Wellbeing and the COVID-19 pandemic: our student reps give their tips  

Our 2021 student reps discuss how they have been looking after their wellbeing while studying during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Studying optometry can be hard enough in normal times, but the challenges brought about by online learning and feeling isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic have made the past year particularly difficult. Our student reps Ishaa, Amy (Cardiff University), Daniyaal (University of Hertfordshire) and Krishnee (Aston University) discuss the ways they have managed their wellbeing during the pandemic.

It’s good to talk

Talking to friends, family or your personal tutors can help to remind you that you aren’t alone, even when you feel overwhelmed and isolated from your peers. “Throughout my time at university I’ve felt a lot of Imposter Syndrome,” says Ishaa. “I didn’t realise what this was until I read about it online and talked to a family member, who told me that 20 years into a stable career, they still felt it. I also chatted to my supervisor about it – they were quick to reassure me I wasn’t the only one and a lot of healthcare students feel the same way. All it took was a simple conversation to make me realise I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling.”

Krishnee also emphasises the importance of socialising: “Missing out on the buzz and vibrancy of university life is taking its toll. Social distancing also makes it harder to make connections, and develop relationships. In my free time, I arrange video calls with my friends and family. It’s a great way of maintaining visual contact with loved ones and staying social with quiz nights and celebrating special occasions virtually.”

Be prepared, feel calm

“I found planning helpful, as deadlines would always weigh on my mind,” says Daniyaal “But having a to-do list and a diary has kept me on my toes. I always feel at ease when I translate my thoughts to writing. I would definitely recommend downloading a diary app! And prioritise elements of your study, so you don’t find yourself being overwhelmed with the workload.”

Ishaa agrees: “Optometry can be pretty intense so I think it’s important to stay organised. I find the best way to do this is to break up a big goal (e.g. revising for a module) into smaller goals (e.g. revising a lecture) and then timetabling these small goals often. Before you know it you’ve revised a full module, and something that seemed unmanageable becomes easier. I also write a to-do list every day. I like to keep them short and make sure they include things other than university work (like going for a run or doing washing).”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t achieve your goals first time round,” says Krishnee. “Something I personally find useful is making a to-do list, which includes my online lecture times, on-campus practical sessions, as well as chill time. This has helped me to find a good balance.”

Getting outside

“I find getting out for a little walk, even in the temperamental Cardiff weather, is a great way to help clear my mind, and often helps put things in perspective,” says Amy. “When you’re alone worrying in your room, problems can easily seem insurmountable and overwhelming. Getting out helps remind me that there’s a whole world outside, and that my worries are a tiny blip in the vastness of it all. Recently, I’ve been trying to get out every day. I focus on the things around me that are so easy to miss when your mind is racing. From a nice tree, to a cute dog, I look for at least one thing that was worth seeing, and after a while you start to notice more and more of the good things going on around you.”

Taking time for yourself

“Personally, this is one of the things I find the most difficult,” says Amy, “but you need to learn to be kind to yourself whatever happens. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t get as much as you wanted done yesterday, if you need to take a rest now, take a rest. You have to trust that you will manage, and try not to judge yourself any more harshly than you would a friend. For many this will be a learning process, but that’s okay; congratulate yourself for trying.” 

Daniyaal says, “I would be down if I procrastinated from revision, but there’s always a balance. If I put in the hours, I reward myself with an hour on the PS4 (or two!). Celebrate small wins. Remember, you’re only human and can’t always be at your best. It’s okay to have an off-day.” 
And as Ishaa points out, making sure that you are getting enough sleep can make all the difference: “As optometry students I think we can all relate to the fact that a morning clinic is very different when you’ve had a four hours sleep versus nine hours sleep!”

Ask for help, if you need it

With most universities offering mental health and wellbeing support, there is no need to face things alone. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out when you need it,” says Amy, “from personal tutors and friends, to your GP and university support services, there’s a whole network of care available to you.”

Links and resources

Managing mental health in these challenging times webinar 
Mind on COVID-19 and mental health
Mental Health Foundation on looking after yourself during the pandemic
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Podcast: The eyes and lows of lockdown (Part 1): Taking care of yourself

Amy Cooper
Cardiff student rep 2021

Favourite equipment: Confrontation stick (due to the name), but I think the humble occluder deserves a mention too.
Favourite book: Kanski’s Clinical Ophthalmology - I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it, but for full detail and great pictures you can’t go wrong.
Favourite topic area: Changes regularly, although I’m really liking contact lenses at the moment.
Favourite College resource: Ethical scenarios
What inspired you to become an optometrist? I was really stuck with what to do for a long time. My old boss commented that he thought optometry would suit me, I did some work experience with a local practice, really enjoyed it, and then never looked back - which was fortunate as the UCAS deadline was only a couple of months away.

Ishaa Darr
Cardiff student rep 2021

Favourite equipment: +0.25 and +1.00 flippers - you don’t realise how much smoother your routine is with them until you forget them somewhere!
Favourite book: I’ve spent more time reading Kanski’s Clinical Opthalmology as background reading than anything this year! 
Favourite topic area: Investigative techniques for sure! I think it’s amazing what you can see with a slit lamp and how fast different technologies are emerging to help us diagnose and monitor ocular diseases.
Favourite College resource: I find the Guidance really useful. You can quickly refer to it when something seems unclear. It really is a ‘how to’ guide for any optometrist. 
What inspired you to become an optometrist? I did a week of work experience at my brother’s specialist school for children with disabilities. It amazed me that you were able to provide an exact prescription for a child whose learning difficulties meant they weren’t verbal.

Krishnee Yagnik
Aston student rep 2021

Favourite equipment: Volk Lens. Although it is miniature in size and takes time to master the hand-eye coordination, it provides a fascinating view of the fundus!
Favourite book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Favourite topic area: My clinical practice module. It enables me to put everything I have learnt from my lectures into practice. 
Favourite College resource: The blogs. They provide an insight into the daily challenges practitioners face. 
What inspired you to become an optometrist? Its strong scientific base, the challenges of developing in an expanding, dynamic sector, and the opportunity to work alongside a variety of people.

Muhammad Daniyaal Ahmed (Daniyaal)
Hertfordshire student rep 2021

Favourite equipment: I love using the ophthalmoscope for direct and enjoy using a volk lens for indirect. I am always in awe of what I can see. The first time I picked up an ophthalmoscope really made me appreciate the intricacies of the eye.
Favourite topic area: I enjoy clinical practice the most, anything from conducting a sight test to fitting a contact lens. I am most at home when I have a patient sat in the chair, knowing I can help them motivates me. 
Favourite College resource: The ethical scenarios, an invaluable tool. Especially for pre-reg, it really does help prepare you for the structure of assessment and benefits you when at university.
What inspired you to be an optometrist? Being an extrovert, I’ve always built good rapport with people. I really do go the extra mile! Eyes have always been my passion and being in optics since I was 16 only fuelled this. As such, being an optometrist was a no-brainer.