Wishing this wasn't happening

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

It is fair to say that we all wish that the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t happening. As a result, you may experience the change and uncertainty as a real loss.

It is fair to say that we all wish that the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t happening. This is particularly true for students. The pandemic has caused significant disruption at a formative moment in your life. You will have had hopes about what your student experience and journey would be like. You may even have imagined some of your future in quite some detail. As a result, you may experience the change and uncertainty as a real loss.

The ‘if only’ thought loop

When something like this happens it is easy to find yourself on an ‘if only’ thought loop.

“If only this wasn’t happening. If only I could change it. If only it had been in a different year.”

Wishing that this could go away is a perfectly normal response. It is ok to be disappointed, angry, frustrated or sad that this year isn’t going to be how you expected. Acknowledging that this is how you feel can help you to manage and feel better in time.

However, we also need to be aware that these thoughts won’t actually change things in the real world. We need to find a balance between allowing ourselves to acknowledge how we feel and planning for the actual circumstances in which we find ourselves. As we discuss in the sections on uncertainty, we have to work with reality as it is, to make things better.

Balance between feeling and planning

Getting this balance right may be tricky at times. But with practice and perseverance, you will be able to find a better balance over time.

Here are some tips that you may find helpful:

1. Rumination

Be careful that acknowledging your emotions and thoughts doesn’t become rumination. Rumination happens when you start to add lots of negative thoughts together or find yourself going round and round the same negative thoughts, without looking for any solutions. This generally leaves you feeling worse and makes it more difficult to think clearly and positively about the future.

It may be useful to check in with yourself and ask “How is this helping me?” If you do become overwhelmed by your emotions, it may help to take a break, change your environment, find ways to distract yourself until you feel calm. Then, you can try to plan what you might do.

You might find it helpful to assign a window of time, each day or week, to acknowledge the things that are disappointing or upsetting. Setting a timed window can help to avoid your emotions taking complete control of your behaviour. If you try this, it may help to have another activity to go to afterwards.

2. Acknowledge the positive

Think about what is still good in your life and about being a student. Whatever plans you have lost, there will still be things that haven’t been affected by coronavirus. Can you use these aspects of your life and future to build on?

Try to identify some aspects of your student life that you can still look forward to. This may be about socialising, learning, new experiences or finding yourself back in a familiar routine.

3. Make a plan

Be realistic about what you can do. There is no way to recreate the year you would have had without the pandemic. Instead, focus on what you can practically do to improve your student experience. Think broadly about your student life but also about how you manage yourself, your own thoughts and behaviours and what you can do for others.

4. Look after the basics

Maintaining a good daily structure, sleeping well, getting some exercise and fresh air and eating healthily can help you to feel better overall. When we feel physically better it is easier to be more positive about your circumstances and future and to create workable plans.