Friday, 29 July 2016

We all need a helping hand sometimes: Having trust and loyalty through recovery

Chloe writes about how she and her boyfriend overcame her past of anorexia as she entered recovery with his trust and loyalty.

- Chloe Murray

My boyfriend is the most amazing person in the world. He's kind, loyal, trustworthy and understanding. I know I can tell him anything and trust that he will give the best advice or reassurance. His name is Elliot, and he has helped me in so many ways, yet he doesn't even realise.

I opened up to Elliot about my past with anorexia shortly after we starting seeing each other. At the time, I was still struggling with eating and my feelings. I felt guilty after food and I exercised because I had to, not because I wanted to. I was healthy physically, but not mentally. I figured Elliot would see through my picky eating habits and guess something wasn't quite right, so I told him before he did. Like a lot of people do, I was worried he'd judge me because of it. I didn't want to grow any more attached to him, only for Elliot to find out that I was a recovering anorexic to be a huge deal breaker. I was protecting myself more than anything, despite finding it extremely difficult to talk about my past. It was the first time I had talked about my eating disorder, apart from during my hospital stays.

To my surprise, Elliot didn't bat an eyelid when he found out. To him, it wasn't a big deal, he loved me none the less and thankfully he didn't ask difficult questions either. He was just so very understanding, and it didn't change anything between us like I feared it would. He didn't judge me at all, but I could sense his support. He'd always make sure I was happy with what he was cooking, asked me how I was and held my hand when he saw that I was struggling.

Elliot made things easier. Overtime, I became more comfortable opening up to him. He could read me like a book. There'd be nights when I couldn't sleep because I felt guilty or fat, and he'd always say something to comfort me and make everything better. Sometimes, all I needed to know was that he was on my side and that he loved me, something that anorexia tried to convince me wasn't possible - making me feel as though I was "too fat to be loved". But overtime, I realised that Elliot really did love me, and he chose to, not like family who have to. That made a big difference in my recovery, as I began to learn to love myself and look after myself. I began to enjoy exercising again and my diet began to vary. I started enjoying meals out instead of panicking beforehand. I had more energy and I was happier! 

Having someone there for you is so extremely important - knowing you are loved and that you matter. We all need someone to turn to for help and guidance. I now believe that I am no long recovering from anorexia - I am recovered. I am no longer controlled by silly rituals, numbers, weights and boring routines. Through not just Elliot, but all my family and friends who have supported me, I can proudly say, I am free - I am no longer anorexia, I am just me!

For more support on understanding eating disorders, click here.

For more information on how to support a friend going through mental health issues, click here.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Studying with Depression: Knowing the help you can recieve at University

It's important to know what help is available to you at university to get the best experience during your studies, James gives his advice on how to find out about these helpful resources.
- James Crick 
So, you’ve just got into your dream university and can’t wait to start or you got into a university and you have to start soon. Whether you’ve got the university of your dreams (I hope you have) or not, you will be thinking about what support there is available to you. Well, you have come to the right place. I am going to take you through your options. 
Right. Let’s begin with this little nugget of a fact – all Universities within the UK have to provide a certain amount of student services. These services will definitely vary as to where you go, the bigger universities usually (not always) have bigger budgets for this kind of thing. 
Some of the things I’ve noticed they help with are:
  1. Funding advice – DSA
  2. Mental health      
  3. Other disabilities 
  4. Homesickness
  5. Dyslexia 
  6. Bullying (hopefully you won’t need that)
  7. Time off University for health 
  8. Bereavement 
  9. Counselling
  10. Extensions and extenuating circumstances
And I’m sure there are many other things they do! But do enquire about this when you start. 
On my first point I mentioned DSA which means Disabled Student Allowance- so what is this lovely little thing, well as it stands it is a service provided by Student Finance England which is a great help if you’ve got a disability. They do a long assessment on you and determine what they think would be of benefit to you, some examples include: a Dictaphone, note taking software, counselling, laptop stands, sometimes even laptops themselves.
Now to get into homesickness. If you’re like me then you’re very close to your family, or even if you’re not close and they drive you insane but a family is a family so you love them to bits, it may be very hard saying goodbye and moving to a different town. This affected me quite a bit and I’ve got some advice for you:
  1. Keep contact with them.
  2. Go home when you can.
  3. Tell your friends if you’re feeling homesick. 
  4. Talk to student advice or your lecturers.
  5. FaceTime and Skype are amazing tools! Use them! Or even regular phone calls.
  6. Remember – the likelihood is your next door neighbour is feeling the same, so you can talk to him/her if you need too!

