Staying at university during tier 4 restrictions

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Government guidelines mean that students returning to university will be staggered over a number of weeks. If you’ve stayed at university over Christmas break, for whatever reason, this might mean you’ll be on your own for longer than you’d expected. For some students, this may feel disappointing, frustrating or worrying.

While these feelings are perfectly normal, there are things you can do to improve your experience of this time.

Accept how you feel

It is ok to feel down or frustrated about the latest restrictions. The pandemic has been going on for some time now and it has had a disruptive effect on your year at university. There is no point in pretending otherwise. Give yourself the space to feel however you need to feel and acknowledge the impact all of this has had on you and everyone else.

Accepting how you feel doesn’t mean falling into despair and inactivity. There are still things you can do to make this situation as good as it can be. But listening to your emotions may help guide you to what you need right now.

Keep busy

Maintaining a daily structure and keeping active will help to maintain your mood and energy levels. A lack of structure and vegging out can be fine for a day or two, but over time it leaves us feeling sluggish and down.

Having a plan for each day can help you to stay active. You may want to think about safely socialising with friends who are still around; spring cleaning your room, getting regular exercise or studying. This will help you to feel you are achieving something each day.


Volunteering is an excellent way of keeping busy and doing something positive. Volunteering to help others is also good for us and it can help to build up your CV.

Your university, Students’ Union or Guild may have some volunteering opportunities or you can explore what opportunities there are through local and national charities such as Time Bank

Volunteering will also help you by putting you in touch with other people and giving you a sense of purpose.


Try to maintain social contact with as many people as possible. Not all students will be away for the whole of the period of increased restrictions. If any of your friends are around and if local restrictions allow, plan socially distanced meet ups with them. If your friends aren’t around, try to schedule regular calls and video calls with friends and family elsewhere.

You could also use the Student Union forums to keep in contact with other students who are still at university. This could be an opportunity to make new friends.


It can be tempting in January to stay indoors where it’s warm, but you should make sure you are getting outside and exercising each day. Sunlight and exercise improves mood and will help you feel better physically as well.

Reward yourself - you deserve it

Maintaining your studies during a global pandemic is a real achievement - even if you haven’t managed to learn as well as you’d have liked. The fact that we are living with the pandemic everyday can normalise the experience and result in us losing sight of just how unusual and challenging it is. You and thousands of students across the Uk are doing amazingly just to keep going and keep studying.

Allow yourself some rewards over this period. These don’t have to cost a lot of money but, if you can, treat yourself to something special. You could, for example, cook yourself a nice meal or just set aside time to watch a movie or read a book.

Seek support

If you are worried about how you are feeling during this time, it may help to talk to someone beforehand. Support is available via your university and our support services.