The Psychology Society’s Guide to Surviving Quarantine
Lockdown is here again, but this time it comes without the warm summer days to help you feel a little better about being locked away from society. Being a student especially in this time is not a fun experience since we’re dealing with all the stress of university but without access to the social aspect that makes it a little easier to get through. So we at the Psychology Society thought we’d help you guys out with some tricks and tips to help get you through it without taking major blows to your health, both mental and physical, and your grades.
Before anything else, your mental health takes priority. If you are not in the right mindset, nothing else will follow through. So here are a few tips about how to take care of yourself
A Simple Guide To Mindfulness
Use of mindful breathing has been shown to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, something which is certainly useful in these times.
- For 5 or 10 minutes every day, take a moment to be mindful.
- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and relax.
- Close your eyes and breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Five seconds in, hold for a moment, five seconds out.
- Focus on the motions of the breathing, if you catch your mind wandering to something else draw it back.
Don’t worry if you find you can’t focus, the more you try it the easier it will get.
Schedule Is Essential
The days are getting shorter, and with quarantine it can be difficult to tell what day we’re on anymore. So this tip is about keeping yourself in the present by making a weekly (or bi-weekly!) schedule.
- First put in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and give yourself a reasonable bedtime and wake up time.
- Then go your lectures and seminars, and your work hours if you have them (don’t forget to account for travelling time if you need to!).
- Put in any extracurricular activities and anything that has a pre-set time, like weekly society meetings.
- Once all that is done, put your study hours around those. Make sure to give yourself breaks too!
KEY NOTE: It’s important to be realistic about your scheduling or else you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Don’t give yourself a 9am wake up time if you’ve been waking up at 3pm for the past month. Don’t schedule in a 4-hour block of revision in the morning if you know you can’t commit to that. Know yourself and know how well you can change. Start off with waking up an hour earlier and change your schedule to match as you improve.
And one more thing: Don’t constrain yourself to round numbers. By that I mean, if you want to start something at 1pm but you get to 1:10 and you haven’t started it, don’t wait until 1:30 or 2pm to start. Just push the end time back for a few minutes or take those missed minutes as a loss and make up for it later if you need to. The schedule is not set in stone and it’s not all or nothing, you should allow yourself to be flexible with it if you want to get the best use out of it.
Some of you may know this term, but for those of you that don’t here’s a quick definition:
Doomscrolling (also called doomsurfing) is the act of continuously consuming an endless procession of bad news, despite the news being depressing or disheartening.
Given that 2020 has been bad news after bad news, a lot of people find themselves spiralling into uncontrolled doomscrolling simply by being on social media, which in turn causes their mental health to take a turn for the worse. But at the same time, entirely avoiding social media can be a difficult choice if it’s the only way you keep in contact with your friends. So there compromise we’re suggesting is this: Allow yourself an hour to catch up on the news of the day. After that, you do not allow yourself to consume negative media. If you see something negative, just keep scrolling. Mute or unfollow people if you have to. This will be difficult at first, especially since it’s so prevalent nowadays, but from personal experience I can say it does wonders for your mood and overall mental health.
A happy body equals a happy mind, but lockdown has taken away all the usual reasons and resources we have to get up and about to keep our bodies healthy. So here are a couple of tips about what to be mindful of and how to stay healthy.
What constitutes a “good posture”, and why is it so important? A correct posture means you are putting less stress on your back and supporting muscles. This is especially important during lockdown as many people are spending more time at their desk working or studying from home. Poor posture when you are sitting for long periods of time can lead to back pains and muscle fatigue. So here’s how to sit with good posture:
- Make sure your lower or mid back is supported, either by your chair or using a back support
- Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your wrists and forearms should rest parallel to the ground. Your desk and chair must be at the correct level to allow this.
- Your knees should be at or below the level of your hips
- Your feet should be resting on the floor, or on a footrest if they do not reach the floor. Avoid crossing your knees or ankles.
- Make sure you’re not arching your neck to look at the screen. The ideal placement is an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen at eye level
Even with good posture, it’s important to avoid sitting in the same position for too long. You should be standing and moving around for at least 15 minutes for every hour you are working! Sitting for too long can reduce your metabolism, affecting your blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight, and can also cause weakness in muscles and bones.
- Good posture when standing consists of the following:
- Keep your head level, with your ears in line with your shoulders. Make sure you’re not arching forwards or backwards
- Stand straight, with your stomach pulled in and your shoulders pulled back
- Your feet should be hip width apart, and most of your weight should be on the balls of your feet (just behind your toes)
- Don’t lock your knees, they should be slightly bent
Now, healthy eating is something that everyone thinks of when it comes to health and wellness, and I’m sure we all know the basic by now so I’ll keep this bit short and simple: Pay attention to what you’re eating.
It can be very easy to lose track of what you’ve eaten under normal circumstances, and quarantine is anything but a normal circumstance, so you may need to take some extra steps to take care of yourself. Give yourself set times to have main meals like breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and just take a mental note of what you’ve been eating and make some simple changes based on that. Some quick and simple ideas could be adding a side of vegetables to a dish that may not have many, or having fruit as a snack instead of crisps and sweets. If you’ve been having a lot of processed foods, try dedicating yourself to cooking once per week. Little changes can add up to a lot of improvements in overall health, and in a global pandemic your health is one of the most important things because if you do get ill then your immune system needs to have enough energy to fight back, and a healthy diet will help massively with that.
