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What The Students Are Saying: Surviving AND Thriving in Self-Isolation

I’ve recently been privileged to speak to a small number of students in their period of self-isolation. These young people were requested to isolate as a result of their school’s association with COVID! When the isolation was first enforced I admit to fearing a little for their wellbeing. As a psychologist and mother, with a particular interest in young people operating best when they feel connected, I questioned whether a teenager spending up to 14 days mostly on their own would, whilst potentially protecting people’s physical health, might compromise their mental health.

But, as anyone who works with young people would agree, they can surprise you and rise to the challenge. When asked about what was good in their experience of self-isolation, here’s what they said:

  •  “I liked not having so many time pressures. It actually made me more efficient with my school work and I got heaps done”
  •   “All my school work was done by midday and I had time to relax and do things I enjoy”
  •  “It was like an extended weekend. Some of my family were home too so we had a bit of time together”
  • “My Dad had to have time off work too so I helped him with some jobs around the house. Sometimes it was boring but at least I was doing something”

When asked about what was challenging, most of them commented on not being able to see their friends. No surprises there; we know that young people want and need to be with their friends. What else was challenging?

  •  Lack of physical exercise (couldn’t go to the gym or do team sport)
  •  Procrastination
  •  “My sibling didn’t want to go near me and it made me feel terrible about myself. I wasn’t even infected!”
  •  “On days that I just sat around doing nothing, I felt really low by the end of the day”

For those who might have to experience self-isolation, these are powerful experiences from the first wave of students with lived experience. If you were to be put in the same situation, how might you overcome some of these hurdles? Or even cope ahead before it happens?

How did the students deal with the challenges they were faced with? This is where it gets really impressive. And by golly, how we need some good news stories. Read on!

  •  “I ran up and down my driveway and did weights in my bedroom”
  •  “I suppose I just accepted it and tried to make the best of it. Sometimes when I missed my friends I had to remind myself that it’s not forever. So many people are far worse off”
  •  “Mum encouraged me to get some fresh air so I walked the dog at times when nobody was around. I always felt much better after that”
  •  “Every day around 4pm I’d meet up with my friends online and play games. It was good to chat and know that I wasn’t alone”
  •  “I tried to wake at the same time each day and always got my school work done first. I used my whiteboard to plan my schedule. I want to do well and I didn’t want self- isolation to disadvantage me so I worked really hard”
  •  “I stayed in my room when my sibling was around”

Resilience is not only about surviving through hard times but also learning from those experiences. It was clear from listening to these students that they all had developed their own strategies and found “what works”. I think we can be optimistic that many students put in the same situation will be just as creative in how they manage.

What advice would you give to other students embarking on a period of self-isolation?

  •  “Beware the Netflix trap!”
  •  “Stay active, it makes you feel so much better”
  •  “Have a daily routine and stick to it”
  •  “Stay connected”
  •  “Get as much school work done as possible THEN rest”
  •  “Stick to your normal sleep schedule”

Oh from the mouths of babes.  They know what they’re doing.  Resilience develops faster when we have faith in them to do what works for them. Whilst the debate on school closures and the like goes on, let’s trust in our young people to not only make the best of it but to come out better than before.

Thank you to the awesome students who participated in my interviews. You know who you are.

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