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Academic Anxiety
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For once, the age-old tale that school life was “much harder back in my day” could not be further from the truth. The class of 2020/2021 are enduring one of the most difficult global events in recent memory, and they are doing so while juggling concerns over grades, exams, and future employment. Of course, this isn’t the Misery Olympics – everyone is struggling in one way or another – but no one can say that our current generation of students has it easier than the classes of the past.

The true scale of the pandemic’s impact upon our students is shocking. According to the COVID-19 Social Study, as of February 21st 2021, young adults (18–29) are one of the most depressed and anxious demographics.

FE News reported that 80% of graduates are worried that COVID-19 will affect their grades. Before the pandemic, 49% of graduates were confident about gaining employment, but now, only 33% are. Plus, according to the 2020 Take the Temperature report, 58% of young people are unsure about their futures due to the impact of COVID-19.

These anxious feelings are either bleeding into or out of concerns over their academic futures, and a sense of lack of control over it. Where students of the past have been able to carve out a clear path and checklist of items they can and need to accomplish, in the current climate, the road ahead is foggy, and paths of opportunity are as cut off as the rest of us.

With this in mind, we will explore how colleges and universities are helping students to wrench back control, start building for tomorrow, and ease their anxieties in the process. Whether you’re a student in higher education or an older student debating enrolling for adult study courses,

Remember: It’s a global traumatic event

Before we dive into how educational institutions are working hard to safeguard the future of its students, it’s important to understand what is happening right now. More than that, it’s vital that people understand their reactions are not unwarranted.

We’re currently undergoing a global traumatic event quite unlike anything in recent memory. If students are not springing out of bed ready to take on the world, that’s more than understandable.

According to Oxford Clinical Psychology, there are 10 common responses to trauma. These include:

  1. Increased dependence on alcohol or substances
  2. Negative self-image or world view
  3. Feelings of shame and guilt
  4. Grief and depression
  5. Anger
  6. Being jumpier or on edge, leading to difficulty sleeping
  7. Avoidance behaviours
  8. Anxiety and fear
  9. Re-experiencing trauma
  10. Reduced desire for intimacy or sexual activity

We can pair many of these responses to the pandemic. For example, a study revealed that one in three adults increased the amount of alcohol they were drinking in the first lockdown. News outlets were quick to coin the phrase “coronasomnia” to label the surge in sleepless nights over lockdown too. In fact, we can certainly attribute every trauma response on the list to common behaviours witnessed during lockdown.

So, the first step is to breathe, take a step back, and give yourself a break. Performing well under pressure is one thing but performing well under a global traumatic event is quite another!

Make use of school support systems

Instead of worrying about what is and isn’t enough, focusing on what can and can’t be done is helpful, as it will narrow down a feasible plan – and with it, a sense of control.

Firstly, take stock. Students need to be honest about their current energy levels and what they can comfortably attain with that. It is also useful at this stage to explore what resources are available to help achieve these goals.

Many colleges and universities have put together support systems throughout the pandemic. These include mental health and wellbeing resources, several safeguarding measures, and a boost of academic support. Learning has shifted towards digital platforms, easing some of the anxieties students may have regarding the safety of lectures and seminars face to face. Plus, there are several new avenues to bolster any gaps that restrictions may have imposed on extra-curricular opportunities. Future CVs can still be embellished for employers, simply through different ways – for those students aged 19 or over and unable to gain practical experience on top of their studies, they could take advantage of free online adult study opportunities.

Researching these resources will help safeguard future employment applications. Furthermore, as this is a worldwide crisis, the chances are that any CV anomalies for 2020–2022 will be forgiven and understood by employers. Instead, companies will want to see how students of all ages spent that time – with the understanding that the circumstances hardly made for the most motivating environment.

The priority is you

In a strange way, there’s one benefit to this life difficulty being a global one – everyone understands what is happening on a personal level. People won’t have to explain to a future employer why a personal event in their life accounted for a gap in their CV, nor will they be put in the painful situation of feeling like they have to justify their struggle when a grievance impacted their studies. Everyone understands how lockdown and restrictions have had huge influences on our energy levels and focus, and that’s before we even consider the human element of COVID-19 potentially taking loved ones from us too.

At the end of the day, a global pandemic is something we simply have little control over. That sense of lacking control can be daunting, and it will impact many aspects of your life. But, by taking stock and figuring out which self-improvement pursuits you can control, you can not only prepare for your employment ventures of the future but also build yourself an anchor to hold onto during these difficult times.

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