Building resilience and supporting student mental health

Never before has it been so important that we teach students the skills to be able to navigate these times and to build the resilience and coping skills that will help them now and in the future.


Student life has changed significantly over the past 12 months with huge repercussions for students. Not only has their current learning environment changed but their future is likely looking increasingly uncertain too. It is the perfect storm for mental health to decline and feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation to fester. Being a student is a transient time and the global pandemic has heightened existing fears and challenges as well as introducing new ones.

Our top ten tips for catching life's curveballs can help students deal with uncertainty and cope with some of the challenges Covid-19 has thrown at them. They also suggest ways for finding enjoyment and learning to thrive in times of adversity.

We’d encourage you to share these with your students but we also know that life is extremely challenging for us all right now. Perhaps there are some that could help you too.

1. Don’t always look for safety in numbers



When things are tough, it’s natural to want to search for people in the same position as you. It’s reassuring to know we’re not the only ones and there is definitely value in realising that everyone has ups and downs. However, everyone and every situation is unique. What works for you might not work for someone else and vice versa, so try to find the pathway and solutions that are right for you. On the surface, someone might seem to be in the exact same situation as you, but dig a little deeper and those similarities will be limited. Instead, surround yourself with people who can inspire you, walk alongside you and encourage you to find your own way forward.


2. Stay in the moment, at least some of the time



Focusing on the here and now is a great way to connect with yourself. Tuning into your feelings and your body and slowing down your thoughts can bring a real sense of calm. Our minds have a tendency to get stuck in the future, worrying, planning, obsessing even. The reality is that the future is never certain. In fact, did you have plans for how life would work out when you were younger? I’m willing to bet that things didn’t turn out how you originally thought they would. I’m also willing to bet that for the most part things have turned out okay, perhaps even better? Many of the jobs and technology (not to mention the current affairs) that exist now wouldn’t have existed when you first started to think about what you might want your life and career to be. The same will be true of the years ahead. Rather than focus too much on planning at the moment perhaps you could focus on you and developing your skills, learning about what you enjoy and caring for yourself so you can embrace the future, however it looks.

3. Cut ‘should’ from your self-talk vocabulary


There is a lot of messaging around what we should and shouldn’t be doing during the pandemic and our social media feeds are full of peoples lockdowns achievements. All that ‘should’ does is leave you feeling guilty, ashamed and inadequate. Quick tip, swap out ‘should’ for ‘want’! Rather than saying ‘I should be exercising every day’, instead it becomes ‘I want to exercise every day’. This small change may lead us to act out of desire and self-compassion, not obligation and guilt.


4. Be curious about change



The one consistent in life is change. Change can be scary, but it can also be energising, opening up new doorways and challenging you to grow and explore different parts of yourself. It doesn’t feel easy, it often feels uncomfortable. We each have our own comfort zone and the closer we get to the edge of this the more challenging it gets. But this is also where there is the most potential for you to explore life, to understand yourself better, to know what makes you tick and the kind of people you want to surround yourself with. It’s where we grow and growth can be an incredible thing!


5. It’s okay to be sad. It’s also okay to be happy


When life gets tough we can easily stop giving ourselves permission to also enjoy it, or parts of it. Even in the darkest moments there is room for joy. It’s one of our bodies coping mechanisms, it gives us a small break and it connects us with others and ourselves. Life has beautiful moments and devastating moments and they all come together. Let yourself see the good, look for it and appreciate it. If you find yourself feeling happy, enjoy it, celebrate it and remember it. Happiness and sadness can coexist.


6. Find your anchors


We don’t always have control over what happens to us and around us in life and this can be very unsettling. The things that happen in the world, and also in our own lives, can leave us feeling unbalanced and a little at sea. To help you in these times find your ‘anchors’, the things that ground you and make you feel calm and which will help you navigate these stormier times. Maybe it’s a routine - the same breakfast each day or a moment for a coffee or tea each morning; something you do each day or return to. Perhaps it’s a hobby or perhaps it’s a friend you talk with regularly. Maybe you find a bit of time each day to ground yourself or you go for a run, listen to music or write in a journal. Find what works for you and use it to give yourself consistency, familiarity and to guide you through the ups and downs of life.

7. Remember to set boundaries with others


Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, some in more ways than others. While you want to be there to support friends and family, it’s really important to maintain boundaries for your own mental health. For many people, establishing boundaries can feel challenging and distressing, but boundaries are at the core of our wellbeing. If you feel like someone is relying on you a lot emotionally, make sure you remember to put your own oxygen mask on first. Don’t feel like you have to engage instantly, make sure you are prioritising your own self care. You cannot look after others if you aren’t taking the time to reset your own energy.


8. Stay connected



When you’re struggling it can be tempting to withdraw and isolate yourself. It’s not easy to tell people how you’re really feeling and it can be even harder when you pretend that you're okay when you’re not. But connecting with others can help you get some of those difficult feelings out, to air them, digest them and hopefully lessen them. Talking with someone else can be one of the most helpful things you can do, whether it’s a professional, a friend, someone you trust or whether it’s talking to a complete stranger in a safe context.


9. Ask yourself “and then what?” when you’re stuck on an anxious thought



Not all of our anxious thoughts are rational, so by asking yourself “and then what?” you force yourself to think further ahead. This helps us to weed out those thoughts that are unreasonable or improbable.


10. Know that you’re not alone



Life is tough and we don’t say it enough. Too often we plaster a smile on our faces and pretend that everything is great, when actually sometimes it isn’t. I think we all know deep down that this isn’t helpful to anyone. We end up feeling more alone than ever because we can’t talk about how we’re really feeling. But if there’s one thing you remember from reading this far, let it be this: you are not alone. We are all in this together and while life may look different for all of us and we will all go through our own twists and turns, you don’t have to go it alone.


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