Friday 12 February 2021

Dealing with grief and being overwhelmed during University

Candice shares her experience about coping with challenges such as being overwhelmed and grieving during her university experience.
- Candice Williams

Navigating university is an, at times, overwhelming experience. But attending university virtually, as a result of a pandemic, is an altogether different affair. For my undergraduate program, I completed my degree face-to-face. But my master’s degree, begun in September 2019, was accomplished mainly from the comfort of my own home. Starting a University course, whether it be an undergraduate or masters programme, is hard enough but was made even harder when I received some bad news. Two days before the course began, my grandmother passed away. I was heartbroken. Her passing was sudden, and my family and I were in a state of shock. Although it wasn’t the best start to my master’s degree, I only missed a couple of lectures and managed to stay on top of my assignments and workload.

Besides being a full-time student, I was also working two jobs, completing a placement (as part of my university course) and volunteering. I had a lot on my plate, and at times, I felt very overwhelmed. Just when I thought I had everything balanced, the pandemic hit. I lost both of my jobs, my placement and volunteering work was stopped, and university moved online. It was an adjustment period, but it made me realise that I was using being busy to distract myself and sweep things under the rug. In hindsight, I needed that downtime. I needed that time at home to work on me, to focus on the things I needed to work on and get the help necessary to improve my quality of life. And I did just that. I plucked up the courage and asked for help. I received several cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions, and am grateful for what I learned along the way. In the future, I aim to provide advice to students to enhance their university experience and protect their overall wellbeing. I find the following ways essential for coping with grief and workload during university:

1)    Talk to your tutor

Your tutor is a person you can confide in, someone who may have been in the same position as you. My tutor was a past student, so he understood how I felt about assignments and university pressure. As I was grieving, I thought that I needed to take a break and was able to talk to my tutor about extending my deadlines and possibly deferring for a year if I needed to.

2)    Talk to your friends

Having a support group is so important. Talking to your friends is a great way to relieve stress and get things off your chest.

3)    Having a self-care routine

Self-care is doing things that make you feel good! That could be having a bath, eating some great food, or even watching a movie in bed! Catering to our wellbeing is necessary. It boosts our mood and makes us feel better, especially if we have been feeling low.

4)    Write a schedule

Having time to complete your assignments and attending your lectures/seminar groups is essential. Having a plan will help you see when your deadlines are and identify when you have free time to practice self-care.

5)    Have a study group

If you need extra support with your assignments, or would like to get a different perspective, you can form a study group. Remember, your classmates are in a similar position to you! You could even create a WhatsApp group to discuss assignments and lecture notes.

6)    Revise as if you have a face-to-face exam

Regarding online exams, I found that it helps to revise a bit to understand the concepts that may be mentioned in the exam. When my face-to-face exams were transferred online, I had already started revising, so felt less stressed about this new form of examination. I would recommend organising both your ‘lecture’ and ‘further reading’ notes. Having notes helped me tremendously, as I knew where to find the answers to the questions!

7)    Have something to look forward to

Being bogged down with work can be stressful. It is crucial to complete your assignments, but it is also vital to have something to look forward to. For example, if you have completed a project, you should congratulate yourself and do something to celebrate. Of course, we need to abide by government restrictions, but we can still celebrate at home! When I finished my dissertation, I binge-watched my favourite shows! I had worked hard, so I felt it necessary to take a few days of downtime to chill and relax.

All in all, I enjoyed my university experience. Reaching out for help during my grief showed me that I don’t have to suffer in silence and gave me the tools to cope with my assignments. Now I know the importance of self-care, I have incorporated it into my daily routine - I hope you do the same too!

Hello, my name is Candice and I recently completed my Masters in mental health: Psychological Therapies. I am sharing my story in order to give students advice on hope to navigate university, manage their wellbeing as well as being the best student they can be.

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