COVID-19: your student routine may be disrupted, but don’t neglect your mental health
With early registration a possibility for some, emotional well-being is more important than ever
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption to all our lives and it is easy to feel overwhelmed as we come to terms with the changes to our daily routines.
Nursing students are no exception: coronavirus has increased the stress, anxiety and pressure felt by many of us, and generated apprehension about what the future holds.
It’s natural for nursing students to feel the pressure
With so much uncertainty, it can feel like the whole world is closing in on us. I am certainly feeling the impact of the pandemic on my own mental health, but we must reassure ourselves that feeling stressed is inevitable and it is perfectly normal to feel this way.
Prioritising your mental health is vital in this unprecedented situation, and it is more important than ever that we are able to recognise when things are becoming too overwhelming.
To help ensure the NHS has adequate staffing levels to fight the pandemic, some final-year nursing students will be starting their careers earlier than expected, working on the front line.
‘We need to be prepared and look at what interventions and strategies can be put in place to support not only our patients, but our colleagues and peers too’
While many see this as a great learning opportunity, others do not feel ready to go into clinical practice yet and are feeling under pressure. Many nursing students are also trying to balance home schooling their children with university work, which can be extremely challenging.
Other anxiety-provoking factors for nursing students include being taken off placement, having examinations postponed, and feeling left in the dark about how they can continue their studies.
These factors are highly likely to influence how we cope physically and mentally, with the crisis also triggering a change in how we process situations.
Tips for students: coping with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic
Do not put yourself down
Many nursing students will be feeling stressed and overwhelmed during these uncertain times. It is important to remember that it is normal to feel this way, and this is not a reflection of your resilience or capability as a nurse.
Manage your emotional and physical health
Learning how to manage your physical and psychological health during these times is fundamental for everyone. Try to engage in a new hobby or do things you enjoy to distract you from any overwhelming thoughts. While we can still go for a walk once a day, make sure you do this, if you can – the combination of fresh air and exercise can be therapeutic. Avoid using maladaptive coping strategies, such as drinking alcohol or smoking.
‘Even if you are keeping occupied by working, either at home or on the front line, maintaining contact with family and friends is vital’
Studying from home
If you are studying from home, try to ensure you take enough breaks away from your computer. If social media and/or the news is making you feel more anxious, try to limit your exposure.
Maintain a daily routine
It can be challenging to motivate yourself if you are studying from home. Try to create a timetable that enables you to focus on your learning and incorporate a new daily academic challenge if you can. If you are home schooling your children, this can work well for them too. Prioritising looking after yourself is paramount, so factor relaxation time into your routine, whether this is watching a film, reading or trying out new relaxation techniques.
It is easy to feel lonely and isolated during the pandemic, especially if you are self-isolating. Even if you are remaining occupied by work, either at home or on the front line, maintaining contact with family and friends is vital. Arrange regular phone or Skype calls and use social media to connect with others, providing you do not become overwhelmed. If you do, take a break, and return to it only when you feel ready.
Dealing with the psychological impact
Psychologically, it is well known that feelings of uncertainty and anxiety alter how we process information, react to situations and make decisions. Being self-aware, kind to ourselves and reflecting on our past successes can help us feel safe and more in control of the situation.
The impact of COVID-19 will be felt by many healthcare workers long after the pandemic is over; the virus will go eventually, but it will have a long-lasting effect on many people.
It is important to be proactive and think ahead about the long-term psychological impact COVID-19 could have. We need to be prepared and look at what interventions and strategies can be put in place to support not only our patients, but our colleagues and peers too.
In these times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we take care of our mental health and look out for those who may need extra support. Although it may be difficult in the current crisis, staying calm and providing small, kind and caring gestures can make a huge difference.
Francesca Hufton is a second-year mental health nursing student at Canterbury Christ Church University