How to cope in the current coronavirus situation

Coping with the current Coronavirus Situation – a guide for autistic students at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU)

*The following advice is adapted from ‘Coping with change and uncertainty in the current situation. Studying during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic: suggestions for autistic university students’ by Nicola Martin, (London South Bank University; martinn4@lsbu.ac.uk) and Harriet Cannon, (University of Leeds; h.a.cannon@adm.leeds.ac.uk). 

Introduction  

The current situation caused by Coronavirus is causing many people difficulties with managing their daily lives and in managing their mental health. You may be struggling to manage the constant uncertainty and frequent changes arising from the situation. In addition, if you are starting University you will be preparing for more change in your lifestyle and routine. The University are also adapting to a changing situation in light of Government guidance on Coronavirus, but we are doing everything we can to support students through the situation.

The following advise might help you to think about ways you can manage the current situation whilst you are a student at Sheffield Hallam. If you are already enrolled as a student at Sheffield Hallam University and you are finding things difficult please go to page 5 of this document.

Managing change and setting expectations 

Your top priority should be to do whatever you need to do to maintain your mental and physical wellbeing. This might mean trying to keep your environment, your routine and your household as calm as possible, finding ways to manage your stress, or it might mean finding a way to stay on top of your studies. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as your approach helps to keep you safe and well.

  • Find ways to manage your stress and work through this change calmly
  • How you manage your mental and physical wellbeing is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer, as long asit works well for you.

It may help to lower your expectations around your studies. It is more important to prioritise your wellbeing at this time – this includes good nutrition, exercise, leisure activities and rest. Looking after yourself is as much of an achievement as doing well in your academic studies. Give yourself credit for what you do achieve and try not to worry about what you cannot manage to complete.

  • Accept you may not be able to achieve as much studying as you would like to
  • Acknowledge that looking after yourself is also an achievement

If you do feel that you cannot keep up your studies, or that you do not have enough time to fit everything in, talk with your Student Support Adviser (you will be told who this is once you are enrolled at SHU). 

Remember that navigating all the current changes means that you may also be gaining valuable non-academic knowledge and experience, such as developing life skills and coping strategies. Recognising these may mean that you can use these new skills into your life after the lockdown. If you do not feel like you are gaining any new skills, that’s ok too.

Creating a routine 

Having a realistic routine can help you feel more in control of your situation. Establishing a new routine which works for you when you start University it likely to be very important for you.

Make sure your routine includes non-study activities, such as mealtimes, exercise/leisure time and rest time. It might be useful to make a visual timetable for quick reference, perhaps by using colour-coding, symbols or pictures. Your Outlook calendar may well serve the same purpose, or you may have a preferred smart phone app which will work for you. Where possible, try to incorporate elements of the routine that worked well for you previously, so that your new routine feels more familiar. Share your timetable with other people in your household so they know what activities you will be undertaking, and when.

  • Think about what worked for you in the past. Can you use this to help you with this new way of learning?
  • If you have Brain in Hand, or something similar, use it to remind yourself of your helpful strategies and maybe input some new ones
  • Remember that your routine may need to change if your circumstances change. It is ok to adapt it. 
  • There are apps and other resources which can help you manage your time.

Creating an effective workspace 

It is a good idea to try to identify a workspace for your studies. It is important to ensure that this space is comfortable, ergonomically safe, and minimally distracting. You can find guidance on how to set up a safe workspace online. Make sure you have access to everything you need for your studies, such as your laptop, or a pad and pen, and your notes and textbooks. 

  • If you can, find a quiet place to study, and keep your books and stationery items with you
  • Where possible, talk to household members/family in advance of any assessment or study period to help reduce distractions or interruptions
  • Some people find listening to music, or using noise cancelling headphones or earplugs useful when trying to concentrate.
  • A plant on your desk can be beneficial to your wellbeing while studying indoors
  • It can help to take regular movement breaks to modulate the sensory environment while studying, and it is also ergonomically beneficial to move or change posture regularly. 
  • Set up a backup tool to save your work as you go along. For example, by getting yourself a USB stick or cloud storage in advance of an assessment or while studying
  • Make sure all your equipment is set up and working well in advance of any assessment or exam starting time. 

Maintaining social contact  

Although ‘social distancing’ has been advised by the Government, social contact is still allowed, but this should be something you enjoy rather than do as a duty. Enjoyable social interaction can make you feel better and study more effectively. However, may autistic people can find social interaction tiring or stressful, so do not feel you have to engage with social interaction when you do not feel like it.

  • Think about how you might maintain social contact with the friends and family that you already have in your life, and plan this into your routine. They could help to support you when you start at University. 
  • If you want to make friends at University, there are many ways you might go about doing this. You may prefer face to face contact (whilst maintaining social distance), online contact, or you might like to develop skills in face to face contact but need support to do this. You might be anxious about 'fitting in' but this can be based on false perceptions of what this might be. Sheffield Hallam has a huge number of students with diverse interests, and so fitting in may not be as difficult as anticipated.
  • Think about asking for a peer mentor (details at the beginning of this page). A peer mentor might have suggestions based on their own experiences of meeting people at University and they could support you to attend any groups for the first time if you want them to. Think about having a coping strategy in place if a situation becomes difficult for you and you become anxious. Discuss any concerns or worries with your mentor.
  • If you want to meet people with a mutual interest, The Students' Union may be a good place to start and meet people. The Students Unionand many clubs and societies are offering online social opportunities so keep checking for new information. Many clubs and societies have Facebook pages and email addresses so you could message to check for further information.
  • If you would like to meet other people with autismthe following may be of interest to you (some social groups are not currently running do to Covid-19 restrictions so keep checking back):

The Social – a social group for autistic students at SHU (details at the beginning of this page) 

The A-team social group - a group of autistic adults who meet in the Sheffield area. Regular social groups including walking, snooker and yoga. They also arrange social events.

