How to limit the effect of lockdown on student wellbeing

With Britain going into yet another week of lockdown, we thought we would offer some simple tips on how to limit the effect on student wellbeing.

Some worrying recent studies on the mental health effect of quarantine in China and Italy show that up to 37% of the people studied in Italy are reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and adjustment disorder (Rossi et al, April 2020) and up to 35% of people in China may be experiencing trauma related symptoms as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic (Qiu et al 2020). On top of this both studies have shown that these issues were associated more to women and young people. As our main focus at Life on time is student wellbeing, this is especially concerning.

For some, these figures won’t come as any surprise as school and family plans have been postponed with no certainty on when they will restart and to add to this, we have the actual disease; Covid19, lurking around every corner. It is understandable that these circumstances lead to uncertainty, stress and anxiety in any student.

So what can schools, teachers and parents advise students to do, to limit the effect of lockdown on Student wellbeing?

This pandemic has taken one key thing from all of us and that’s our sense of ‘control’. The reduction in our sense of control and certainty in the future breeds stress and anxiety. So, in order to help improve student wellbeing we need to give them advice on how to get some control and certainty back into their life’s. 

While we can’t be sure of the long term future, we can be more sure of the immediate future which is where goal setting needs to be on point right now. Goal setting is well known for improving performance and motivation (Lunenburg , 2011), but it also can be used to effectively improve wellbeing when your circumstances drastically change.

A study by Shroeners et al in 2010 looked at how disengagement from an unattainable goal and re engagement in an alternative goal was effective in improving wellbeing in cancer patients.  The similarity between the circumstances of being newly diagnosed with cancer and being in lockdown during a pandemic has some eery similarities.  Overnight the world changes along with your future plans and your own mortality comes into question.

So what can we learn from this study which will help limit the effect of lockdown on student wellbeing?

We know anxiety builds when we feel we are not achieving what we should be, so to reduce it, we need to adjust our expectations to fit our new circumstances. The best way of doing this is to set specific and attainable goals to our current set of circumstances. Even if you or students don’t write down your goals, plans will still exist in their minds of what they want to achieve, whether it be going to a party or more longer term, like passing an exam. It’s now time for them to reflect on these, maybe put some on pause and set some new shorter term ones based on what they can achieve under lockdown.

Here is our how to guide on re-adjusting goals for lockdown so you can improve your student wellbeing;

If they don’t have existing goals written down, ask them to write them down. A goal is anything you plan or aim on doing in the future. It could be as simple as going for a bike ride, drawing a picture or reading a book.

When setting goals during the pandemic which are focused on effectively improving student wellbeing, goals that are more than 3 weeks into the future may need to be adjusted using the well-known SMART framework. Students need to check that their goals are;

Most adjustments required will likely fall under the Attainable and Timeframe factors of the goal. Covid 19 may well mean that the goal of passing an exam or going on a holiday is postponed or worst case cancelled. We don’t want your students spending too much time deliberating on their longer-term goals as it’s impossible at this stage to have certainty about when lockdown will end. At this stage it is best to postpone them and move onto setting some shorter term goals.

What your students need now are shorter term goals which serve their needs on improving student wellbeing during the lockdown. It’s now the time to focus on setting goals they want to achieve in a time frame which is more certain. Lock down is likely to go on till early May so set some goals which you want to achieve by the end of April (2-3 weeks at the point of writing this. If this extends then the process can be repeated.). Some example goals to help student wellbeing could be;

If one of the new goals is to cook, some smaller actions required to complete this would be to make sure they have all the ingredients, the tools and the recipe. If it’s to start exercise, they may need to make sure they have the right clothing, prepare some running routes and research a running programme online. If your school is arranging online learning then some of the goals will obviously need to incorporate this.

As soon as they have some short-term goals noted down and associated actions, its now time to schedule them. When looking at improving student wellbeing, students will soon be able to use our lifeontime platform online, but for now we want this to be as visual as possible and not on technology. How often have you picked up your phone in past 4 weeks for 1 reason and ended up looking at the news or social media adding to your stress? We suggest a physical wall planner or something like the below.

Once created ask your students to place it somewhere they can easily view it on a daily basis. Maybe a mirror, the fridge or an office they study in. We also recommend physically ticking or crossing off actions and goals as you complete them.

To sum up, when looking at ways to limit the effect of lockdown on student wellbeing, goal setting used effectively will give your students a powerful tool, allowing them to bring back a sense of certainty and control to their lives.

For more information on how goal setting can help student wellbeing please listen to our podcast

Written by Jon Ford
Edited – Dr Alistair Bailie

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