So, you’ve got bogged down with all those massive assignments and you have a slight panic about your work or you’re in exam week and sadly your depression starts to not make things any easier. Remember – ask for help! 
There are two words that may help you if you need it urgently (only urgently as it doesn’t make the problems go away)
Extension – will be granted if they can see a valid reason for you needing more time such as a bereavement. This will usually be a period of two weeks extra time. 
Extenuating Circumstances – If something really, really, really bad is happening to you then you can apply for this and it means you do not take part in the assessment and you fail that part of it. Usually if you just fail when you resit you’re capped at a third but if you have extenuating circumstances – there is no cap so you can resit with the full marks in August time!

For more information on finding support at university, click here.
For more information on starting university and dealing with mental health issues at this time, click here.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

What Does it Mean to be Resilient?

Part 1: The Meaning of Life

-Nicola Byrom

I have experienced mental health problems in my life. Big scary monsters of problems. So my first thinking about mental health focused on how to fight away monsters like Social Anxiety, Self-Harm, Depression and Eating Difficulties. With the time I’ve spent procrastinating on social media, I’ve noticed that most of our dialog around mental health focuses on how to keep mental ill-health away. But how about shifting the focus? What happens when we think about simply building better mental health? 

Positive Psychology is all about this. The science of happiness. Hearing that there are real, tangible things that we can do to be happier, I thought, “Why doesn’t everyone know this? Shouldn’t we be teaching everyone how to be happier?” This blog shares my thoughts and reflections as I stumble down the rabbit hole of Positive Psychology and try to get to grips with building better mental health.

This chap is Marty Seligman, the biggest cheese in the Positive Psychology movement. He sets out 5 principles of positive psychology: 
Positive Emotion

Here I’m focusing on meaning (more about the other components another day!) because this really threw me. You see, it seems very obvious that having a sense of meaning is important for emotional wellbeing, but considerably less obvious how we achieve a sense of meaning. I’m a massive fan of Tim Minchin’s UWA address where Minchin argues that there is no meaning.

“Life is meaningless… it’s absurd, the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years’ worth of unguided events.” 

This left me feeling torn: Minchin’s advice is that trying to find meaning in life is a bad idea because there is none. The Positive Psychology movement on the other hand says my wellbeing would be improved by a sense of meaning.

So, can we find meaning for our own lives in the absence of finding the ‘meaning of life’? Seligman says YES. Meaning comes from serving a cause bigger than ourselves; whether that is a specific deity or religion or a cause that helps humanity in some way. 
Some psychologists focus on the first half of this definition, arguing that one avenue towards meaning is spirituality which can be cultivated by: 
Thinking about the purpose of life and where you fit in, 
Spending time in meditation or prayer,
Thinking about the things you can do to improve the world or your community. 

In echoing Minchin’s thoughts on the meaninglessness of life, I’m not convinced that spending time thinking about where I fit in to the purpose of life, is likely to build positivity in my life. I try meditation from time to time and many have suggested that the introduction to mindfulness by HeadSpace is a simple starting place. But it is really the final point struck a chord with me: life can have meaning through its impact on the world or community. 

Specifically, Seligman suggests that we can build meaning by using our signature strengths in the service of something that you believe is larger than you. Seligman has developed a framework of 24 strengths. These are traits, valued in their own right and ubiquitous. You can use the Values in Action Signature Strengths survey to identify your own signature strengths. Once identified, the challenge is to focus on using these strengths every day in a way that does service to something you believe in.

I’ll leave these thoughts here, as I start to dwell on the seemingly equally perplexing task of pinning down something that I really believe in! 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Importance of Not Burning Yourself Out

Grace writes about how important it is to accept your good and bad days, and offers advice on how to stop from burning yourself out

-Grace Anderson

Despite often having very bad days, one of my biggest goals has been to not let other people realise this. People’s perceptions of me are something that I worry about often; do they like me? Will they think that I am weird? Am I boring? I really do care too much about what people think.