The Sheffield autistic society - Links to various social activities for autistic adults around Sheffield.

Autism Plus - this organisation run a monthly social group in Sheffield.

  • If you would like to develop a friendship with someone you have met, perhaps on your course or in your accommodation, or online, you could: 

-Some courses have a Wots App group to enable students to contact each other. If this is available on your course, you could use this group to contact other students from your course.

-Arrange to meet at a place that you both find interesting so that if conversation becomes difficult, you can simply appreciate things around you eg. an exhibition or walk in the park.

-Think about meeting in a place where you feel relaxed so you can enjoy the experience as much as possible.

-Remember, the person you are meeting might be nervous too!

-Always consider your personal safety and never go anywhere that you do not feel comfortable 

Advice for current students if you are finding things difficult

Feeling good about yourself and managing stress and anxiety 

Many autistic people experience a lot of stress and anxiety and have worked out ways of managing them to some extent. The current situation is probably increasing anxiety for a lot of people, including many people who do not normally feel it. So, if you are feeling more anxious and stressed than usual you are not alone. You probably have your own ways of dealing with stress, but here are some suggestions: 

  • Spending time on your interests/things you enjoy.
  • Exercise, particularly outside
  • Stimming movements 
  • Meditation and other forms of relaxation
  • Spending time with animals if this is possible.
  • Going to a park or quiet natural area.
  • Talking about your interests to other people, but you may need a time limit on this.
  • Online games or other leisure activities you enjoy.
  • De-stressing activities, such as bashing a cushion/punch bag or shouting if you have somewhere to do this where it will not disturb other people.

This is an unprecedented situation, and no one knows exactly what might happen next, which means that there is a good deal of speculation on the news and in social media. Think about how looking up Covid-19 information makes you feel. If it has become a particular interest which you are enjoying, great - there is a lot of information out there and a lot of people wanting to talk about it. If this makes you stressed, then do not feel you have to keep up with the news. Try to reduce how often you look up information, unless this makes you feel more stressed.

During these challenging times, it is easy to feel out of control, as everything is changing so rapidly. It may help if you focus on what you can control and plan, rather than what you cannot control. This might include tangible, achievable actions, such as ‘Do some exercise once a day, either at home or in your local area’. It is also important to notice your anxiety triggers and avoid these where possible. 

  • Focus on what you can control – plan your own timetable, with deadlines, planning stages of work, reading and note-making
  • Don’t forget to include exercise, hobbies and mealtimes!
  • Notice your anxiety triggers and avoid these where possible

Remember that you are not alone in this situation: this is a global pandemic, affecting every country in the world, and everyone is having to learn how to adapt very quickly. Your peers at University will be facing similar challenges with online learning, as will your module leaders, who are also having to learn new ways of doing even simple tasks. It is ok not to know how to do something new, and it is ok to ask for help.

  • Many of us in the world are having to change how we do things – its ok to feel confused
  • We are having to do many things differently, so ask if you don’t know

If you are accessing support outside University to help you to deal with anxiety it is worth keeping up with this arrangement if you are finding it useful.

  • Keep accessing mental health support if you already have this in place
  • Your GP is likely to be the best contact if you need to talk about mental or physical health concerns. You could contact your GP practice online initially to avoid visiting the surgery unnecessarily

Try to recognise and praise yourself for whatever you do in a particular day, whether related to studies, eating properly, not getting stressed, keeping to your routine, even if it does not seem a lot. This may sound a bit strange and almost like you are patronising yourself, but focussing on what you have achieved, rather than what you have not achieved and praising yourself for it can be helpful.

Who to contact for support, advice or guidance 

Support with academic studies: if you are finding it difficult to study, you can’t access your learning resources, you are worried about your assessment, or you have any other concerns about your studies, you could contact:

Support for your mental health and wellbeing: if you are concerned about your mental health and wellbeing, you could contact one of the following people or teams: 

  • SHU Wellbeing service Once you are enrolled at SHU, you can access the Wellbeing service which offers a variety of support depending on your needs. Select the link for more information or to register for support once you are enrolled at SHU.
  • Active Wellbeing For Wellbeing groups aimed at promoting your overall health and wellbeing once you are enrolled at SHU.
  • Your Student Support Advisor (SSA); you will be told who this is when you enrolat SHU, or you can look on your Blackboard site
  • Your GP (doctor)
  • NHS 111 option 2
  • Student Minds

Support for students living in university accommodation: if you are living in university accommodation, and you have concerns about your living arrangements, you could contact one of the following people or teams: 

  • Your Accommodation Office or Security Team
  • The warden or residential team in your accommodation
  • SHU accommodation 

If you are not sure who to contact: 

Speak to Hallam Help and they will direct you. Weekdays 9am – 5pm

Online: Hallam Help Phone: 0114 225 2222 Email: hallamhelp@shu.ac.uk Twitter: @hallamhelp 

In an emergency, or if you feel you need urgent medical help, you should: 

  • Go to the Accident & Emergency department of you nearest hospital
  • Contact the Emergency Services on 999
  • Contact your GP (doctor)
  • Call NHS 111

You can find more information about who to contact on the government website.

Additional resources  

The following is a list of resources which you may wish to refer to: 

Coronavirus 

Managing anxiety 

Related topics: