Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Why did I run a marathon for Student Minds?

Ross writes about tackling the Brighton Marathon for Student Minds.
- Ross Munro

As a medical student, I am well aware of the plight of mental health but it wasn’t until I lost an old friend and fellow student that its importance struck me. Student Minds was introduced to me at his wake and after reading about the charity, I felt compelled to get involved. Consequently in April 2017, I ran the Brighton marathon for this innovative charity in an attempt to fulfil numerous goals. Some of my goals: 

Remember a good friend 
Training for a marathon presents you with the gift of time. I claim to be a ‘busy person’ but this is more of an excuse than a truth and marathon training sets aside hours of your week to contemplate life. Whilst training on the wet blustery Brighton coast no amount of company, music or radio podcasts can prevent your mind from wondering. In these moments of stress-free mental bliss my mind unintentionally homed in on my late friend. I thought about his love of music, passion for politics and fondness of science, I thought about the years we spent playing Pokemon, being generally uncool and how we didn’t care, I thought about school, parties and early memories, I thought about his endearment, loyalty and kindness, I thought about some of the happiest moments of my life. 

Whilst aimlessly jogging along the seafront, I realised how important it was to cherish these precious memories and to let them live on. Upon reflection, training for the marathon gave me the time and mental space to grieve and although I am sad that he is gone, revisiting these memories was a healthy experience and I enjoyed it. 

Evaluating and supporting my own mental health 
At school I was taught to regularly assess my scrotum for lumps in an attempt to catch testicular cancer early and this was good advice. However, reflecting on my own mental health was not once mentioned. This doesn’t add up when the incidence of testicular cancer is 1 in 2,200 and mental health affects everyone if not personally, then indirectly. Fortunately, I have since learnt that evaluating one’s own mental wellbeing is invaluable but unfortunately mindfulness, meditation, writing and so on has never worked for me. Running, I have recently learnt does! 

Running offers quiet reflection in addition to improved sleep, stress relief, positive mood changes, increased energy, weight management and greater concentration. I find the most useful benefits of running are mental distraction, social interaction and a sense of self efficacy.  All of these factors are beneficial for my mental health and I have since concluded that time spent running, is time well spent for me.

Promote mental health on the charitable stage 
Why is there any stigma surrounding mental health? I can only assume it represents the ugly hangover from a barbaric public health disaster in the 1900s. Surely it is now time for a new generation to break mental health conversations out of its shackles and bring it into the public limelight. I desperately want to be a part of this freethinking and cosmopolitan new era. 

I was so proud to wear my student minds vest whilst running the marathon and virtually euphoric every time I heard a spectator shout ‘go on student minds!’ The Brighton marathon was awash with worthy charities and it felt like a majestic celebration of altruistic spirit. My only personal regret was the distinct lack of runners supporting mental health charities. With the prevalence and arguably the impact of mental health illness similar if not greater to that of cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia, it is my wish that this eventually be reflected in the charitable sector. However, in order for this to happen the stigma has to go and with the advent of a new national mindset, I hope and believe we will get there. 

Training and completing the Brighton marathon in aid of student minds has been an enlightening, enjoyable and emotional experience. Despite setting out to help the mental health of others through fundraising, I would imagine in truth, I got more out of the last few months than anyone else. It is a pleasure to raise money for student minds, I believe their fruitful work amongst the student population is a shining example for the wider community. Let’s be the generation that conquers the taboo surrounding mental health for the benefit of everyone. 

Support Ross's hard work today by making a donation on his page. Interested in taking on a challenge yourself?  Find out more on our fundraising page

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Post-University Blues

With graduation fast approaching, Tess writes about the limbo you might find yourself in once university life is complete                                                                                                
 - Tess Schiller

