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The cost-of-living crisis and how it’s affecting uni students beyond finances

Natasa covers uni students’ mental health struggles amidst the cost-of-living crisis in 2023....

Trigger warning: This article contains mention of suicide statistics.

Many uni students who have weathered and beaten the two-and-a-half-year COVID blues now face an equally hard struggle in 2023 that leaves dwindling sums in their bank accounts. This new challenge they face is none other than the cost-of-living crisis, which is also impacting their mental health. This year, the escalating costs of rent, food, fuel, and education have become pressing health issues that university students face daily.

(Credit: Pexels)

Choice between work and education:

There has been an increase in uni students who are now pressured to juggle the demand of their studies with paid work to continue supporting themselves – whether that be picking up casual gig, or taking up demanding, often unmanageable hours.

Jacob Nye, a 31-year-old former university student, now works full-time in a management position and yet, is struggling to afford essential commodities such as cereal, meat and electricity due to his rent prices rising from $350 to $600 this year.

“The only way I could study is if it was self-paced with zero class time and extremely flexible practically. Otherwise, if it cost me any time at work, it would become impossible to study with the cost of living,” says Jacob.

The preferred schedule described by Jacob could work with Zoom classes – but what happens when students are required to attend classes in person?

A 2023 survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in the UK reveals that more than half of the 10,000 uni students surveyed are simultaneously grappling with the demands of work and education – from attending lectures and tutorials and hastily completing assignments during the semester.  

(Credit: Pexels | Ketut Subiyanto).

Jacob states that he feels more “anxious than depressed” about his current economic situation and the knowledge that another rent increase is sure to come soon, which could jeopardise his prospects of pursuing further education.

“[The] biggest hurdle is cost-of-living; for me, uni would only work if it didn’t impact my job. But I’d be too tired to study after working full time,” he adds.

In an SBS News interview, one international student believes overwork is one of the reasons students have resorted to the ‘emergency measure’ of using Chat GBT to complete assessments.

(Credit: Ron Lach | Pexels).

The strain on mental health and the rise in suicides:

In 2023, 46% of Australians experience feeling troubled and worried due to economic pressures.

Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) have released results that the cost of living has, for the fourth quarter in a row this year, been one of the two leading causes for adults over 18 feeling “distressed”, leading to a heightened suicide risk. The study reveals a 19% increase in the likelihood of experiencing harmful thoughts for those anxious and stressed “beyond normal levels”.

SPA’s Chief Executive, Matthew McLean, acknowledges that social isolation and loneliness drive this distress. According to ABC News, some often don’t have the time and money to socialise amidst the rising cost-of-living. In this climate, fears about the growing cost of a beer ($8+) or an adult movie ticket ($26.50+) can prompt people to skip a friend’s gathering or miss out on socialising altogether.

Additionally, findings from SPA and a Longitudinal study show that human interaction is not as frequent as in previous years, despite the accessibility of social media. In this digital climate, it can easily seem quicker, cheaper, and easier to communicate with a friend via text or DM than to physically show up to lunch amidst the pressures of budgeting, work, and study.

With no relief in sight for this cost-of-living crisis, young adults like Jacob will continue to adhere to their preferred schedule – a choice based on necessity. They may do so while hoping the price they pay,+ does not become too high a cost in the future.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, remember you are not alone, and there is support:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Mission Australia: 1800 88 88 68

Headspace:1800 650 890

Link2home: 1800 152 152

Western Sydney Students Financial Support: 1800 668 370

WSU Renter Support: 1800 668 370

WSU Emergency Accommodation: 1800 668 370   

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Simple tips for a safer workspace

As everything moves online, having a safe environment to study and work is now important than ever. ...

With the Covid-19 quarantine situation that we are currently facing, there is an increase in demand for working online. For students, this means our entire studying has been transferred online, which means more time spent in front of a computer and more time using technology. It is becoming more important to have a safe environment to study and work without straining yourself, physically and mentally.

There is much information online about how to achieve an ergonomical setup at your workplace, but it’s hard for some people to achieve, especially in times like these, where you may not already have the space or be able to purchase certain items in order to create the ideal setup.