This has led to me appearing to be happy, confident and always ready for a good time. This could not be more wrong! Sitting in a lecture recently I was discussing being nervous about working with no one I knew and how I felt scared meeting them for the first time. My friend turned to me and said “REALLY?!?! You always seem so confident, I can’t imagine that” and then she paused and said “or you are just really good at appearing that way”.

This really made it feel real to me; I have put on a show for so long. Sometimes this does work in my favour; it allows me to appear externally to be a happy, friendly, confident, fun person. However, eventually this can often get too much leading me to burn out.

There is only so long you can pretend that everything is ok when it is not. As someone who has spent years keeping up this act it can be very hard. I am generally a happy, fun, loud, energetic person, but there are days when I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I question my existence and constantly worry about everything I have said and done.

I am slowly beginning to learn that this is a part of who I am and I think this worry will always be present and yes I will have bad days but you know what, this is ok. It is very hard for me to admit to myself that I am struggling, let alone to the people I know and love, but hopefully one day I will be able to be more honest with myself.

What I have learnt recently is that people understand and would rather I admitted I was having a bad day, instead of feeling the need to put on an act. I am realising in the long run this is also better for me as I can take it easy and have a few days to help myself, before I start burning out.

Here are a few things I am slowly learning are ok:
  • It is ok to say no; you don’t have to attend every social event you are invited to, you don’t always have to do what others expect, if you aren’t up to going or don’t want to go then you don’t have to.
  • A day in bed is okay; self-care is key, snuggling up with a cuppa and a movie or a good book is allowed, it does not make you lazy. We all need to recharge our batteries. 
  • You don’t have to be happy 24/7; in fact I’ll let you into a secret no one really is. It’s completely normal to have bad days.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Looking Back in Retrospect: Advice for Students in their Final Year

Grace Anderson and Lottie Naughton spoke to some graduating students for their advice on handling the last year of their degrees.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, so take some tips from those about to leave hoping that somebody starting their final year can learn from these triumphs and mistakes!
Lottie Naughton (Psychology, 4th Year): My final year is marking the end to one of the biggest chapters in my life so far. Naturally, I am absolutely terrified of moving on into the big wide world! Narrowing down “do’s” and “dont’s” is hard but here are two that are important to me!
  • DO! Get involved - taking advantage of all your university has to offer is important for when you leave. You need to show potential employers you’ve been working your butt off! I suggest putting yourself forward for committee roles in societies, starting a blog or contributing to one, working for the university in student based jobs or even just doing some volunteering for local charities. Your student union will have tonnes of information, so take advantage!
  • DON’T! Neglect your well-being - your intellect will be challenged in your final year. Your final year project will push your abilities to the limits and managing that piece of work alongside essays and exams will mean your time management will be tested. Making sure you are able to spend some time alone engaging in some self-care is a good way to keep yourself focused and happy. Schedule it in and delight in the time with yourself!
Grace Anderson (Psychology, 4th Year):
Change! Fear is one word that comes straight to mind when I think about leaving university this year. Excitement is also another. However, I would like my experience of being in final year to benefit other students who have this chapter of their lives to come.
  • DO make the effort to make friends - personally it was hard coming back from placement; most of my uni friends had graduated. You may ask what’s the point in making friends, there is only a year left? Friends make a university experience so join a new society and speak to new people on your course - seriously final year is not too late to make friends.
  • DON'T feel like you need to do work 24/7 - your final year is a big year and you will have LOADS of work on but this doesn't mean you have to do it constantly, get organised - make a timetable and factor in fun things like an evening with your friends or a good book and a hot chocolate.
Saira Wood (MPsych Graduate Student):
Final year is where all your hard work pays off! The feeling after that last exam or dissertation submission is like nothing else, so you'll want to know you've done your absolute best for when those results come through the letterbox!
  • DO Think ahead -  start thinking about what you want to do after you graduate, and tailor your project to help you achieve that. Start networking, using sites like Linkedin, to get your name out there.
  • DON'T panic - realisation will kick in and you’ll start feeling a bit panicky, but don’t. This is the best time of your life, honest(!), and you’ll only ever regret the effort you didn’t put in, so chill out, take some time to yourself, and then hit the books again when you’re feeling better.
Kerry Walke (Cruise Management, 4th Year): You’ve spent the last few years growing up and now you're leaving the safe purgatory zone that is university to explore the mysterious adult world! Everyone tells you “university was the best time of my life” or “I found my one true love/one true BFF/one true calling at university” but don’t let that turn into some sort of pressure.
  • DO get the most out of being young  - you aren’t weighed down with massive responsibilities, make time to experience the world (do a season in Zante, teach English abroad, lifeguard in Cornwall, or volunteer at a local charity).  The less pressure you put on yourself after university, the more fulfilled you will feel in the long run!
  • DON’T feel as though you have to do something specifically related to your degree after you graduate -  degrees are an open pathway to so many areas of employment you probably haven’t even thought about. My lecturer told me “A degree can be stepping stone into anything you wish”, so with that in mind, find something you really want to do and use your degree as a starting point.