This summer I graduated after three fantastic years at the University of Warwick. I met a load of wonderful people, took on challenges and came out with fantastic memories and a good degree to match. Then suddenly it was all over - and I was left with very little idea as to what my next steps might be. As with so many other graduates, my only option was to move back to my childhood home until I found my feet.
I went to a school where every single person was destined for uni and therefore every year, there was a mass exodus from Norwich, leaving a few gap year students behind. But this post-graduation period is an entirely different story. There’s no common ‘next step’ laid out for all of us. Everyone is finding their feet and going about it very much in our own ways. Varying experiences mean that suddenly we’re not in sync in a way that we once were.
I miss university a huge amount and there’s no sugarcoating it. Moving back home, you feel like you’ve regressed. I made such progress during my time at university, and returning to the way you once were often feels like you’re losing a part of yourself. But it’s also tough for people around you. They’ve got their own rhythm and suddenly you’re back, mourning over how you miss a rubbish SU night out with a terrible DJ who plays all the same tracks every week. How do you say ‘I miss that place’ without sounding like you’re implying that you hate where you are?
There’s nothing I can do about graduating or having to find a job or even facing the realities of living so far away from friends who used to be 10 minutes down the road. Those are all realities of life. But when my mum searched for more information about post-university depression she found just two articles on the subject. When I compare this to the countless number of friends who’ve expressed their struggles with leaving university, it seems bizarre that this isn’t better researched. Warwick have been more than happy to check up when it comes to employment, but I don’t really know of any university that has a clear support system for graduates.
Just because it’s something that we’re all going through doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can be done about that feeling. It doesn’t mean we have to ignore it or, in the most British way possible, joke about it over a beer on those scarce reunions with old pals. My coping methods have been going back into therapy and finding new hobbies and motivations. It’s also been about actively maintaining relationships so that I still have my support system even if they’re now a phone call rather than a short walk away.
It’s different for everyone but it shouldn’t be ignored. Applying for jobs and trying to find your feet can sometimes feel impossible when you’re reeling from a loss that you didn’t even expect.
The amazing thing about university is that it can be a time to learn how to deal with your mental illness. Charities like student minds can equip you with the tools you need to do that, and getting a hold of both short term and longer term coping mechanisms can make the post-graduation transition far less bumpy.

Despite still feeling lost and clueless there have been some really amazing things that have happened to me over these past few months - like moving out of my childhood home and into a flat with my boyfriend. Creating something of my own has brought a level of stability to my life and made me feel settled and motivated again. Yes there's uncertainty - but I'm looking forward to what the future has in store for me.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Suffering In Silence

Chloe talks about her ongoing battle with anxiety and the importance of accepting help.

I realised recently that I have huge anxiety. I came to that conclusion when I left the house earlier today and freaked out so decided to return home. I find it difficult to leave my house unless I am seeing a close friend (I only have a selective number of close friends none of which are in Cambridge) or if my boyfriend comes to visit me. Other than that I can't leave my house. Not even for uni! I barely leave for my work and for other friends. I have suffered from depression for a while now ever since I was a kid. It made me a shy and unconfident person; however by the time I got to sixth form I thought I had finally mastered it as I became outspoken and optimistic. I was able to do public speaking being a part of debate club and sing in a band… until I lost someone dear to me before starting university in 2015 which didn't affect me till later on.

I struggled a lot last year and I have gotten worse. I started off my second year strong but as soon as second semester hit I stopped going to uni, my social clubs and barely talked to anyone. I felt the most comfortable talking on social media which gave me an excuse to stay at home. I know I am behind but I still can't manage to leave my room. I worked so hard to get where I am but nothing seems to be motivating me. I debated quitting university so many times and I still am. I know I had to contact someone so I emailed the head of my course to try and set up a meeting but once again I got cold feet; I called him and explained what happened and he promised to get me help and also contact my lecturers, so at the moment I am still in a continuous loop until I breakout.

That's it, I don't have a happy ending right now but I am getting help and you can too. Last month I went in for a counselling consultation, the head of my course is looking into. If you are struggling with mental illness contact someone whether it's your friends, parents or teachers because now I know I can get better, I just need to believe in myself. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days Sober

Andrew writes about his year of sobriety and his desire to break down mental health stigma.
- Andrew Morbey

On Sunday 16th of April I celebrated not only my late fathers’ birthday, but a year of sobriety. A day that will always hold a special place in my heart. A year ago, I made the decision to take time away from alcohol and sort out my mental health. I’m not here to rant about why drinking is bad. I only want to share my experiences on what became another defining ‘fork in the road’ and an exciting period of my life and what lead me to stop drinking.

