As we grow up attending school, college and even university, we get used to the structure of academic life. There’s the fresh starts of September, the trips home at Christmas, the January exams, the coursework and research, then exams in May before, sometimes (but not always) the well-earnt freedom and adventures of a long summer.
Yearly routines like this give us structure so we can work hard and achieve the things that mean a lot to us – gaining knowledge, grades and qualifications that can steer the course of our lives. This structure also gives us hope and things to look forwards to – the satisfaction of finishing a piece of work, the enjoyment of a much-needed holiday and celebrations with friends.
But for many pupils and students in the UK, this routine has now been broken. Seminars are suspended. Exams are cancelled. And worse, parents and family might be saying things like ‘Well, exams are cancelled – surely you are happy!’
But it doesn’t work like that. You might feel worried, anxious and uncertain of the future. There may be feelings of grief or loss after years of working hard. You might struggle to feel hope (it can be hard to know what to look forward to!).
We’ve put together some advice and reflections to help you through this time:
- It’s hasn’t all ‘been for nothing’. If it feels like your efforts have been wasted, try and reframe the experience. You could reflect on the things you’ve learned about what you value the most. It might be a scientist you admire, an era of history that captures your imagination, a musician you’d like to emulate. What have you learned about yourself during your studies? How might this influence your future? Maybe you’ve realised that academia isn’t for you – you’d prefer to get a taste of a career or do something more vocational. That’s OK too!
- Your feelings are valid. Because of world events, you might feel like your concerns and feelings are dismissed by those around you. But these kinds of interruptions to years of effort can have a powerful impact. It can be an abrupt change that causes a mixture of difficult and frustrating feelings. Remember that it’s OK if you feel a bit lost at this time.
- You are not alone. There are a lot of young people feeling like this. Reach out to friends and fellow students on social media, via text or by phone. You might even be able to talk to teachers, lecturers and supervisers. Share stories of how you’ve been affected. It’s important to share your experiences and stay connected with others who are in the same boat. The Student Room is a great resource with information and guidance as well as forums where students can share their experiences. You may find it useful to connect with others and understand what support is available. Visit thestudentroom.co.uk
- Make a new, short-term routine. Define what you can do within your current situation, including what helps you to feel yourself, then put together a new routine from this. Exercise. Reading. Research. Video games. TV series. Catch-ups. Cooking. These could be included. You might continue some aspects of your studying on your own terms, or put them aside completely. But having a small structure for each day (even if it’s just a vague list of things you might do) can help manage the uncertainty.
- Start a new hobby. Studying may have meant giving up some hobbies, or putting them on the backburner. Now, you might have more free time. Is it worth giving crocheting a go, or dusting off the keyboard and learning to play a few chords? If you need direction, there are plenty of instructional videos on Youtube to get you going.
- Loss can be hard. Loss can be really difficult. There may be projects you’ve been working hard on (for months or even years) that, for the timebeing, have been abandoned. It may be impossible to see how things will move forward. Try to take it day by day. Allow yourself to feel things in the moment. Find connections and comfort where you can.
- Change will come. There is an old Persian adage that goes “This too shall pass”. It’s an idea that has provided comfort to many in times of unrest. As surely as your situation has changed, it will change again, and most likely for the better.
- Give yourself some things to look forward to. Make a list of things you want to do when things feel more normal and structured. It might be a day out walking the hills with friends. It might be a game of hockey. Or a trip to your favourite restaurant. You might not know when this will happen, but you’ll at least have some ideas for when you have more freedom again.
If the changes to your academic life have contributed to thoughts of suicide, please do get in touch with our helpline HOPELINE247. Text (07860 039967) email (email@example.com) or call (0800 068 4141) for suicide prevention advice.