How to cope in (another) lockdown

6 January 2021

So while 2021 is finally upon us, it hasn’t been a great start to the year if you’re in the UK. With the third national lockdown just beginning, let’s think about how best to look after your mind and body to get you through it.

A female student wearing a mask sits at a table with her laptop

1. Create a routine  

Your pre-2020/2021 everyday routine was probably structured by lots of external things – attending lectures, spending time commuting, writing essays, going to labs. Of course, you fitted things like socialising, playing sports and doing hobbies around this. Now that so much of the structure has been removed, it’s important to create your own structure.  

Build your daily routine around what works best for you, but try to be disciplined about what time you wake up and go to sleep, as well as creating a solid morning routine to get you up and commute the long distance between your bed and your desk. It’s definitely worth making sure you get up and get dressed, rather than lounging about. Also, try and make your day structured to replicate your usual university day – think 9-5 with regular short breaks and an hour for lunch.  

Routines are so important for mental health, and spending a few weeks working one out for you and getting into the swing of things is a valuable use of your time that will pay dividends. Also, in a year when so much is out of our own control, controlling your own routine could benefit you and help you feel more grounded.  

Read more about creating a good daily routine.  

Create a good sleep routine for yourself.  

2. Create separation  

Working, relaxing and sleeping in the same room is a lot to deal with. Even if the main room you are using at the moment is your bedroom, you can still create some separation between activities. If you’re studying, make sure to sit at your desk or table, when you’re watching Netflix, do this in bed or on the sofa – but don’t mix the two! This will help to compartmentalise your activities and ensure you’re in the right frame of mind, being fully attentive to that pesky essay or the trials and tribulations of whatever you’re watching. 

Read our tips for setting up a study space in your home. 

3. Stay in touch  

2021 might just be the return of the overdone Zoom quiz or the Netflix party. We’ve all got screen fatigue and things sometimes just feel so much harder. Remember to stay in touch with your friends and family, as those supportive relationships will help you through. While video calls are great for feeling connected, sometimes it can be a bit much. Maybe you could call someone to make a chore feel that little less daunting? Why not take a walk and catch up with your best mate? That way you’re moving your body and connecting with others.  

4. Create things to look forward to  

The things we look forward to in 2021 are very different from other years. We can’t escape to a sunny beach, snowy mountain or simply a pub so easily. So you’re going to need to create some new ways to give you things to look forward to.

Cooking can be a great way to spend some time – and you get the instant gratification of eating the food you're making as soon as you’re done! Why not try cooking something more complex or something completely from scratch? With so much time on our hands to only spend at home, spending a few hours cooking something elaborate could be just the mental escape you’re looking for.  

We all love a Netflix series, and this could be the time to get started on that new one you’ve been meaning to watch for ages. Maybe you’ll finally get around to watching the film/reading the book/playing the game that your friends have recommended, but you’ve never actually looked at.  

Maybe you or someone you know has a lockdown birthday? Get planning! There are plenty of things we can still do – you just have to get a bit more creative.  

Want to do a bit more for you and your local community? Think about volunteering! There are plenty of opportunities you can get involved with, even from the comfort of your bedroom. Being able to make a difference to others could be just what you need to feel useful and good about yourself right now. Take a look at volunteering opportunities through Students’ Union UCL.  

5. Don’t forget about your assignments 

It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and sometimes your university work can be a source of stress, or it can end up getting put on the backburner while you try and look after yourself. Instead of burying your head in the sand, tackle those assignments. Maybe it’s worth planning things out on a calendar in front of you with all the deadlines you have coming up in the next few weeks, and other things you need to get done. Work backwards to find out when you need to get started – and make sure you leave a few days before the deadline, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. More stress is the last thing you need this year.  

6. Get into good mental health habits  

With a bit more time on your hands, and more time to spend by yourself, this is a good time to get to know yourself and also take real care of your mental health and wellbeing. This can take whatever form works best for you, but a good place to start is our mental health and wellbeing resources. 

7. Get into good physical health habits  

Make a habit of moving your body. Of course, our options are limited, but there are still lots of online resources for you to benefit from, whether you’re interested in low or high intensity workouts, starting a Couch to 5K programme, doing a Project Active class or taking a daily walk to get some fresh air and Vitamin D. Again, it might take a bit more creativity, but the link between physical and mental health is clear and it could really help your mind and body. And of course you can use your allotted exercise time to get out of the house - it's a win-win situation!

8. Make time to rest 

Rest is a hard one to come by! Living so much of our lives on screens for university work and socialising can leave you feeling pretty drained, as well as the challenge of day-to-day life at the moment. This means that taking time to consciously rest has never been so important. Rest can take whatever form you need it to be - whether that’s getting a few extra hours of sleep, taking short breaks throughout the day or carving out some time in the day to meditate. 

9. Don’t feel guilty for everything you are and aren’t doing  

These tips are designed to support you to look after yourself during lockdown. It’s important to remember, though, that you don’t need to be doing all of the things, all of the time. If you’re training for a marathon, good for you! Really got into baking sourdough and making kimchi? Cool! But getting through this period is going to be a challenge, and if you can get through it while completing your assignments, taking active care of your mental health, and coming out the other side having learned a few things about yourself and others, then that’s great.  

Get support from UCL Student Support and Wellbeing.

Read more tips from BBC Newsbeat.