Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


A day in the life of a student in lockdown

Annabelle Brand, second year UCL English student, takes us through a typical day in lockdown life.

With my end of year assessments finally completed and out of the way, I thought I’d look back at how student life was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. 

Alarm clock on stack of books

Just before lockdown, I decided to leave London and move in with my family back at my home in Bristol. It was a hastily-packed, stressful whirlwind, not helped by conspiracies drifting around that London was about to enter some kind of drastic, Orwellian state of martial law. Never trust anyone whose primary source is their friend’s brother’s neighbour who ‘knows someone in the government’.

As we headed for the M4, I felt my exam motivation rapidly dissolve, followed by my plans for a relaxing summer. Back home, I fluctuated between boredom and panic. I spent the first few days watching the cases of Covid-19 rise, waiting for the Prime Minister’s next announcement and frantically refreshing my emails in the hopes that the UCL English department had sent news about summer exams.

After a few weeks of being home, I learned to cope with the uncertainty of the situation. One of the things that helped me the most was structure. Creating a rough timetable of my day gave me security and made hitting goals more satisfying. This got easier after UCL let me know exactly what was required of me in my summer assessments, so I knew what needed to get done and could plan my time around it.

This is what a typical day looked like as I settled into a lockdown routine… 

9:30-10:00: Getting up 
I’m notoriously bad at getting up, especially without a morning lecture to force me out from under the covers. The best way to fake being a morning person was to charge my phone downstairs overnight. It stopped me wasting time by scrolling as soon as I opened my eyes, and meant I got to sleep with no distractions.

10:30: Breakfast
A decent breakfast is the only thing that can transform me into a functioning human adult. Pancakes are dead easy to make, especially if you have time to make the batter the night before.

11:00: Study Time
Armed with a cup of tea, I make my way into the living room to begin studying. With the absence of the UCL library as my study space, physically moving to a different room helped my brain get in ‘study mode.’

The other tactic to revive my tanking motivation was an app called ‘Forest’. With Forest, you set a time on your phone, and if you don’t look at it for that time, you grow a virtual tree. It might sound like a weak motive to work, but it cut down my scrolling habits and allow me to work undistracted by notifications. I find working in 25-minute slots, with a five-minute break in between, is the most efficient way to power through an essay.

1:00: Lunch
After being in ‘focus mode’ all morning, lunch is a great time to decompress. Chatting about what you’ve just read, learnt or written with flatmates, family, (or even just your cat) helps keep it clear in your mind. It’s also a good chance to mentally congratulate yourself on the studying you’ve achieved so far!

2:00: Study time p. 2
If my mind wanders from work, I switched up what I was studying to give my brain a break. For my end of year assessments, this meant changing from writing an essay to reading a critic, or from reading a text to creating an essay plan. Your brain thrives on change, so keeping it stimulated is key to effective revision.

My degree includes a lot of reading. If I’m struggling, I switch from my book to an audio version (you can find a surprising amount on YouTube), while I do something creative. I recently picked up sewing. It’s way easier to listen to a book while I sew than to skim-read five chapters before realising I haven’t taken in a single word.

4:00 Running
Running is another hobby I’ve started during lockdown, using the NHS’s ‘Couch to 5K’ app. I’m not at 5k yet, but I have got significantly fitter and it’s a great way to clear your head from lockdown stress.

6:00: Dinner
I find cooking especially therapeutic, and lockdown has been a great time to test out new recipes and perfect old ones. So far, my favourite ones have come from Georgina Hayden’s Taverna recipe book, which I recommend to anyone who wants to learn how to cook amazing Greek food.

7:00: Film evening
I have an extensive list of films people tell me I should have watched, but I’ve never got round to. I’ve used lockdown to work through them with my family. For anyone in a long-distance lockdown relationship or who still wants to watch Netflix with their friends, I recommend an app called Kast, which allows you to screen share whatever you’re watching with others.

10:00: Get an early night!
Use lockdown to catch up on your sleep schedule. You no longer have to pull all-nighters or head out to Loop until the early hours. Getting a good night’s sleep also helped me to think more clearly and get better at tackling lockdown stress or anxiety.

Lockdown has been difficult for many people—for some, economic hardship or unemployment, for others difficult relationships made worse through claustrophobia. No matter what Instagram tells you, you don’t have to learn a new language, redecorate your house and get a first all in one day. Sometimes just getting out of bed is a victory, and that’s okay.

I quickly learnt that feeling wracked with guilt if I didn’t feel motivated was exhausting and unproductive. Instead, I made sure I praised myself for anything I did get done. Whether it was writing one paragraph or reading one chapter, it was better than nothing.

Annabelle Brand, second year UCL English student