Another thing that I’m sure we’ve all been told the importance of is exercise. But like the previous section, I’m going to keep this short and simple: Just keep moving. Doing something is better than doing nothing, no matter how much or little it is. Find a routine that will fit into your daily schedule, whether it’s just five minutes in the morning or a full 30-minute session. Morning stretches are a good idea as they’re good at energizing you and preparing you for the rest of the day. Squats and other leg exercises will help balance out the extra time spent sitting and doing work, and you should definitely take advantage of the allowed outside exercise time just to get some fresh air, even if it’s just a five minute walk around your house. In the end, you know yourself best, so you do whatever feels best for you as long as you are moving!
And now onto the bane of every student’s existence: studying. Given that many students are now studying from home with their families rather than in student halls where they have their own space, a lot of students are finding it much more difficult to study as well as they used to. So here are a few tips about how to keep up with your uni studies:
Create a Study Space
Having a dedicated study space is shown to increase concentration, and there are a couple of important things to consider when you’re picking and arranging your study area:
- Noise Levels. Make sure the place you’re picking to study in isn’t going to be noisy or distracting during the times you want to study.
- Comfort. You want your study space to be comfortable enough that you’ll be willing to stay there studying for a few hours, but not so comfortable that you can’t focus.
- Lighting. Try to get a place with natural lighting, and mid-level lighting for evening study sessions. Too dark and you’re tire your eyes out reading your notes and staring at a screen, too bright and it can be distracting or painful. Make sure your lighting is placed in a way that means your notes are well illuminated, but the light itself doesn’t aim into your eyes or cause glare on your screen.
- Avoid clutter. Don’t have anything in your study space that doesn’t need to be there. Keep unused books and notes in a separate area and take the time to clean up your space after you’re done studying, or before you start studying. Clutter can cause distraction, and distraction is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.
- Keep supplies on hand. Know what you’re going to need for your study session and keep it within arms reach or at least nearby so that you don’t waste time during studying hunting around the house for a pen or looking for a lost textbook. And make sure you have access to a clock so that you can track your time easier!
- Get rid of distractions. List all the things that will distract you and cleanse your study space of them. For most of us, this will mean our phones. Keep it off your desk and away from your study space if you have to, or use an app like Forest to lock yourself out of all those distracting apps until you’ve completed your study time. Laptops and computers are a little more difficult as they’re pretty crucial to a lot of revision, so
- DO NOT STUDY IN BED. Listen. I know it’s tempting. When you have a 9am lecture, I know that all you want to do is turn your laptop on and watch it from bed. But that’s absolutely not productive, no matter how much you convince yourself it is. The brain works on associations, and if you’re trying to study in bed you’ll not only hamper your concentration while studying but you’ll also end up ruining your sleeping patterns as you’ll begin to associate your bed with studying instead of sleeping. So just push through the morning slump and get to your study space, it’s really for the best.
The Pomodoro Technique
So you’ve got your study space all set up, now it’s time to get down to those study hours you’ve scheduled. This is where the pomodoro technique may come in handy, especially for people like me who can’t seem to focus for very long. All you’ll need is a timer (you can use your phone timer for this, or something like the Forest app).
- First, plan what you’re going to be doing that day. Break the task down into simple steps and figure out how long you may be working for.
- Next, set a timer for 25 minutes and begin your tasks.
- When that’s done, take a 5-minute break. Take this time to stretch your legs if you like.
- This 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break is called one ‘pomodoro’. Repeat 4 pomodoros (2 hours of work) and then take a longer break, about 30 minutes to an hour. Keep repeating this until you’ve finished your tasks, or you reach the end of your study hours.
This technique of working balances your work and break time in a manner that helps you to maintain focus while avoiding burnout from excessive work, increasing the effectiveness of your work time.
The Feynman Technique
Another study technique you can use alongside the pomodoro technique is the Feynman technique. The method is pretty straightforward and extremely effective for learning. Here’s how it goes:
- Pick the concept you want to learn.
- Explain the concept in your own words and in simple terms, as if you were explaining it to a child.
- Evaluate your explanation and take note of areas you could not explain simply or at all.
- Review the concept, paying attention to the areas you struggled with explaining.
- Repeat until you feel you can explain the concept simply.
This technique is based on the idea that “if you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply”. It also involves recall and revision, both of which are extremely beneficial to memorising and understanding facts and concepts.
And now a small section on something that is important across every aspect of our lives…
There’s not much to say about this one. Whether you’re oversleeping or undersleeping, bad sleep will affect both your physical and mental health, and it’s hard to study when you’re sleep deprived. The importance of scheduling really comes into play when it comes to sleep. Giving yourself a set bedtime and wake up time will train your body and brain to associate those times with sleep and so will improve your sleep schedule. Even if you’re not actually sleeping during those hours, make sure you keep your devices away or use blue light filters so that they don’t affect your sleep. Some people find that showering before bedtime makes them sleep easier, while others like having background ambient music to fall asleep to. Find what suits you best and stick to it, your sleep is the most important part of your day.
Try not to oversleep either! Aim for around 7 or 8 hours, and try to get out of bed before midday. It may seem tempting to stay in bed until 3pm, but winter days don’t give you a lot of time to enjoy the sunlight which is what leads to seasonal affective disorder (also called seasonal depression) in many cases, so make sure you get what you can.
- Words Psychology Society UWL (@psychologysocietyuwl / e: email@example.com)