Cabin Fever: how a pandemic has affected student mental health

Lockdown and isolation have impacted the Durham student community’s mental health in numerous different ways. Some have found blissful respite from external responsibility while others have struggled with loneliness and resurfacing anxiety. Indigo has compiled four personal accounts detailing the individual stresses and revelations of this period, offering a brief glimpse into the mosaic of what we’ve felt, what we’ve learned, and how we’re trying to cope. 

By Anonymous

I nearly cried during a Laura Ashley closing down sale the other day. Part of this may have been karma for committing perhaps the most encapsulated act of a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman; stereotypical, perhaps, but surely also statistically correct. Nevertheless, I considered, my anxiety also seemed to have taken advantage of lockdown to make a triumphantly crap return. This was somewhat of a surprise. 

Indeed, I decided a few weeks previous that lockdown had actually been beneficial for my mental health: the obsessive thoughts about body image and controlled eating, slowly declining for years, seemed to have sunk even more dramatically the last few months, and I found I was eating and walking about the house without much subconscious consideration of the correlation between a successful life and skinny thighs. Yet, I mentally discussed with myself while speed walking out of Laura Ashley, such apparent progress may have been as a result of the literal absence of any outside world to judge rather than a newly-found sense of self-acceptance. Indeed, as soon as a shop assistant spoke to me with less than 110% enthusiasm, mostly self-denigrating suggestions of explanation began to bounce around my head like the erratic silver spheres of a pinball machine. Anxiety, welcome to the party! But, you look different: comparatively puny, transitory and easily thwarted, applied to someone more resistant than the silent 15-year old cemented in a jungle of agitation. Anxiety, welcome to the party; I know you will leave soon, and I will be perfectly okay.

‘Anxiety, welcome to the party; I know you will leave soon, and I will be perfectly okay.’

By

It’s been four months since I left Durham for Hong Kong, but the memories of that stressful journey back still leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Travelling is a source of anxiety for me on its own, but adding the stress of a pandemic to a 13-hour plane ride made me forget all my healthy coping mechanisms. To say the very least, the journey left me thoroughly exhausted, and two weeks in compulsory quarantine actually functioned as two weeks of desperate recovery. The following two months of self-isolation in Hong Kong were a blur; university assignments were completed in a post-traumatic haze, days were repetitive, and my sleep cycle was disrupted by vivid nightmares. My body was telling me to rest, but there were assignments to complete and exams to prepare for.

However, since exams have ended, my mental health has seen so much progress. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tended to my body’s signals for rest and compassion: I slept in, spent time with family, and celebrated surviving an exceptionally stressful year. It’s somehow felt easier to practice gratitude for moments of joy in these times; I’ve realised the privilege of having a safe space to rest, reflect and recover. It does feel odd that I found peace within myself during a global pandemic, but maybe it isn’t so odd; this tumultuous time has clearly fostered collective revelation and reflection across the globe. Moments of adversity teach us the biggest lessons about ourselves, and I probably understand that now more than ever before.

‘It’s somehow felt easier to practice gratitude for moments of joy in these times; I’ve realised the privilege of having a safe space to rest, reflect and recover.’

By Anonymous

Paradoxically lockdown has, for the most part, brought a state of quietude that would have seemed outrageous during our initial confrontation with the cataclysmic possibilities of the coronavirus. While conquering each day often feels onerous, futile, and relentless, hiatus from ‘normal’ life has given me the opportunity to rationalise everyday anxieties, find new ways to relax, and be relieved of the constant pressure of socialising. I’ve always resented the gambit of “you’re not alone, other people suffer from poor mental health too”, because what use is that? Commonplace is not synonymous with being manageable. Yet, the magnitude of lockdown’s impact has changed this and brought some comfort; staying in bed all day is now a life-saving act rather than a bleak manifestation of anxiety. Furthermore, discussions of mental health have been largely normalised; millions of people are facing the same worries. Acceptance has been key, and it’s been easier to find it. 

That said, it is from a very privileged position of good health and stability that merits can be found in this apocalyptic state. As the initial ‘lockdown Stockholm syndrome’ wears off, it becomes clear how callous it is to revel in the slower pace of life when the globe is gripped by injustice. Much of our pandemic anxiety fuses the fear of returning to normal – repressive daily routines that foster stress and guilt – with the horror of widespread suffering exacerbated by the virus, so although the individual benefits have been invaluable, these are still lost in a broader feeling of unease. 

‘As the initial ‘lockdown Stockholm syndrome’ wears off, it becomes clear how callous it is to revel in the slower pace of life when the globe is gripped by injustice.’

By

Although initially the prospect of being shut indoors for a long period of time seemed quite daunting, I actually found lockdown to be a great learning curve for how I could be kinder to myself.  Normally, whenever life just seemed like an endless storm of negativity, I’d seek out support from a specific group of friends who fostered a sense of emotional safety for me. In effect, socialising would be my safe space as it would allow me to escape the four walls of my bedroom and be somewhere where I can just let my hair down. 

So suddenly not being able to see them and instead being alone with my anxious thoughts scared me. However, I adopted several coping strategies which allowed me to create my own sustainable internal safe space. Or in other words, I wasn’t as dependent on others to feel confident and happy in myself. For example, every morning I would write down five things I love about myself and despite feeling very silly initially, doing this exercise regularly allowed the messages to sink in. I no longer needed to hear these statements from other people to believe them. Self-love and self-acceptance finally started to come more naturally than it ever had before. I’m finally starting to find security and comfort in my own skin.

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One thought on “Cabin Fever: how a pandemic has affected student mental health

  • Karma can hit you even without your knowledge, and you will never know why you are suffering. Deep down, you may have the answer, but you still have to endure the painful process of overcoming the challenges. The pandemic has posed new kinds of challenges to almost all living beings.

    Reply

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