The University Counselling Service is producing a series of articles and podcasts to support students during the coronavirus pandemic. This time we offer advice on facing loss in your academic life.
In what culminated in a rapid response to COVID-19, Universities moved classes and exams online, bringing life as students knew it to a sudden halt. With little time to process your ‘new normal’, this in itself, can be experienced as a significant or traumatic loss.
It may feel like there is nothing to temper the sadness and anguish of saying an abrupt goodbye to this academic year or indeed the final stage of your degree. While losses within your academic world mount, there may also be personal bereavements and other disruptions such as becoming aware of family financial hardship, adjusting to living at home indefinitely and an awareness of an uncertain future, yet to be faced.
When the relative comfort of college life is suddenly gone, some of you might feel catapulted back into the reality of your lives before university. While home can be a very positive place to return to, for some it may represent a place where family difficulties and our own aloneness resides. This reality might feel too big to bear. This sudden, if temporary, end to your university identity can dismantle the emotional defenses you had in place which allowed some of you to feel less burdened by your histories or homes of origin.
Just know that depressed or anxious thoughts and feelings about yourself and your future are common and even more pronounced at this time. And even though this experience of loss and existential despair can be destabilising, the upheaval can also provide an opportunity to address what is in front of us and build resilience for the longer term.
If you’re struggling to move forward, consider some of the following:
Grieving will be necessary and there’s no right amount of time or way to grieve. Adopt a self- compassionate approach where possible to validate your feelings of loss and harness your motivation to move forward whilst carrying losses alongside you.
It's perfectly natural and appropriate to want to get on and 'do things' to help the situation, to not want to 'dwell on' what could have been. And it’s timely to try plan, to function, to progress, even on a small scale. But, as with any loss or bereavement, it's important firstly to notice and acknowledge that there has been a loss.
Try talking about it openly and honestly. Given we are experiencing a universal experience of loss, your partner, friends or/and family will most likely be able to relate and be present with these shared feelings. Stay regularly connected with your loved ones online (and offline where permitted). And remember, however overwhelming the loss may initially feel, it doesn’t need to be defining of you in the longer term.
Recognise that something significant, disruptive, and potentially upsetting, has happened, this affects our self-directed motivation and will. Some days we may feel better than others. We may have some unproductive moments when it feels harder to study, to look after ourselves, or even look forward to the future.
Be hopeful about your future even if social media and global communications seem negative and hopeless, it is important to look to what can be done in your world. What domains of your life are within your control, however small? E.g. staying in touch regularly with loved ones online, sustaining a healthy diet, working out an exercise routine, timetabling study and rest periods, revisiting old hobbies, following good sleep hygiene.
And finally, let yourself contemplate ‘Life after Covid-19’! While we are operating under a new normal and have to live with the consequences, remember your life before the pandemic. And how it will be possible to integrate recent events into your life experience and move forward. You will perhaps have experienced adversity on a smaller scale before, think again about your capacity to recover. And perhaps one new way to create meaning, purpose and belonging as well as calling upon your existing coping strategies.
Some reading and web resources should you wish to explore further: