More Than the Degree

The behind the scenes of a pandemic-student

Pandemic. The word triggers a visceral reaction for most people, and rightfully so. As we have all personally experienced, it is against core human nature to be bound up inside and void of any meaningful interaction despite knowing these sacrifices are required for the greater good. I happened to be one of the many who began their university journey during what seemed like an endless wave of infections and disaster. Despite being excited to study this curiously foreign field of Economics, unfortunately for first-year Labiba, studying an unfamiliar subject during one of the worst viral outbreaks in human history was bound to bring some issues around.

It started off mild. And I was confident I could handle it. A couple of Zoom lectures here, some hand-in assignments there; all manageable. Starting university behind a screen and facing all its practicalities all alone was a pain in the ass, but definitely doable. ‘I’ve been through worse!’- is what I told myself constantly. The thing about burnout is that it doesn't like its presence being known; it takes its time to attach to every crevice inside your mind and root itself within you. Being held captive inside every single day, trying to complete assignments without support from peers, the lack of a sustainable social network; all these things piled up and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. You see, mental health was not something I had ever prioritized, as the idea of negative thoughts being purely temporary permeated everything else. I’ve always had things under control, what could be different now? It wasn’t until I would fall asleep anxious, and wake up to the exact feeling of anxiety burning through my chest that I realized something was very, very wrong. Every day felt exactly like the last as if I was stuck in a cruel, yet infinite time loop. Doing things that I had once considered fun had become an inconvenience at best. The idea of well-being lost all meaning.

I had no idea where to even start looking for help. Do I tell a teacher? My tutor? A classmate? While all of these are, of course, feasible options, I ended up on the Aalto webpage for study support and found myself browsing through their services. All it took was one email describing my situation to successfully book an appointment with a study psychologist. And so I started my triweekly sessions where we talked about anything and everything. Self-doubt regarding academic achievements, the effects of the pandemic on daily motivation, the art of balancing school and self-care, you name it. Not only was I provided an outlet to express my frustrations and pent-up emotions, but I was also given pragmatic skills applicable to all areas of life, including time management and the ability to properly relax. I saw changes pretty quickly; by allowing myself to recharge every so often, the energy I once thought I had lost slowly ebbed back into me. The hobbies I had previously overlooked as trivial held the key to channeling normalcy and rhythm back in my life. Instead of shunning social interactions for the sake of prioritizing school, I relished the presence of those I consider dearest (whenever the pandemic would allow it). None of this happened instantaneously, it was all a process, and a difficult one at that.

Mental health is so often overlooked and viewed as a second thought, a passive concern. While the pandemic seems to be loosening its grip on the student community, I hope it serves as a good example to all about the extent to which wellbeing and mental stability can have on an individual. As a gentle reminder: it is never too late to reach out.

- Labiba, second year student in the Bachelor's Programme in Economics

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