Life in Lockdown: Khoa’s tips for looking after your mental health in isolation

By Khoa Nguyen

Khoa Nguyen is a master’s student from Vietnam, studying Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations under a Chevening scholarship at the University of Leeds. He is one of UKCISA’s #WeAreInternational student ambassadors. Here are his tips for looking after your mental health while in lockdown.

Khoa and a friend

COVID-19 has been in the spotlight recently and this is expected to continue for months to come. We are facing an unprecedented situation, and it's understandable to feel confused, frightened and even panicked. For some, they are able to stay at home with their loved ones; many others face the lockdown completely alone with their friends and family thousands of miles away. This includes many international students like me. Here are four things that I found very useful for my mental self-care as the outbreak continues.

Acknowledge the situation and be prepared

The sooner we recognise this is the new normality for everyone, the better we can find ways to cope and spend our time more efficiently. While we cannot do much to change the current climate (except to observe social distance and stay at home when advised), we still can have empathy and offer kindness to others. An act of kindness can travel a long way, especially at difficult times like now. Why not check in with your neighbours, let your teachers know how appreciative you are of their efforts to shift teaching to online, stay in touch with friends, and offer help to those who need it where possible! I managed to gift my spare surgical masks and hand sanitisers to two of my friends who decided to go home. I’m relieved to learn that they are now safe and sound back in their homelands. Remember, the entire world is suffering from this pandemic right now, and we should all do our bit to overcome this battle and be prepared for whatever may happen in the long run.

Stay informed and communicate responsibly

The manifestation of anxiety and fear often results from the absence of knowledge. I found it very helpful to learn more about the facts on COVID-19, such as how the situation is evolving, the infection mechanism across communities, and what is recommended to slow down the spread of this virus. Whenever you come across new information, make sure you verify the source to ensure its validity, and share the information if you think this could help others too.

Some people choose to switch off social media and news to avoid negativity from overwhelming information. However, as the situation is rapidly changing, everyone needs to be aware of the updated information and follow official advice. If you find some news or social media posts disturbing or triggering, make sure you regularly check the government websites for up-to-date information on legal requirements and health guidance, instead of scrolling down your social media timeline.

Make the most of virtual socialising

While no one is thrilled to observe social distancing and stay at home, we know it is needed more than ever for the sake of our whole society. Nonetheless, with modern technology, we can all start socialising virtually and not feel alone.

Khoa socialising with friends online.

Khoa socialising with friends online

You’re only one click away from checking in on your family or friends back home and letting them know how you are coping. Is there anyone that you love but haven’t had the time to get in touch with due to a busy and hectic semester? There couldn’t be a better time to catch up and share with each other the amazing stories from your time abroad. This can easily be done via Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. I have been talking to my family every day on Facebook and doing video calls with my old friends from high school at weekends. Remember, everyone is in this together, so do not ever feel ashamed to speak up by asking your friends to reconnect to lift you through the temporary loneliness. It's time to take advantage of social media before getting back to actual real-life socialisation, let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Love yourself, it's time for inner connection

Have you ever complained that there aren’t enough hours in a day? So why not start doing things that you have always wanted to do during the lockdown!

I have found it very rewarding to spend more time going through the additional readings of my favourite module. If you are not in the mood for academic reading, why not read more about some interesting facts about the culture and heritage of the city and the country where you are living?

Another way to stay healthy is through physical activities. Yoga and Zumba are just some of the options for me to spend my time with positive energy and good music. Nobody’s looking, so what are you waiting for? Do a quick search on YouTube or Facebook, find the instructors that click with you, and then give each class a try and see how it goes.

What's more, why not start planning things you can do after the pandemic ends, which might keep us hopeful and motivated for the coming months on our own. People will start writing to share their experiences, so there will be more interesting stories for us to relate and great ideas to pick up on.

Some people might want to take up a new skill, such as drawing, cooking, designing clothes, learning a new language, or even drafting a start-up business proposal. Whatever you decide to do, do it because there won’t be another time like this, when you have all the hours you need to love yourself and appreciate self-connection.

Life will hopefully return to normal soon, but remember, you are not alone. So take care of yourself, look out for others, and maintain a positive outlook. One day, we will be able to go out to see our beloved friends and take a long walk in a green park under the lovely sun of the summer, again. Until then, take care!

Other relevant websites

UKCISA COVID-19 information for international students

UKCISA Student Ambassadors

The University of Leeds

Chevening Scholarships

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