Tips for UoB students to stay on top of university during hard times

Working out routines, mindfulness and finally giving yourself a break during hard times

The days are shorter, the skies darker and the mood even lower. Students across the country are under the weight of deadlines, upcoming exams, extra pressure to entertain festivities, and to top it off… Tier 3 lockdown.

Every new challenge we face is a new pep-talk with ourselves that we’re going to be on top of this. We’re going to be the powerful top-tier student we imagined when we were filling out our UCAS application. But it isn’t that easy – especially during a freaking pandemic.

Sometimes it can feel too far gone to even scrape ourselves back up to the bare minimum. But that is not the case! Granted – these tips won’t act as a cure, here’s some tips for staying on top during university.

(Gradually) develop a morning routine

Everyone says it – what you do when you wake up sets you off for your whole day. Whether your wake-up time is 8am or 2pm, make sure the first things you do are kind to yourself.

Building up micro-habits one challenge at a time, such as making your bed, drinking a glass of water, taking vitamins, or stretching, will eventually – once they’re all added up and become natural to you – set you up for a better day. And as difficult as it is, try to avoid going on your phone first thing – maybe for at least the first 30 minutes of your morning.

Listen to your body with food and exercise

If you’re hungry, feed yourself. No restrictions, just pure food love. Who doesn’t love that feeling when you have no shame to unbutton your trousers at the table? Get snacking and cook up some Gordon Ramsey approved meals with your housemates and satisfy that empty hole without a second thought.

If you’re achy, tired, just straight up not having a good time – get some movement in. Granted, most people don’t find sit ups fun but there’s something out there for everyone. Investigate and find what keeps YOU active. If that’s mastering handstands so you can knock back pints upside down then so be it!

Have a productive desk space that you genuinely love

Sometimes we go to the library to be ‘productive’ then spend it buying overpriced meal deals and coffee, people-watching whoever’s going to the printer. Getting a change of scenery, as nice as it is, can’t magically make you productive.

Especially now corona’s got us sitting at home, a desk space (if you have one) that you find motivating and aesthetically pleasing, makes working at home so much easier. Find yourself some fairy lights, get (or make!) some motivational prints and GET WORKIN’.

Also – invest in a calendar, and stick it up right in your face, making sure you don’t miss a thing. Goodbye double bookings and ‘forgetting’ to set alarms. If you want to be a little more extra, colour code them –for personal and social plans, deadlines and reminders, and timetabled events.

Organise your digital space, too

Don’t just leave resources and PowerPoint slides in your ‘downloads’ folder. Have a folders and subfolders, making sure everything’s properly labelled. It’s the worst having to go through your entire hard drive trying to work out where something out of 10 weeks of downloads is. Keep a folder of your set reading in advance too; to save going back and forth between Canvas and my.bham.

And on that note – stop letting your emails overflow. Make it a part of your routine to go through delete emails you don’t need anymore, even if it’s a form of procrastination. Built up unread mail can be weirdly daunting. If you’re not in the headspace to read important emails, make a folder of things to check back on.

Have a university game plan

Templates work great for this. Make a template of what you need per module – such as reading lists, a page of key words that you can quickly add to when there’s a big university word you don’t understand (which, to be honest, is most of the time), a page of things you find important across the module to help yourself during revision.

Templated checklists work great too. For example – a big table of what needs to be completed per week (lecture notes, reading, seminars), saves the daily to do lists we’re all guilty of making to avoid actually doing them, and can visualise how you’re going to schedule your week.

Be realistic in your planning – consider your social life and other commitments, and what works for you; then see it as similar to a school timetable: something that you don’t have much choice in.

When you’re doing lectures, spend an extra 10-15 minutes popping together some coherent recap notes. But remember – you don’t have to punish yourself for not managing every little thing. Having some notes on half a lecture is still helpful for your future self; even if it isn’t a complete set.

Talk, and ask for help

If there’s any, tiny, little thing you don’t understand at university – ask. It’s made a lot easier too with Padlet’s anonymous question board. Even if you don’t have the mental capacity to check for the answer during that time, you can come back to it during exam period. And remember, you’re paying over nine grand a year. You have the right to book as many meetings and send as many emails as you want.

Remember to make the most of those kettles and heart to hearts with housemates, too. We’re all pretty love deprived at the moment – get onto your housemates for those wholesome hugs. Stressed over deadlines? Hug. Stressed over lockdown? Hug. Missing your significant other? Hug. Huddling together will keep your heating costs down too!


Make time for down-time

We’ve all seen those love languages, right? Words of affirmation, gift-giving, quality time… provide these for yourself, regardless of how cringe it feels. Set aside time for skincare, buy yourself flowers, tell yourself how absolutely incredible you are, make a cheer-up playlist for yourself.

Keeping a diary is a great idea for organising your mind among the chaos of university. Tracking how each day is going, over time, might help you work out what strategies help you get going – such as calling friends, and what small things cause unnoticed stress, such as sleeping in or too much social media. See it as self-therapy!

It’s important to stay on top but don’t get too wrapped up and make sure you have genuine breaks. Join a society and attend their zoom socials. Even if you don’t contribute, the social comfort can be refreshing. Go for a walk somewhere green. Or just get yourself a takeaway and watch a tacky film. Don’t feel guilty for having pleasure and humour in your life. Be silly, make a mess, get creative. Live, laugh, love, as they say.

Sleep and mindfulness

Regular sleeping habits are important (unfortunately). Apps like Headspace, or even YouTube, help you slowly implement mindfulness and meditation into your routine. As cliché as it sounds, try to practice gratitude and mindfulness in each day and in what you consume. Podcasts such as Sleep Cove offers amazing sleep meditations and hypnosis, for those days your brain just can’t shut down.

The Psychology Society are currently running lectures by experts on topics such as these, available to all UoB students for free. This runs on the mentality that we cannot completely avoid negative and uncomfortable situations (such as a pandemic) – we should instead aim to strengthen our resilience in order to process and manage them in healthy ways. Find out more at their Facebook page or @psychosocuob on Instagram.

Give yourself credit

University’s a lot of work. If you’ve done 90 percent instead of 100 percent of what you need to do, or even 50 percent – that’s better than 0. Don’t entertain the ‘all or nothing’ attitude we tend to have. It might look like everyone else is doing great but in reality, they’re comparing themselves to someone else.

Of course, these tips won’t work for everyone, and are easier said than done. Take your time to find your own ways of what works for you. We’re all together in this strange university experience. Let’s get that degree

Don’t be afraid to ask for help:

  • Visit Birmingham Nightline’s website for instant messenger support, or call 0121 472 4621 8am-8pm during term time
  • Contact your medical practice for support if you are worried about your mental health (link to University Medical Practice here)
  • Contact your wellbeing officer for support regarding reasonable adjustment plans, extenuating circumstances and additional support
  • Call Samaritans on 116 123, open 24 hours a day

Recommended articles by this writer:

•Lockdown 2.0 is the absolute last thing I need as a student with mental health issues

•World Mental Health Day: How to look out for yourself, friends and your community

•The five best outdoor spaces to exercise in Selly during lockdown