Heather Guerin (Psychology, 4th Year): Being in your final year can be hectic and stressful but there's a lot you can do to make things easy for yourself.
  • DO try and enjoy your final year as much as possible and believe in yourself and your ability to nail this final year, because if we can do it... So can you. Cheesy but true!
  • DON'T be too scared to ask for help, everyone gets stuck or needs advice at some point. You’re paying for it so you may as well take all the help you can get.
Eleanor Perrett (Psychology, 4th Year): Having experienced mental health issues whilst at university I think there are definitely things that you should and shouldn't do to help kick off uni in the best way and although my list of do's and don’t’s could go on forever here is just one of each!
  • DO join as many clubs and societies as possible, especially sports clubs! The more people you meet the better and you'll stand a much better chance of finding at least one person who does make you smile! People in societies and sports clubs can become like your family, because you're a team! TRY NEW THINGS, HAVE FUN!
  • DON'T feel like you're alone. I promise you, uni is scary and overwhelming for EVERYONE! Open up to someone you trust about how you’re feeling! If it's not a flatmate/friend then open up to your tutor or the university counsellors. They are there to make the transition into final year easier!
Libby Rackham (Psychology Graduate): I'm the sort of person who says yes to everything and I like to think that I can do it all. When it came to my final year, balancing all of my responsibilities started to get on top of me. These are my two top tops to stop everything from getting to you:
  • DO go outside: I joined a running club in my final year and would also go out with my housemates for early runs and walks. It seems like going outside and spending time on something not dissertation/exam related is counterproductive but the fresh air clears your head.
  • DON'T try to control everything: I learnt that you can still get everything you want done, just maybe not in the way that you initially planned. While this can make you panic a bit at first, just go with the flow and it all sorts itself out eventually. You're only human after all!

Beth Colquhoun (Psychology Graduate): Having graduated last year, hindsight rears its persistent head on a daily basis and reminds me of all the behaviors I could have honed just that little bit better in those final months.

  • DO maintain interests which don't encompass aspects of your degree - flailing my limbs around widely in aerobics classes provided a welcome break for my mind and prevented me from spending months on end hibernating amongst mind maps and revision cards.
  • DON'T wish time away - when the workload starts to pile up, you may find yourself drifting into a permanent daydream about a long filled daiquiri fueled holiday as soon as exams are over. Just remember that this final push can make all the different to your future, and you'll spend the following months wishing you had slowed down and appreciated the journey, as backbreaking as it seemed at the time!

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Tsunamis and Theme Parks

Pippa talks about her experience of mental illness and the inherent challenges of communicating these experiences to others. 
-Pippa Woods 

It’s not just in my mind. They say it’s all in my mind. It’s not. It has physical implications. When it hits, it feels overwhelming. But it’s not just a feeling. It’s like a wave knocking me down. Except it’s a tsunami, not a lovely little wave you can jump over. It knocks me down and far, and when I surface, nothing looks like it did before. Okay, I’ll admit all I really know about tsunamis comes from the film ‘The Impossible’ (which is great but such a tear-jerker). But this is how it feels when my brain lets me down.

I say let me down because that is how I see it. Some people say I need to just get on with it and it’s all in my mind, others say it is a completely physical thing that you can blame on an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, I’m not sure what’s actually going on. But I do know that it feels like my brain isn’t really part of me when I feel like this. “Feel like what?” I hear you ask. If I could describe it, I would probably have the right treatment, help thousands across the country and have successfully achieved a research breakthrough. I guess you only really know if you’ve experienced something similar.