Sreya Sreenath, student at WSU Campbelltown campus, said that she felt it was important to have a safe setup when working from home. She said, “Since my studies are so important to me, I want to be working in an environment where I can be safe so I can work to the best of my ability.” She also expressed the concern that many other students during this time may also be facing. “I’m very lucky that I have a proper setup at home, but I can imagine how mentally and physically exhausting it’ll be for those who don’t.”

The WSU campus libraries are currently still open for those who need a study space. However, for those who cannot travel there are a few basic ways to achieve a safer space to work.

For one, make sure you are working at a desk. Working at your bed or on the couch can be very bad for your posture as you will often be hunched over. Working at any sort of table or desk with a chair that will support your back will prevent muscle soreness, as well as maintaining your posture.

Also, ensure that you are working in well-lit room, as this will reduce eye strains from the light emitted from computer screens, which could also lead to headaches that might affect your studies. Most technologies these days have night modes, which reduce the blue light emitted by your technologies and can reduce eye strains. If your technology does not have this setting, there are many apps that provide the same service, as well as glasses that you can buy that have blue light filters.

Additionally, It is always good to take breaks. Sometimes you may be rushing to finish an assignment or quiz, however, if you feel uncomfortable, you should take a break. Stand up and stretch, even if it’s for thirty seconds, make sure you aren’t seated in the same position for too long.

It is a stressful time, but it’s never a good idea to push yourself. If you have more time, make sure you are taking breaks from work. Walk around the house and stretch, or grab a bite to eat. Reduce your stress from by even just maybe watching an episode of your Netflix show. Make sure you aren’t overstressing yourself. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

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How to keep yourself sane working from home

Working or studying from home can be difficult, but here are some tips to help you. ...

Working or studying from home can be difficult, but here are some tips to help you. Photo from Canva.

 

Amid this coronavirus pandemic, you may have initially been thrilled about working or undertaking university from home to moderate the spread of infection. Saving on transport time and costs, and working from the comfort of your own home can sound appealing.

 

Yet, working from home may present you with various interruptions to your routine and demotivate you from getting things done. Regardless of whether you’re studying, working or trying to maintain productivity from home – here are some strategies to help reduce procrastination and keep on-track.

 

  1. Set up a clear work schedule

If you don’t have a structured workplace with a set start, finish and break time, then create your own timetable. Customise this to the work you need to complete, to add some structure to your day.

 

Set out tasks that you hope to accomplish by a set time. Whether you’re assigned to create spreadsheets, or write a 2000-word essay. Prepare a to-do-list to remember the tasks for the day or you can set reminders for yourself. In case you have to prepare a 2-pager article then try to break it down into sections and cover the sections at different intervals. There are many people find it difficult to concentrate at one go when working from home due to many distractions; here a time-table for the day can be more helpful. One can draw diagrams if needed and put up on the soft board.

 

  1. Split your work into chunks

 

Depending on the weight of the task, reasonably set out how long it should take for you to complete. Time yourself if you need to. Ensure you allow for breaks in between your tasks to revive and prepare accomplishing your next assignment.

 

  1. Dress for work

You may be tempted to stay in your pyjamas when working from home. But in reality, you’re more likely to be killing your motivation and productivity. Try to avoid wearing clothes that could make you lethargic. Wearing decent tee, pants is good enough. Also, it helps in case you are suddenly alarmed by a video call from work. It’s better to stay prepared zoom calls or check-in with colleagues. It also sets the right mood to complete work more efficiently. In general, most employers won’t care what you’re wearing when you work from home — as long as you get the work done. And besides, taking a few days to stay cozy can be good for your mental health, especially during these stressful times.

 

“We are all going through an unprecedented and stressful time in history,” said Rheeda Walker, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston and director of the school’s Culture, Risk and Resilience Lab. “If folks aren’t up for dressing for the cyber world as they would in the office, that is completely understandable. We can cut ourselves some slack if, mentally, we’re just not up for the pomp and circumstance.”

