Keighley Bradford is a Masters student in the School of Creative Industries, and NUPSA’s Communications Officer.
We find ourselves in unprecedented times, forced to upend our everyday routines in order to self-isolate or adhere to practicing social distancing. It’s uncertain when society as once we knew it will return, and for many of us, that’s a scary unknown when information surrounding COVID-19 changes daily, inducing stress and anxiety. Some of us have lost our jobs, adding to the fear of the unknown, while a large proportion of us whom have been deemed non-essential to the economy are now working and studying from home.
As human beings we are threatened by these changes – the drastic shift of our daily routines stirs something deep inside each and every one of us. Richard Thorpe, NUPSA’s Satellite Representative, and a former University of Newcastle Online Councillor, attributes this to our needs as human beings, whereby we seek and desire physical and psychological safety.
“With COVID-19, there may now be real physical safety concerns about self and members of family, which can trigger a stress / anxiety reaction. This stress reaction is perfectly normal in the situation… Unfortunately, this raised level of anxiety may feel uncomfortable, and may reduce concentration span and affect sleep.”
According to Thorpe, “our brain has five key needs; Safety, Control-Orientation, Connection, Pleasure / Avoidance of Pain, and Self Esteem”. As part of this hierarchy of needs, “it’s important to focus on satisfying…the requirement of the lower order needs,” before progressing to the next.
The first need to be addressed is control. Thorpe notes that, “with COVID-19, the need for control will be severely challenged, as it may be very difficult to predict what will happen to one’s study, and resources such as part-time work may be affected.” However, “getting back into a routine working from home can be helpful,” as well as “focus[ing] on activities that [you] can control, [such as] physical exercise”.
Master of Creative Industries student, Josie Small, similarly commented on how control and routine have been helping her through these trying times. Small’s routine since COVID restrictions has been waking at a reasonable hour, writing out a to-do list and checking off the tasks off as they’re done, and most importantly, finding ways to keep herself “accountable throughout these tough times.”
As someone who has always “found the gym to be somewhere where I can clear my head and [as a place that] had always helped with any tension or anxiety that I could be feeling,” Small adds that, “I have been keeping up with [exercise] at home and it helps in regards to keeping productive and ensuring you keep that accountability intact.”
Once this need is satisfied, the next to be fulfilled is connection. Thorpe says that, “with social distancing rules now in place and tightening daily, social isolation is likely to exacerbated even more, which could contribute to a reduction in mood and motivation, perhaps even leading to depression.” [This is why] “it is important to connect via face (at a distance) where possible, but also to connect daily to friends and family via phone or video-conference.”
When asked about the challenges isolation has caused, Small remarked: “I haven’t been as motivated to do as much and have been procrastinating even more than ever. I also find myself struggling socially, as a big chunk of my day-to-day week would be seeing my close friends and going out […] It was a big debrief and being able to get out of the house helped keep me sane.”
Thankfully, we do live in a technological society that makes staying connected globally a lot easier than before. With apps like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and social media platforms, we are more easily able to stay connected with friends and family during times of social distancing.
Furthermore, thanks to technology there are even more ways to be social – and they can be associated with our next need, pleasure. Thorpe notes that, “with the closure of pubs, gyms and social gatherings this becomes a major challenge,” but pleasure can come in many forms – such as from physical exercise, spending time on your hobbies, or even being “kind and compassionate to others, perhaps [as] a random act of kindness.”
The University of Newcastle associations are even getting on the virtual event train, with UON Student Central, Yourimbah, NUSA, and yes, of course, NUPSA, all offering online activities like Netflix Parties and live music to help us stay connected. NUPSA even has a Facebook group caled ‘The Postgrad Personalities Project‘ that’s a safe place for all UON postgrads to stay connected during these troubling times.
Next we have the need of self esteem, which Thorpe believes we cannot fulfill until we have satisfied the other aforementioned needs. In addition to these, “we also need to fulfill the basic biological needs of the body,” which are 8-9 hours of sleep, good nutrition, hydration, activity and (sun)light / Vitamin D.
“When we are under stress, it’s easy to let these aspects of our daily life slip a little,” Thorpe adds. “With the COVID-19 disruptions, many [postgrads] will be very worried about their studies and futures, [likely feeling] under a moderate amount of pressure” – however, “it is really important to be compassionate with yourself during COVID-19. Listen to your body and brain’s needs and look after your whole self.”
If you are feeling stressed and anxious, Thorpe recommends that you talk to someone, such as “a university counsellor, your supervisor, or even call the University Crisis Line (you don’t have to be in a crisis)” to use their services. “Talking with an independent third party can help you to gain a realistic perspective on your situation […] and can help to make alternative plans and feel more hopeful about the future.”
If you’d like to get in contact with UON Counselling, you can schedule a Skype / Zoom / Phone appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact them After Hours (5pm-9am weekdays / 24 hours weekends) via the University Crisis Line by calling 1300 653 007 or texting 0488 884 165.
On a final note of support from your postgrad peer, Josie Small says:
“Isolation is not always a bad thing […] At this point in time [it] can [mean] to keep someone or ourselves safe and healthy, however if you were asking me before, it would surround a lot around being alone or separated from your friends or from the outside world […] I definitely feel like studying online is 110% different to studying on campus. It is a struggle to stay productive and on top of everything, especially when you’re at home, where there are countless distractions [like] a cute 2-year-old Maltese Shiatzu wanting / needing all of your attention.
“I feel [that] going from face-to-face to online learning, that I am not keeping up as much as I’d like and am struggling to maintain a good routine with study, however you’ve got to try something at least once and work at it until you get the hang of it […] We need to remember that we still have a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear. I know it is easier said than done, but it’s important to see the positives throughout the wave of negatives.”