The trouble with mental illness is that we only know what it’s like to be in our own brain, to experience things from our perspective. This makes it inherently challenging to describe to others how it feels. It’s not like a broken arm, where you can say, “my arm hurts lots” and people understand, because once their arm hurt too. With mental illness they don’t usually want to understand. And even if they want to, they find it really hard to.

The tsunami example is the best analogy I can think of so far for how it feels to me when I’m going down. When it’s really bad, I get washed away. Taken from everyone I love, everything I enjoy and all that I usually find easy. I’m isolated, despite the attempts of others to reassure and support me. I’m far from them, hit by the great wave and pushed miles away. Not physically, but mentally. All my hobbies have ended up surfacing near my family and friends, ages away from me. And I’m not strong enough to swim through the water to reach them. When I try, a secondary wave hits. Everything is destroyed over again, we’re pushed further away. I haven’t yet learned how to find this strength to swim through the debris-full water to reach them, my friends, my family, my life. I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.

For me, mental health is like a theme park. A theme park where my brain is in charge of me. It determines which rides I go on, and when I do so. I’m constantly fighting to take back control of my theme park visit, but my brain has a hold on me and drags me around. I’m blindfolded. I don’t know what’s coming next, maybe the teacups, maybe the world’s highest rollercoaster. It is this, which creates my constant exhaustion. It’s not surprising when you think of it like this, anyone would be exhausted if they had to spend every waking moment, worrying about where they were being taken, how scary the ride might be, how long it might last, if you would get a break after it or straight onto the next. This is how it feels to be in my brain. This is how it feels to be me.

Now of course it seems this is all in my mind, all happening in my brain. Of course it is, my legs work perfectly fine, I don’t have diabetes or cancer. But it’s not only in my mind. Physically I may appear ok, but I’m not ok. I’m exhausted. My appetite isn’t predictable. Sometimes I shake uncontrollably. I get headaches and my muscles tense up. But I don’t have a physical illness, just a mental one.

That’s where the problem lies, ‘just’ a mental one. This isn’t the case. Rarely is an illness ‘just’ anything. If you get diagnosed with a physical illness, cancer for example, it isn’t ‘just’ a physical issue. It affects you, and those around you, both physically AND mentally. The same is true of mental illnesses; they affect those diagnosed, and those around them, both mentally AND physically. The sooner we realise this, and treat accordingly the better.

Not sure how to speak to a friend about their mental health? Take a look at our Look After Your Mate guide for some useful tips to get conversations started.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Navigating Limbo: Reflections on Life After Graduation

Rose talks about life after graduation, the uncertainty of life at that time, and how its ok to feel lost about what's to come in the future.

- Rose Liddell

After completing my undergraduate degree almost two years ago now, I embarked on a Masters degree which I finished in September last year. I’m really glad that I took my postgraduate qualification, but if I was brutally honest, part of me did it because I was afraid of the oncoming uncertainty, not knowing which direction my life would be headed. By doing a Masters, I thought that this would give me at least another year to try and figure things out. However, after I'd completed my Masters degree, I still found myself in a position of overwhelming uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

Part of me tried to view this transition optimistically. I tried to see this uncertainty as more of a wealth of possibilities, than a negative change. I could travel, continue with volunteering and have a bit of a break; I did not have to jump into a fully fledged career straight away. However, after being used to the structure of non-stop education for roughly 19 years and also because I like to plan ahead and be in control, I found it quite difficult to accept this change as a positive thing. Instead I felt pretty adrift and completely at a loss of what I should do.

Even so, I did not think this transition from university into adult life would affect me as much as it did. After applying for job after job and being rejected because I did not have as much experience in comparison to those who had been in working life longer, I felt more and more unhappy. I became demotivated and I noticed changes in my emotional and mental health too. I would get upset easily, argue with my parents, feel continuously stressed and anxious, and I felt trapped in my own home. When looking at Facebook, all of my friends who had graduated seemed to be further ahead than me, either they were engaged or married, or they had graduate level jobs. I started to think that there was something wrong with me, that I was perhaps not intelligent enough or charismatic enough to get anywhere, and with each rejection, my self-confidence plummeted.

