An Undergraduate Experience of Pandemic Life
Guest blog post written by Evie Sbardella
Undergraduate Psychology Student at Newcastle University
COVID-19. Shielding. Lockdown. Hearing these words triggers a wave of anxiety and dread as there are so many known unknowns surrounding the pandemic. Can I plan anything in advance anymore? Will Christmas be cancelled? Will my loved ones be safe? Is there a vaccine? Fear of the unknown had been driving my life throughout lockdown and it was not until I attended a seminar by Dr Mark Freeston that I realised it.
After winning a 3 year personal battle with depression and anxiety, pre COVID-19, I was stronger, more resilient and more motivated than ever before. I had plans and goals which seemed certain and I was excited at the prospect of life as an undergraduate psychology student at Newcastle University.
When the Government announced the first national lockdown it felt like my life was disrupted overnight. My routines changed, my environment changed, and the way I learnt at university changed. I was an independent student with a busy social life who was now back living with her parents, isolated, and stuck in a never ending cycle of alarming death figures and COVID-19 Government press briefings. This was the perfect environment to resurrect all my previous anxiety issues.
COVID-19 has a way of making ordinary situations seem threatening. I have never worried that my mum is a hospital worker, but during the first lockdown I became anxious knowing she was handling COVID-19 patient notes every day. Even though there was an actual threat that she may catch the virus, on reflection I think it was my interpretation of this threat which made my anxiety so much worse. I noticed that prior to her departure for work, a series of recurring questions flooded my thoughts; Would today be the day she caught COVID-19? Who would look after her if we all got ill? What are the long term effects? These unanswerable questions fuelled uncertainty. I perceived there to be a multitude of potential threats for her at work, making me anxious, uncertain and constantly on edge.
I noticed my anxiety was compounded with every new threat. I had the most difficulty keeping perspective of my worry and spiralling anxiety in relation to my grandparents. My grandad is immunodeficient due to recent chemotherapy treatment and my grandma suffers from dementia. They were both required to shield, and without help from family and friends, my grandad became the sole carer for my grandma. This meant that even though I knew he was mentally suffering, I was not able to visit or provide support. This led to a whole new surge of worries. Such situations created a growing cycle of anxieties and uncertainty. Would my grandad survive catching COVID-19? Would my grandma remember me when I next see her? Would I ever see my grandparents again? I started to wonder how I would cope.
I had a never-ending stream of questions prompted by the perceived threats and perceived uncertainties of COVID-19. The lack of answers was leading me to become increasingly distressed. I have reflected on lockdowns and events over the last 8 months, and I now believe it was intolerance of uncertainty that perpetuated my anxiety.
I started to manage the amount of social media and news I was seeing to stop the overwhelming influx of COVID-19 related information. I also created an Instagram blog called The Mind Cycle to offer support to anyone going through a similarly tough time. My blog includes motivational quotes, current research papers, self-reflections, collaborations with other accounts and self-help advice. Through this work I have presented at a webinar, interacted with charities and developed a supportive network of mental health professionals and friends.
COVID-19. Shielding. Lockdown. The uncertainty and anxiety surrounding these words will not change anytime soon, but the way I perceive them can. I now focus on the dependable things in life like friends and family. I try to use my experiences throughout this pandemic as a positive reminder of my resilience and ability to grow stronger in the face of adversity.
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