Four people sitting on a concrete wall. Photo by Kate Kalvach on Unsplash.
Four people sitting on a concrete wall. Photo by Kate Kalvach on Unsplash.

Welfare and wellbeing blog: Life in a bubble

Households, or 'bubbles', are a fact of Oxford life in this year of COVID-19. They deliver clear benefits, but may also create some significant challenges. This blog identifies some of these challenges, and suggests ways to navigate them.  

Most of us recognise households, or 'bubbles', as a practical necessity during COVID-19, enabling us to have close social, academic and other contact while mitigating the risk of infection and protecting the community as a whole. In addition to the obvious benefits, household membership may bring other benefits—for example, making it less overwhelming to find your way into such a large new community, and encouraging the development of deeper relationships versus a larger number of more superficial ones. However, life in a household may also present significant challenges. 

Some things that might be difficult

  • Feeling ‘trapped’ or claustrophobic in your household, especially if you feel very different in terms of background, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, personality or interests.
  • Comparing your household unfavourably to others, perceiving them as cooler, more harmonious, more fun, or more desirable in some other respect.
  • Having to manage conflicting views about how your household should operate. Some might favour a heavy drinking culture and others not. Some might feel you should all be instant best friends, whereas others might prefer a bit more space and independence. Some might favour strict compliance with COVID precautions whereas others would prefer a more relaxed stance.  It can be a challenge to find common ground, and to navigate differences.
  • Spending a lot of social time with subject peers may lead to heightened competitiveness, and can amplify “imposter syndrome” for anyone who struggles a bit more than others to cope with academic demands or to adjust to academic expectations.

Thoughts that might help

  • Try not to compare your household with others. Appearances can deceive, and it is all too easy to compare the outside of other households with the inside of your own.
  • Take responsibility to get what you need. This may mean taking the initiative to change something about how your household operates. But it may also mean taking initiative to find and connect with like-minded people outside your household.
  • Be aware of your impact—positive and negative—on the wellbeing of others in your household. Take responsibility to ensure that no one in the household is overlooked or, wittingly or unwittingly, excluded.
  • Be proactive in addressing issues and offering support. At the same time, bear in mind that someone in your household may need help or support beyond what your household can provide and encourage them to reach out.

  • If you sense there are issues that could be useful to air, consider having a household meeting. There is no single ‘right’ way to approach such a meeting, but below we suggest one approach, based on simple conflict-resolution principles. 

How to approach a household meeting

  • Set aside time without distractions or interruptions, and get everyone to switch their phones off. 
  • Take 5-10 minutes for each person to write two lists: a ‘glad’ list of things they appreciate and value about the household, and a ‘mad/sad’ list of things causing frustration or unhappiness.
  • Share and celebrate the ‘glad’ lists, then move on to share the ‘mad/sad’ lists. Don’t debate or discuss. Allow questions, but only for clarification.
  • Consider any changes that could alleviate issues on the ‘mad/sad’ list.

Further guidance and support

If you have done your best to engage positively with your household, but are still finding life in your household a struggle, reach out to someone who may be able to offer you another perspective: perhaps a peer supporter, a member of your college welfare staff, or a counsellor. In the event of serious conflict which you have not been able to resolve, you can approach your college welfare team or the Student Resolution Service for help. The Student Resolution Service is a free and confidential mediation service for students finding themselves in conflict with other students.

You can explore the full range of blogs and podcasts created to support you throughout the pandemic on the Counselling Service pages.