Doing it all: the importance of making time to manage your wellbeing 

University of Central Lancashire optometry student and optical manager, Zara Cowell, discusses the importance of prioritising your wellbeing, especially during busy periods.

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“Being a student optometrist this past year has been challenging, both with work, study and at home. I learned the hard way that I need to prioritise my wellbeing, in order to support my patients, colleagues and family effectively. As the pandemic hit, I was trying to juggle studying with managing a busy practice, and trying to home school. I neglected my mental health, and ended up breaking down, not really knowing how to manage all the commitments in my life.

“I had to take step back and examine how I was really feeling. To organize my thoughts, I created a ‘feelings mood board’, adding my responsibilities alongside things that I enjoyed doing with my time. Breaking everything down into smaller, manageable chunks allowed me to step back and prioritise easily.

“Reflection was key for me. I find reflecting on a day, or a situation allows me to process it, and not beat myself up if it hasn’t gone the way I expected it to. Weekly reflections, almost like keeping a diary, have been a great tool. I include almost everything; what’s gone well, what I’ve learned, what I will do going forward. Going back over these allows me to see my growth and development, which reinforces all that hard work!

Breaking everything down into smaller, more manageable chunks allowed me to step back and prioritise easily

“I have also committed to taking a 30 minute wellbeing break every day. This might be reading my favourite book, drawing, or going for a walk. I would recommend doing a task that allows you to completely switch off, get away from screens, and give yourself time to breathe. I find that afterwards, my productivity and engagement definitely improve. 

“My university offers a service that helps you to organise your time and help you work out what study techniques suit you best. Many universities offer similar services, as well as mental health support and advice. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of these invaluable tools, as they are there to ensure you are set up to succeed with your studies. 

“It might be that the pandemic situation has left you feeling lost, overwhelmed, down, or just a bit detached. These feelings are normal! Don’t be scared to say you’re not okay, take the time to look after yourself, and talk to others about your situation. Be kind to yourself! Prioritising your well-being will help you to succeed in your studies, and in all future endeavours.” 

Zara Cowell
UCLan student rep 2021

Favourite equipment: OCT/opthalmoscope
Favourite book: Primary eye care
Favourite topic areas: Low vision, paediatrics and pathology
Favourite College resource: Ethical scenarios have been an amazing help with my studies - you can test your professional judgement and gain an understanding of the best care for your patient.
What inspired you to become an optometrist? I started out as an optical assistant then went on to qualify as a dispensing optician. I found a passion for everything optics related, especially paediatrics and low vision.