Online studying can be a great option. It’s often more convenient, flexible, and cost-effective than traditional on-campus classes and it can open up a world of learning and opportunity that we might otherwise be unable to access. However, like everything else in life, there can be a flip side.
Studying online isn't just about hitting the books; it's about managing a real-life juggling act. It comes with unique challenges, whether it's balancing work and school or dealing with distance from your institution.
We're here to guide you through the world of online learning and provide some practical tips to help you navigate the distance learning journey while safeguarding your mental health.
Why online learning can be a rollercoaster for your mental health
Online learning can be a fantastic experience, but it doesn't come without its challenges. Here are some of the obstacles that might get in the way – we'll explore how to cope with them in the next section!
Freedom vs overwhelm: Learning at your own pace can be liberating, but also overwhelming without a clear plan.
Tech troubles: Studying online means you're dependent on your Internet access and that any technical difficulties can be highly frustrating.
Motivation: Staying motivated without in-person support can be tough and you might feel like you’ve been left to fend for yourself.
Juggling responsibilities: You might be a parent, have a job, or even both. Balancing responsibilities can be a tightrope walk!
Zoom fatigue: Being constantly on your screen can lead to fatigue and make it hard to stay focused.
Distractions: Whether it's housemates, family members, your phone or household chores, it’s not always possible to avoid distraction especially if you have other responsibilities.
Online learning done right
Read on for our top tips on how to protect your mental health while studying online.
Routine, routine, routine
Getting into a rhythm or routine is an essential part of most people's mental wellbeing. It can help you to stay organized and manage your time effectively. There’s no easy way around it. If you want your online studies to be successful, you’ll need to get organized.
Create a daily schedule with study blocks, short breaks, exercise, and relaxation time. You could use your online calendar to do this and block off your time.
It can also help to schedule your most difficult tasks at the beginning of the week so you can get them off your plate.
Try to stick to your schedule as consistently as possible. Consistency can create a sense of stability and predictability in your life, which can reduce stress.
Create a formal workspace
Your study environment plays a vital role in shaping your learning experience. Picture this: hunched over a messy desk or sitting on your bed with papers strewn everywhere and Netflix streaming in the background – far from the productive environment you deserve.
It’s important to create a designated formal workspace within your home, free from clutter and the distractions of everyday life. This can help you to focus and give a sense of separation between study time and day-to-day life.
You might also want to put your phone on silent or put it in a drawer if you find it’s distracting you from your work.
Set boundaries with the people around you and let them know when you can’t be interrupted. You might want to chat with anyone in your household over breakfast and let them know how your day looks or about any up-and-coming deadlines to help manage their expectations. You could even put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door when you really need to focus.
Family responsibilities can be one of the most difficult things to manage when you’re learning online. If you're struggling to get your work done, you might want to adjust your sleep schedule so you go to bed earlier and get up before everyone else is awake.
Don’t work 24/7
Being able to study online may be super convenient but try to have a hard stop at the end of your working day. Working 24/7 is the fastest way to burn out so shut that laptop and don’t be tempted to switch to looking at your work on your phone. It’s ok to disconnect and recharge, your mental health and wellbeing are just as important as your studies.
Try to make sure you enjoy some downtime. Whether that’s watching TV, taking a walk, or listening to your favorite podcast, take the opportunity to unwind and recharge.
Take screen breaks
To avoid screen fatigue, take regular breaks from your screen, even if you’re not feeling tired. You might want to set an alarm or plan a stretch or drinks break after each lecture.
If you’re looking for something more structured, try the 20-20-20 rule. After 20 minutes of looking at your screen, look at something else 20 feet (6m) away for 20 seconds to give your eyes enough time to relax and refocus.
Try to limit unnecessary screen time, too. You could even go old school and switch to pen and paper to brainstorm your ideas and get a screen break.
If your internet goes down, what are your other options? Is there a cafe close by with Internet access? Can you go to a friend or family member's house? Scout your options and make a plan before it actually happens.
You could also download any pre-recorded tutorials, timetables, or class materials in advance so you can access them offline. Of course, with the best will in the world sometimes tech issues happen.
Try not to panic and remember it’s something that will likely happen to everyone at some point, even your tutor!
Try to connect with your fellow students. Whether that’s via online discussion boards, social media, or online get-togethers. You’re all in the same boat and making the effort early on can provide you with an invaluable support network of people who really get what you’re going through.
Don’t forget to reach out to your tutors too. If you need to ask a question or you’re not sure if you can make that assignment deadline, letting your tutor know is better than turning it over in your mind and getting stressed out.
If you’re struggling and want to talk about something anonymously, reach out to our online community here! Know that you are not alone.
Get out of the house
Sometimes, studying at home can make you feel a little stir-crazy. Make sure you make the time to get out of the house and hit the reset button.
Whether that’s getting outdoors and connecting with nature or a trip to your favorite bakery to get a muffin, you’ll get no judgment from us.
Take care of yourself
Self-care isn’t just about taking a bubble bath at the end of the day. Real self-care is about taking proper care of yourself and making it a priority. That means getting enough sleep, eating well, staying active, and making the time to relax and connect with your loved ones. A small investment in the right places can make all the difference to your quality of life.
Ask for help
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and things aren’t improving, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You could start by finding out what resources are available for online students at your institution.
Many institutions now provide online appointments through their student wellbeing services or you could speak to your doctor.
Reaching out for support is a positive step toward addressing and overcoming any difficulties you may be facing. It means you’re taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you need to do to feel better
In a nutshell
Online learning doesn’t have to feel like an uphill battle. You can master online education while keeping your wellbeing front and center. Remember, it's okay to ask for help or cut yourself some slack when the going gets tough. Your wellbeing is the most important thing.