Studying abroad can be an exciting and deeply enriching experience, however it can be stressful too. International students must cope with being away from the comforts of home and their family whilst adjusting to an unfamiliar country and, sometimes, a secondary language. It can also mean being separated from friends and classmates who you would normally turn to for support or advice if you’re feeling stressed.
So, it’s hardly surprising that the introduction of lockdowns during COVID-19 majorly impacted international students in Australia and around the world. Whilst the day-to-day realities of lockdown were trying for most, international students also had to contend with border closures meaning that seeing friends and family is on hold for the foreseeable future.
In response to these challenges a group of Swinburne University students created a virtual reality mindfulness experience, designed to help students cope during stressful times, such as the extended Melbourne lockdown.
Mindfulness is a practice that is all about focusing on the present moment and using your senses, breath and body to help anchor you in the moment. It can help you think more clearly and feel calmer and more relaxed.
A regular mindfulness practice has also been shown to be effective in stress management and even increase your focus on tasks such as university work; a useful tool when studying and preparing for exams.
If that wasn’t enough, mindfulness can also help manage feelings of depression and anxiety, help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and even help you with your relationships and pay more attention to them.
The concept of Reconnection 360 came about in response to the isolation experienced during COVID-19 lockdowns across the country. Many international students found themselves locked down shortly after their arrival in Australia, in unfamiliar surroundings with people they had only just met which posed significant challenges to their mental health.
“This had a huge impact on the mental health of many international students” say the creators of Reconnection 360, Tiffany Tan, Monyreach Lay and Spencer Cameron, from the Department of Film and Animation at Swinburne University of Technology.
“Medibank provided an industry brief as part of our studies, aimed to help international students explore, connect and improve their mental health post lockdown”. Medibank’s brief was developed in line with Swinburne University’s commitment to providing work-related learning opportunities for their students as part of their course work.
The idea came from the creator’s own experience of lockdown and the effect it had on their mental health.
“We wanted to create resources and videos where students can experience the outdoors and to help students think about their own mindfulness.”
Through the virtual reality experience, students can instantly transport themselves into the heart of a tranquil rainforest or gaze out to sea on a beautiful beach; using the calming power of nature to alleviate stress and support their mindfulness practices.
How to use the Reconnection 360 virtual reality experience
- Find a comfortable, quiet spot with minimal distractions, such as your bedroom.
- Click this link to open the Reconnection 360 virtual reality experience.
- Select a video to watch. There are a range of calming virtual reality experiences to choose from including the ‘beach’, ‘rainforest’ and even a relaxing ‘sunrise’.
- Tip: If using an iPhone, copy the link into YouTube to activate the virtual reality (VR) player.
The students hoped that providing this artificial experience would not only help students to connect with the great outdoors whilst stuck inside but also to inspire students to travel to the destinations featured in Reconnection 360 once lockdown lifted.
As the name suggests Reconnection 360 is all about connecting, not only with the great outdoors but with other students too. The Reconnection 360 Instagram account allows students to submit photos and share their experiences with each other.
“We want to reach out to more people and encourage those who are still experiencing poor mental health to get outside and experience the Australian outdoors and travel as a way of relieving stress.”
Mindfulness meditations are a great way to alleviate stress, however there are other ways you can help manage your health and wellbeing whilst studying, including:
- Exercise: Regular exercise can relieve tension, relax the mind and reduce anxiety. Medibank’s Live Better at Home program is a great place to start, offering a range of free, short online workouts that you can do from home, including Pilates and HIIT.
- Spend time with friends: Being with your friends can be really helpful when you’re away from loved ones back home.
- Look after your health: Maintain a healthy diet, ensure you get enough sleep and avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress.
- Do things you enjoy: making time to do the things you enjoy the most can help boost your mental health. Whether that’s relaxing with a cup of tea, going to a yoga class, or listening to your favourite music, it’s important to take some time out each day for activities that bring you joy.
- Change your thinking: Sometimes stress is more about our perceptions or attitudes to a situation than the situation itself. Unrealistic expectations of yourself or others can lead to stress. If you notice you’re thinking negatively, it can help to write down these thoughts, try to come up with a more realistic view and focus on the positive.
- Speak to someone: Bottling up your feelings can make you feel worse. Reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider for support. They may be able to refer you to a health professional who can help support you to develop stress management techniques.
Help when you need it
Remember, if you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone and it’s best to reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider to get the support that you need. Medibank Overseas Student Health Cover members can also call the 24/7 Medibank Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.