How to survive and grow during lockdown – a guide for students…

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Hems de Winter
Hems de Winter

Hems de Winter has been a passionate supporter of the University of Chester for a number of years, regularly inspiring students as a guest lecturer within Chester Business School, as a TEDx speaker and as a business mentor through the Venture Programme. It was during the latter that Hems recently offered guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs remotely over the telephone, Skype and Zoom. Understandably, these discussions didn’t follow their usual course, with students sharing their worries, concerns, and feelings about the future. Inspired by these conversations, Hems wished to share his thoughts, insights, practical advice and ideas for getting through this uncertain time and, ultimately, reassurance that being you is enough – Kirsty Badrock, Entrepreneurship Co-ordinator

There’s no end of well-meaning organisations and individuals offering us ideas and advice as to how best to cope with the stresses and strains of lockdown, and all very welcome it is too.

We need all the help we can get and within it all, we can be sure to find a nugget or two of wisdom and a ray of hope to help us through another day.

The whole experience is proving a real and lasting ordeal for people of all ages with too many paying too high price in terms of bereavement, loss of income and employment, abuse and mental disease.

One of the things that’s keeping me sane and feeling remotely useful right now is the opportunity to talk with and mentor some students from the University of Chester, young people with perhaps more limited life experience, confidence and resilience than those who parent, teach or in some other way support them.

It’s fair to say that this whole episode is more shocking and profoundly life-changing for them than for many others. They’ve been instantly stripped of their routine, their relationships have been disrupted, their normality suspended. A perfect breeding ground for doubt, fear and mental ill-health.

They share with me their fear and confusion. They tell me of the hopes and expectations that they now feel are jeopardised, prospects that are threatened, and life chances, as they see it, undermined.

They lament the plans that have now evaporated, or at least indefinitely postponed, and the heartache of being isolated from partners, close relatives and other positive influencers in their lives.

Others have suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves living where they weren’t expected to be living, often by necessity back with parents.

It’s becoming a familiar story: hope, stability and continuity have, without warning, been replaced by confusion, doubt and anxiety.

If that’s a reflection of your world right now, this is for you. It’s for those who are facing real challenges in accepting what’s happened, adjusting to new circumstances and looking for hope.

It’s not a lecture. They’re not instructions. They are just a few ideas and suggestions that work for me when I am faced with uncertainty, doubt or a crisis of confidence.

Take from this what you want, whatever appeals to you or resonates with you. Ignore the rest or save them up for the future. Oh, and share those that help you because they’re likely to make a difference to someone else.


1. You’re not on your own…

It always helps me to remember that we’re never on our own in feeling how we do and that it really is OK to have a bad day, feel fearful and anxious. It’s called being human. Once you’ve accepted that, you can deal with it much more effectively.


2. Talk!

This has been said and written a thousand times already but that doesn’t make it any the less true. Don’t hide away. Talk and share how you feel. I know that doesn’t come easily to some people but work on developing the confidence to just be you, to be honest and open and unafraid of telling people how you really feel. That’s our safety valve. 

Learning to express our emotions – positive and negative – our fears, and our hopes and dreams is so important. We all know it’s important, don’t we, and yet so few of us feel able to do it. 

Perhaps, like me, you are fearful of being judged or of looking weak. Chances are that when you open up to someone, you’ll find they are suddenly able to overcome their own fears and open up to you. You’ve shown them the way and you may have changed a life in the process. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Try it. We are at our most potent and powerful when we are just being ‘us’ and true to ourselves.


3. Help others…

When fate is cruel to us, we should be kind to each other. The smallest random acts of kindness, doing something for someone else once a day, is immensely helpful. It’s great for the mind and good for the soul. It has distinct benefits for your well-being.

Few of us realise the power we have literally to change the lives of people through a simple act of caring such as, a kind word, a smile, a card, a compliment. So, whenever you randomly think of someone, give them a call, or even just a text asking how they’re feeling and let them know that you are thinking of them. It really is that simple. It really helps. It really makes a difference.


4. The importance of positivity…

Stay away from negative people; don’t let negative language stick to you. It’s infectious! Surround yourself with positive people, people you love and admire, people who inspire you. Why not ask one of them to be your guide and mentor to encourage you, sense check your ideas, allay your fears and sometimes, just listen to you? My relationship with my mentor has been life-changing. Be that beacon of positivity yourself for others.

We generally become negative and fearful when we are not in control of our emotions and when we let our emotions control us.  Try setting your intentions. It’s a powerful tool: before you go to sleep, tell yourself that you’re going to sleep well, that you’re going to feel great when you wake up and that you’re going to have a positive and productive day. Imagine how you want to be feeling at the end of the day, what you want to have achieved.  Do that again in the morning when you wake and repeat for a week.  Note the change in how you feel!

Here’s another technique for when you get caught out by a moment of anxiety or fear: breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose for seven seconds and then breathe out slowly through your mouth for eleven seconds.  Repeat several times.  It really helps!

The main message is: focus on the good stuff!


5. Time for you…

Having some level of structure in our day – what time we get up, what time we have lunch, what time we read or walk – can be really useful. Within that structure find some time for you, half an hour of ‘you’ time when you’re not doing anything specific, just being, sitting, thinking, watching as the thoughts drift in and out of your mind.


6. Keep those dreams alive…

Jobs, interviews, assignments, theses, internships, business launches, holidays, family events – many of you have had to put a whole load of things on hold. It’s disappointing. It’s also worrying and distressing.

Please take a moment to see through the distress and disappointment and think about the things you can do something about and accept the things you can’t. Knowing the difference removes a lot of stress and puts you back in control of the things you can influence and change.

It’s your choice: let disappointment overwhelm you or decide to take positive action and ‘do’ stuff. Action and anxiety cannot live together!

Keep hold of your dreams and look for new and creative ways of achieving them. 


7. Look after yourself…

It goes without saying but we should say it anyway – our resilience, our positivity and our effectiveness are directly influenced by how we look after ourselves. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Eat well, sleep well, exercise well.


8. Try something new…

As individuals we need to keep learning, evolving and challenging ourselves whether through physical activity, learning a new skill or expanding our knowledge. Break out of your comfort zone! In your daily and weekly structure, build in time for reading, learning a new skill, being inspired by ideas: discover the joys of TED talks, find some great on-line craft courses or learn a new language.


9. It’s all about now…

Do you spend as much time as me worrying about what happened yesterday and stressing about what might happen tomorrow, next week, next year?  What’s the point? One thing we’re REALLY good at as human beings is allowing our emotions to conjure up all sorts of bad scenarios and outcomes that have absolutely nothing to do with the facts. We just let our minds run riot and we believe all the bad stuff it comes up with. Have you noticed how none of the stuff we worry about ever actually happens? Stick with the facts. Focus on what you can change and remember that it’s what we do now that matters, now is what’s real. Now is the only thing that is read so make the most of that ‘now’ moment.

Focus on what we do have, not what we’ve lost.


10. Be true to yourself and walk tall

Let me end with a great quote…‘Grant me the strength to live a life true to myself rather than the life others expect of me.’ Just be authentically, openly, honestly just you. That’s more than enough.


If you like what you’ve read, if you don’t like what you’ve read, if you want to talk some more about any of this, you can find me on LinkedIn or visit http://hemsdewinter.co.uk

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to talk about of any of this in more detail. You can email me on askhems@hemsdewinter.co.uk. For further information about the Venture Programme, please email venture@chester.ac.uk.