 

  1. Exercise regularly

Exercising naturally boosts endorphins – which increases happiness, enjoyment, and interest levels. All of the above are important for productivity. Regularly stretching or yoga helps you maintain great posture after sitting down all day. In addition, being active keeps you healthier, more energetic and hands-on when working from home.

 

Having said that exercising is great way to keep your body and mind healthy though it does get difficult for many to take out that little time from the busy schedule. However, working from home gives people the comfort of sneaking out little time for themselves as and when they need. It is a great way to give yourself that 10-15 mins quick bee stretches and get into a routine. Physical activity and exercise can have immediate and long-term health benefits. Most importantly, regular activity can improve your quality of life says Harvard Medical Institute Study. There are some incredible and inspiring bloggers you can follow-up on YouTube and social media- like Blogilates, Kayla Itsines, Chloe Ting & more, whom people follow and have proven results.

Reference: www.blogites.com; www.chloeting.com; www.kaylaitsines.com

 

  1. Eat healthy meals and snacks

 

Another work from home truth (and advantage) is that we have full access to the kitchen. It is however easy to gravitate towards whatever is easily accessible, regardless of the nutritional value. How easy is it to reach for that packet of chips, leftover pizza and two-minute noodles – and let’s face it, we’ve all been there. Eating a poor diet reduces physical and mental health because eating healthy allows people to be more active. Two-thirds of people who eat fresh fruit and vegetables daily report no mental health issues, as reported by the Mental Health Foundation.

 

To help you stay off the junk food, plan your lunches for the week ahead and prepare your grocery list with your lunches in mind. Likewise, refrain from purchasing snacks. If you do want to have the occasional treat, place them somewhere out of sight so you are not as easily tempted. Arrange cheat days for the week, preferably the weekend when you’re off from work. Give yourself some treat for a great work done.

 

  1. Organise

 

Start with your desk or working space. Is it spacious enough? Is there excess clutter you need to get rid of? Is it suitable for the work you do?
Next, make sure that you have everything you need within easy reach. Keep your workspace tidy.

 

Spend a few minutes at the end of each session sorting out things like paperwork or empty coffee cups to prepare yourself for the next day. Clear away as much of it as you can when you switch off for the day. Also, utilise your breaks or spare time to clean your closets and drawers. You often find hidden gems in your closet once it’s all cleaned and organised. Unless you’re living underneath a (very cluttered) rock, you know Marie Kondo is the ultimate organization queen. Her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is jam-packed with tips that will turn your messy room into a neat, minimalist oasis.

 

  1. Build a habit

 

One can take working from home as an opportunity to create a new habit or learn something new. This time off can help you bring useful and impactful changes in your life. This may clash with some of the examples mentioned above, like a few people may take this as an opportunity to start a routine mild exercise of 15 mins at home, which was difficult before. Also, some can start with a morning meditation session for themselves to bring together their thoughts. When you do not have to spend that travel time, any time saved is time earned for your own self.

 

  1. Create a constructive morning routine:

 

Often we would wake up, shower, and rush to work- come back home and the day is over. The day often becomes blur and we never have time to sit by ourselves and reflect on the day. However, we all need some calm time to ourselves. Now is a great time for self-reflection, contemplation and relaxation. Create a habit of meditating in the morning just by focussing on yourself. By starting with thinking of how was your yesterday spent and how should today look like. Just a small change of spending 10 mins with yourself in the morning can become a good habit. No harm is trying for a few days and see how it goes.

 

  1. Avoid distractions

 

One of the biggest distractions of working from home is your phone, with the constant notifications and news updates. Keeping the phone aside while working is most important. Keeping it out of sight, or put it in the other room. Try to save those messages for when you’re done with the working day, or allow for a cheeky scroll on your break. This is one of the most important part of keeping yourself productive.

 

  1. End your day on a positive note

 

Just as you should start your day with a routine- create a habit that signals the close of the work day. It might be a sign off on business messaging apps, an evening dog walk, or a 6pm yoga class. You might have a simple routine such as shutting down your computer and turning on a favourite podcast. Whatever you choose, do it consistently to mark the end of working hours. Reward yourself with positive vibes and thoughts.