On March 17th, a little before 1pm, I received an e-mail that confirmed I was currently sitting in the last class of my Master’s programme at the University of Manchester. The following days were full of stress, frustration, and general fear of not knowing what was going to happen. There were so many distractions in the news, on social media, from word on the streets… I think initially I handled it rather well, given the scenario I was in: far from home, suddenly unable to physically attend class and study in the many comfortable spots on campus, restricted to see my friends, and basically alone in my room. As the days passed, I started feeling a bit uneasy about my general calmness. I had even found enough mental strength to encourage fellow classmates that were going through a rough time. And I continued quite well for a couple of weeks… until I wasn’t anymore.
One day I woke up and I felt completely off. I felt frustrated because weeks had gone by and the worldwide situation only seemed to be getting worse. With a strict lockdown in Peru, I was scared of not being able to go back home if I wanted to in the near future. I missed my family and the idea of not being able to see them any time soon made me very sad. I feared my closest friends would suddenly leave and I would be left alone in Manchester. I was scared of my flatmates leaving and living alone in my flat. I was frustrated that my Master’s experience had been cut short by almost half a year. I was upset that I had traced out many plans for the second semester, which were suddenly impossible for me to achieve. I felt far from everyone and everything. I was tired of being in my room. I was uncomfortable sitting at my desk. I didn’t see the point in staying in the UK to finish my Master’s and get a job because it was going to be extremely difficult due to the economic situation. On days like these I wanted desperately to book the first flight back home. Only problem was, I couldn’t.
The worst part of moments like these was that I felt like doing nothing all day. I only had the strength and motivation to watch Netflix. Or I would crawl into bed over and over again throughout the day, wishing I would fall asleep and wake up several weeks later. And of course, I had no motivation to concentrate on academic work and I easily got distracted by everything. I usually spent a couple days at a time like this. At first I got stressed out about it because I felt I was being unproductive and wasting time. But after those two terrible days, I suddenly felt better. And I started working again, and focusing… until the next episode.
So I basically got used to these mood cycles. I’ve learned to accept them and be patient while they pass. Just like when you get a cold and the only thing you need to do is rest and recover. That’s the same thing I’ve tried to do. Give myself time to go over the process, recover and move on. I wasn’t used to talking about these kinds of things with other people because I have generally tried to deal with feelings myself. However, in the current situation, I’ve found it very useful to mention these kinds of things to a couple close friends, at least. Rest assured that the people who care about you will always be willing to send encouraging messages your way. And if you feel this isn’t enough, look for more specialized support from the Mental Health and Wellbeing services offered by the university or elsewhere. I sometimes reach out to my private therapist and I always feel better afterwards.
Stress… fear… demotivation… so many negative feelings in such a short time span. I wondered if it was only me who was going through so many emotions at once. So I designed a short survey that I circulated amongst 30 fellow classmates and flatmates at Master’s and PhD level, asking about their routines under
lockdown and if they had felt certain negative feelings. I did this in part to write this article, so that it was supported by more “quantitative” evidence, but also because I was curious to know how common was what I was going through. Below are the results.
First, some facts about the sample surveyed:
· The survey was responded by 30 students.
· All students surveyed are following postgraduate studies at the University of Manchester.
· The sample includes students from a range of nationalities.
· More than 75% of the students surveyed had not returned home at the time they completed the survey.
· Only a third of the students surveyed lived by themselves.
· The average age of respondents is 27.
When the students were asked to select the 5 most common negative feelings they had felt in the past 2 weeks, this is what they responded:
This meant that more than 75% of the students surveyed had experienced stress, felt distracted and had been demotivated in the past month. Almost half of them had also felt tired, sad or frustrated. Additionally, more than half of the students said they had had a breakdown in the past month (I had been through a couple of those myself!).
I suddenly felt less alone. There were a lot of people that were going through the exact same thing I was. There were even some people who told me they had experienced all the feelings I had listed. So in conclusion, there are many people who are currently going through a hard time because the world is in an unprecedented state. What is interesting to note, however, is that more than 75% of the students surveyed said they were feeling more at ease with the situation related to Covid-19 than a month ago. So this was an uplifting result. Since we now have “proof” that despite our nationalities, age and daily routines, we are all similar when it comes down to mental health during these times, we should try and encourage more discussions about these topics and come together. This article can serve as a first step in doing so.