A few things helped me get out of this rut that I found myself stuck in, and something that I really want to emphasise to anyone going through a similar limbo phase, is that this uncertainty is only TEMPORARY.
One thing that helped me was having a structure. With the help of a friend, I got a job in administration. Once I had that structure and some income, I applied for a mental health graduate scheme to pursue my passion and interest in mental health, where I would be working as a mental health social worker. Happily, I have obtained a place on the graduate scheme that I will be beginning soon, and it is something that I really want to do. Knowing that I have that lined up for me in the future has helped me to feel a lot calmer about trying different things and seeking new opportunities. I'm trying to be open and confident about trying new things now, and not to worry too much about making mistakes! I've tried to develop an attitude that adapts and embraces change and what it brings, instead of fighting it. 

The other thing that helps is being kind to yourself. When I wasn't working, taking any time out for myself even if it was 20 minutes of yoga made me feel guilty that I was procrastinating from job searching. But actually giving yourself that time is important. It's also important to acknowledge that it's ok to not know what you want, or where your career is headed. Not getting a job straight away is ok too, and it's not a bad reflection on you if you don't manage to get one job over another. For one thing, if you don't manage to get one opportunity, there will be others, perhaps more suited to your skills and experience. Secondly, in a world where getting gainful employment when you're fresh out of university is really hard and very competitive, it's perfectly ok to not get what you want straight away, getting something that gives you a bit of money but doesn't demand too much can free you up to gain experiences that you might want, like volunteering or travelling.

Be Kind To Yourself

The final thing I would say is ignore social media. Updates on social media tend to come when we are having our best days but rarely reflect our bad ones. It can be easy to get into the mind-set that everyone else is in a better position, but the truth is that everyone has their bad days and good days, missed opportunities and mistakes; the bad days are just not broadcast on social media. It’s always worth bearing that in mind when it's seeming that everyone is ahead of you. The reality is that they're probably not and if they are, it hasn't been a smooth journey.

So, I want to say to all those who are experiencing this or might experience this in the future, that you are not alone. Lots of us are either in the same position or have been, so if you know anyone who has gone through a similar situation and maybe has started doing something they really like, talk to them about their experiences and feel free to share yours. It's ok to tell someone that you're struggling, they may be able to offer some good advice as well as support! Starting out from university into adult life is difficult, but not impossible. So see it as a time where you can experiment and make mistakes and figure out what you really want. And if you find it a struggle at first to get paid work, don't give up. It doesn't mean that you are any less intelligent or any less wonderful, just persevere and be kind to yourself. 

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Summertime Sadness

Natasha writes about how hard the summer holidays can be when term time is over

-Natasha S. 

What happens after all the hard and gruelling work is over? Though I feel relief when all the coursework and exams are finished, I find that term time is the calm before the storm for my mental well being. I get stressed and, yes, I moan during the term, but I do enjoy the routine and hard work of university. When everything is done and completed, I find myself asking “what now?”. The sudden loss of ‘purpose’ takes its toll on me. 

Having to go back home to uncertainty seems to fill me with dread. The next logical step is to find work, however in a tiny town this isn't always an option. During the summer last year, I was lucky enough to get a job, but even then I felt those familiar negative feelings creeping on in. 

Personally, I find the summer holidays are very challenging. I almost seem to experience the reverse of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)- instead of feeling low in the winter, for me it tends to be worse in the summer. I thought that perhaps I was alone in this respect, but I came across an article shared on Facebook by the Blurt Foundation (which can be found here). This article gave some tips and advice on how to try and deal with the impact of returning home for the holidays. 

Blurt Foundation's article on summer coping tips for students

Here are some of the suggestions that I felt most important to share: 
•Create a routine.
•Have quality you time (do something that involves treating yourself). 
•Have things to look forward to. 
•Keep in touch with others.
•Set goals and keep track of your progress towards them. 
•Vitamin D (get some sun. . . safely!). This could be natural light but having spoken to a GP he suggested that light boxes can be usual as well. 
•Seek support in your local area. 

I thought this article was really helpful. Though the advice is simple on the surface, I thought that having this guidance laid out was actually very beneficial, specifically, their advice that you should make lists and tick off achievements. Looking at their advice I was able to look closely at things I had achieved, as well as things I could work on to help me with my experiences of low mood and help me to adjust to being at home again. As a result, I have really tried to give myself purposeful goals and routine.

