If you share your study goals for the day with a study buddy, someone else also knows what you want to achieve that day’, says Nederveen. If you then agree to go over your accomplishments at the end of the day, this can help you stay focused. And it has the added bonus of a few minutes of social interaction.
4Make a new routine
With a new work environment comes a new routine. Make sure you develop a daily rhythm, so it’s easier to separate your private life from your study time. ‘Have a regular sleeping pattern and start the day with a morning ritual: take a shower, dress up, take a walk’, says Nederveen. ‘You’ll feel like you’re actually going to work and it’ll be easier to concentrate on your studies.’
Then when you change back into your pyjamas at the end of the day, you can put your studies and worries out of your mind.
The same goes for your study space. To minimise distractions, create a designated study space for yourself. Your desk may work better than a couch or bed. ‘Maybe you can ask a housemate to switch rooms while studying’, suggests Nederveen.
Make sure you clearly separate your work days from the weekend and your time off. Don’t let your study time run into your free time or work late at night if this isn’t actually your most productive time of day. Try to balance the two for ultimate productivity.
5Know what is expected of you
Be aware of what is expected of you in terms of assignments or online exams. Some teachers are better at communicating this on time than others, but try to find out as much as you can in advance.
Maybe you can schedule an online meeting with your teacher beforehand to discuss the upcoming exam or assignment, says Nederveen. This way you can feel more prepared and you can focus on the essentials.
Sometimes teachers can also be more lenient with deadlines if you’re having a hard time with the current situation. Communicate your concerns to a teacher or supervisor, so they can take them into account or talk them through with you.
Finally, says Nederveen, ‘it’s very important that you keep evaluating. What works and what doesn’t? Adjusting to a new routine doesn’t happen overnight, you have to train yourself.’
The Student Service Centre has set up a four-week massive open online course that talks you through methods to improve your study techniques. UG students have unlimited access until 2021. To see how other students are coping with isolation, check out this student blog.