Studying at home during coronavirus (Part 1)

In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone around the world is adapting to working in different ways and making changes to their day-to-day activities.

As we cannot go to the university campus to our usual places of study or work, our normal cues (library, lecture rooms, office) that remind us of our routines have gone. Now we must create new patterns of work and change our habits to make progress with our tasks.

However, not being able to see people face-to-face is one of the most noticeable changes. This has been the most challenging change as we are social beings, and we need social connections. Fortunately, we have digital technology now our main tool to maintain contact with others. We can feel connected, show that we care and share meaningful experiences with our families and friends.

As we are all getting used to working remotely, those in shared accommodation may need to negotiate sharing the common areas to create a workspace, as well as time for work and leisure. Being in close contact with family members or housemates over a prolonged period can put a strain on our relationships. Keeping boundaries and dealing with differences of opinion early are essential to maintaining relationships.

Sharing space with others-managing relationships

If you are in a household with your family or in accommodation with housemates, sharing the space on a continued basis can produce some tension and mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it is good to be with others that you know and can have face-to-face conversations with, but spending too long in each other’s company can be stressful.

We all have different needs for quiet time and being alone. Even if you get on well with your family or housemates, you are likely to have different opinions and may even have a few arguments. In daily life, we normally have time away from our family, our partners and friends, so when we have a disagreement we naturally have a break from each other which allows our feelings to dissipate.

This provides us with the opportunity to engage in other tasks or talk with others, which can help us to have some perspective on the problem. But this is difficult to do when having to share the same space all the time.

It is important to create space and time so that you (and others) can have some time apart to engage in individual activities.

It is also necessary to negotiate the shared space so that everyone knows when it is work time, and when it is leisure time. 

If you need to share the computer or the desk, organise when each can use them so that you can plan when you study and when you can take breaks.

We all work at a different pace, and we have different preferences. For example, some may want to listen to music while working, and others may prefer silence. Other differences may be about whether people like the room to be cooler or warmer. Initiating conversations promptly can help to sort out these issues amicably. 

When we want to raise issues that concern us, it is essential to do so at an appropriate time. By acknowledging our emotions, and moderating what we say and how we say it in an honest and genuine manner, we can maintain a constructive conversation. Keeping in mind that the purpose is to maintain our relationships as we look for a solution. Often, it is helpful to start by acknowledging something positive the other has done, and look for small things that we can do to get closer to an understanding. 

Do we want our listeners to know how we feel, or do we want them to do something? Are we aware of what is going on for them? By being empathic and understanding of others, we can identify when it is a good moment to talk. This is time to be kind and to give the benefit of the doubt to each other. This is likely to encourage others to do the same to find a way forward (David, 2016).

Keep an open mind when discussing any differences of opinion. Then, focus on what is motivating the other person to understand where they are coming from.

Then, express your point of view using “I-statements”, without judgment. Look for common ground so that everyone can feel heard and be prepared to compromise. This will help to find ways of resolving issues and prevent them from escalating into bigger problems.

Managing uncertainty

Do you notice thoughts, such as What-if a family member becomes ill? What-if I don’t pass the exams?” “What-if I lose contact with my friends?” When we are uncertain, our thoughts go into the future full of “what-if” questions, imagining negative future scenarios causing distress and lowering our mood.  

In evolutionary terms, we tend to focus on the negatives, and we have been designed this way to identify possible dangers so we can prepare for them (Tierney & Baumeister, 2019). As we live through the experience, it is important to acknowledge our feelings and learn to cope with them. This helps us to build resilience. Once we acknowledge them, we can identify ways to manage stress and anxiety (here is a student’s perspective).

One way of processing emotions is to write about our thoughts and feelings as this will help to process and make sense of what is happening.

What matters now is to focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot. By identifying something you can do and getting started, will help to restore a sense of competence and confidence.

As we face challenges, and we can manage the range of thoughts and feeling recognising that these are part of the experience, we build our resilience. By developing a flexible attitude, we can increase our ability to adapt and deal with change and uncertainty.

Managing stress

At this time of significant change to our normal lifestyle, many are experiencing a heightened state of alert and tension as we deal with the uncertainty of how things will unfold.

It is important to manage stress to keep ourselves well. The best way is to exercise and that we keep active every day.

Movement strengthens muscles and helps us to keep flexible. Healthy habits help to maintain our mood stable and develop a sense of hope that things will work out in the end. 

During this time, you will have noticed that the news and social media have been constantly reporting updates. It is important to be informed, but it is not helpful to be continually checking the latest update. Reduce your exposure to the news as much as possible, and check only reliable sources to be informed, as this will reduce stress and worry. Keep things in perspective, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you are maintaining physical distance to keep well.

In situations like this is when social media helps to keep in contact with family and friends. We can send and receive messages, have conversations through video calls no matter where they are. We can discuss ideas and share information about where we can find music or online courses. And can learn a skill, like a language or how to prepare a new recipe. 

Overcoming loneliness

It is important not to avoid or be frightened by our feelings. It is normal to be scared, to feel confused and disoriented as our routines and habits change due to the disruption.  

It is understandable to feel worried as we see so many changes happening so quickly, bringing a lot of uncertainty and concern. It is a new situation, and we are learning to adapt. One of our strengths as human beings is that we can learn and adapt to change.

There will be times when you might not feel like speaking with others, and this is ok. Take time to reflect on your feelings to identify what they are telling you. Feeling lonely is a sign that we want to connect with others – it is our body encouraging us to reach out.

 It is a little like feeling hungry – we know it is our body telling us it is time to eat. So, although you may not feel like talking, call a friend or speak with someone in your family, and talk about routine things to create a sense of familiarity. 

One way of interpreting social distance is to think of it as physical distance. Therefore, it does not mean that we are isolated or that we are alone (David, 2020). We can view our choice to keep physical distance as doing something useful – it is our way of being social and that we care about others.

As a result, we are now spending more time online than ever before. However, this can be difficult as we are used to being with other people. If you are on your own, it may feel that being alone means being isolated and lonely. It is essential to make a distinction between these words. We can be physically alone and yet feel connected with others. Whereas loneliness refers to feeling disconnected – when there is a discrepancy between the relationships we want and the relationships we have with our friends and family (Cacciopo, 2008). 

It also reminds us that we all share being human, and that we are vulnerable although this does not mean we are not strong.

 If you feel that being on your own is distressing because you are missing social contact with others, acknowledge your feelings, and interpret them as a sign to reach out to others. As we take time to reflect, we will get to know ourselves better and learn to be content in our own company. This, in turn, will benefit our relationships with others and strengthen our sense of belonging. 

Although we must be physically apart, we can use technology to find ways of spending time together with family and friends. Maybe you already have organised activities to share with others, like watching a film together or sharing a recipe to learn to prepare a new dish. 

We can also relate to those we meet on the street when we go for a walk, or when we go to the supermarket. We can smile and say hello, and this will help to create a sense of connection with others – we are all in this together.

Feelings of stress and loneliness may be more strongly felt when we do not have a structure for the day.

Create a routine and include spaces where you can choose to do something creative to engage your mind.  For example, how about taking photos or taking an online course to learn a new skill? Or maybe you would like to take a virtual tour of a city that you have not visited before. 

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”
(Rachel Naomi Remen)

References:

Cacciopo, J. T. & Patrick, W. (2008) Loneliness. Human nature and the need for social connection. London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.

Fogg, B.J. (2018) Tiny habits. The small changes that change everything. London: Virgin Books.

Tierney, J. & Baumeister, R.F. (2019) The power of bad. And how to overcome it. London: Allen Lane.