Prior to reading that article I had already secured a temporary job, but the article spurred me on to get involved in other things as well. Something for my own personal development rather than just for financial reasons. I have been able to get involved in a challenging, but rewarding volunteering opportunity, which may help me to gain good work experience, as well as help me to look more outwards and to the future, compared to just focusing on the present and inwards (rumination is something I struggle with). I am hoping that getting involved in work and volunteering will help me to stay engaged. Stumbling across the article really helped me to realise that I'm not alone in experiencing this "Summertime Sadness" (shout out to any Lana Del Rey fans), and that there are ways that I can try and support myself. 

Shoutout to any Lana Del Rey fans

In addition to the points made I personally feel that I make a lot of social comparisons. I feel that sometimes you simply need to accept that we can all afford different things and that people all have different opportunities open to them. I feel that rather than feeling bad that you cannot afford ‘X’ or do ‘X’, look at what you can do and make the most of opportunities open to you. Perhaps look into volunteering or ways to develop yourself in ways that are accessible to you (as well as enjoyable). Everybody is different but I do like to try and challenge myself in controlled ways, and maybe this advice will help you to do this too.

Want to find out more about Seasonal Affective Disorder? We had a twitter chat with SADA about tips for students experiencing SAD - take a look here.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Six tips to avoid homesickness when you first start University

Sian offers six tips for any new student moving away from home to start their life at university

-Sian O'Brien

You have a place at university. Congratulations! No doubt you are very excited and nervous to start your adventure as an ‘almost adult’. With university comes freedom, which is great, no more having to eat your mums’ cooking, that is mediocre at best, and no more nagging! However, believe it or not, you will probably miss home.

Homesickness is common in students. Here I am going to tell you how I found being at uni for the first time and six tips to help reduce homesickness: 

Pack things from your room at home; make your room at uni feel more like home. Summer is over and the car is so full you are sure it won’t start. It wouldn’t have been a genuine first time student experience if you hadn’t had to pull everything out several times to check you packed your toothbrush, phone charger, and that one pair of socks you are convinced are lucky. Once you are sure everything’s there, you are all set to go! But, don’t forget to bring those special items from home. So if that means bringing cushions, bunting or posters you should try to replicate everything you love about your room, at university. 

Instead of unpacking straight away, go and explore. After arriving at halls, you may feel very nervous (I did), mainly because you knew that very soon you would be alone. Leave the unpacking for later when you’re by yourself; it will stop you over thinking! You could instead find the nearest shop, and work out how long it takes to get to uni with your parents.

Say goodbye properly. You have explored the city, and know it takes exactly 12 and a half minutes to get to uni, but now your parents have said they want to go home. I know it is embarrassing, but give your mum and dad a hug. Trust me you’ll need it, because as soon as you see the car pull away there is a high chance you will cry. I did and so did some of my flatmates, but if you do, don’t worry- they are only a phone call away.

MAKE FRIENDS! Your parents have gone, and you have said ‘hi’ very nervously to someone down the corridor. It’s awkward meeting people for the first time, but honestly, everyone’s friendly, so make lots of friends. You may never talk to some of them again, but by making friends, you will soon find the right group of people for you! Don’t worry if you don’t fit in straight away. You will be surprised how diverse the student population is, there will always be someone for you! You’ll soon find you aren’t the only one who has a weird obsession over the lead singer of that band, you were convinced no one has ever heard of.

Get involved with uni life! If that means joining a club or going out and meeting people in the Students Union, getting involved can distract you from feeling homesick. On the first day I arrived at uni, I went to a taster session for rugby. I loved it, and the girls were so nice and supportive! So, if you are really into football, films, or Indy bands, there will be a club or society for you, filled with likeminded people. 

Finally, regularly contact your parents and friends. I ring my parents every Sunday and regularly call my friends. This is a great way to keep up to date with family affairs, gossip, and make sure that your beloved pet goldfish ‘bubbles’ hasn’t  been eaten by the cat. Whatever your relationship is with your parents, siblings, and friends, it is important to let them know how you are doing even if it’s just a short 5-minute conversation or a quick text, it helps to keep your homesickness away.

Getting ready to go to uni? Find out more tips about getting started with our Starting University guide.