Being a social person, I would never shy away from having a beer with friends at the pub, meeting friends at university for lunch which would then turn into a night out in town and skipping lectures. My issue was that I never had an ‘off’ switch and didn’t understand how to control the amount I would drink. I always gave into the temptation of drinking during the week and on the weekend, telling myself, “I am fine, I’m just having fun with friends.” But it was a continuous cycle of pretending it wasn’t an issue. After I failed two subjects at university, you would think that would be a natural wake-up call to get on top of my drinking, I continually ignored the warning signs.

I became scared of my drinking habits as I began spiralling out of control, waking up feeling so much hate towards myself, finding out about various events from the night before. Having only slight memories of doing these things to myself, I would tell myself, “it was only a one off, it won’t happen again” and hide the evidence. The cycle had to be broken. 

However, since that night I have graduated, moved to a new country, found a job, celebrated weddings and engagements (not mine); I have laughed & cried and continued to make friends all over the world. You really start seeing who your real friends are when you begin saying no to alcohol and they buy you a lemonade as part of their round. I have met some pretty amazing people this last year, people who have taken an interest and supported me, who have not judged or walked away. And there is, of course, my support group of friends and family who from day one may have joked I couldn’t last a week, but when they realised I was serious about it, constantly made sure I didn’t have an alcoholic drink in my hand and ‘tested’ my drink to make sure I wasn’t cheating.

Now I feel more confident in myself- nothing says that more than closing your eyes on the dancefloor, ignoring the world and just letting loose- in both my new job and out on a weekend. I don’t feel the need to drink to break down awkward social barriers anymore, but instead I enjoy ‘people watching’ and appreciating the company around me.  There is of course the bad day where my depression is winning, but it has no match on my love for sport, exercise and chocolate.

There are so many more things I want to share, but the main thing I learned over these past 12 months is that it’s okay to not be okay. Just because you struggle with mental health doesn’t make you an outsider, it makes you unique and gives you a special outlook on life and a new appreciation that others don’t see.

So the next 365 days will include working at my new job, joining a rugby club, being social and meeting up with friends and maybe even bond over a beer. Hopefully I have matured enough to start respecting my mental health and knowing when to say “its bed time”.

I am a twenty-five-year-old Aussie bloke chasing my dream of living in the UK. After buying my one-way ticket and making the big move, I came into contact with Student Minds through a mental health charity in Australia called Batyr. I applied for their Fundraising Champions initiative earlier this year, and when I was elected, my head filled up with ideas on how I can help break down this mental health stigma. I wanted to start by sharing my story with Student Minds and the extended mental health community.

Find out more about what the amazing fundraising champions are up to and donate here.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Meet our Fundraising Champions: Katherine

Fundraising Champion Katherine writes about her experience as a fundraiser and why she decided to get involved with Student Minds. 
-Katherine Hockley

My name is Katherine Hockley and I currently work as a Digital Content Designer for CoSector – University of London. This involves creating design for marketing collateral, as well as editing the blog, running Twitter sites, creating video, and interacting with the many different departments within the organisation.

Why did you choose to become a fundraiser for Student Minds?
Student Minds gave a presentation in the All Staff Meeting at the University of London and I was moved by the cause having suffered with depression at university myself. I signed up with another colleague to do the stair climb, which you can read about here. (In short – my legs hurt). I then saw that they were looking for volunteer fundraisers and thought – why not me? It’s a cause I care about and I have several ways that I can help the charity, be it writing, raising the charity’s profile or organising work events to raise money.

What do you enjoy the most about fundraising?
The things I enjoy most about fundraising is that I know I am contributing towards a great cause. It’s always good to challenge yourself as well, so I know I’ve not just spent my free time watching the same shows over and over again on Netflix.

How did you feel after your first fundraiser?
After my first fundraiser I felt great, if not sweaty and very, very out of breathe. It was a physical challenge climbing all those flights of stairs but worth it to know that I’d achieved something for Student Minds. I empathise with the message the charity is trying to get across and I was just glad I could help in any way I could. It also meant I could have the ‘Lambshank redemption’ burger immediately after as one hell of a punny reward.

What are you planning on doing for your next fundraiser?
I plan on running a bake sale as my next charity event, as it is easy to arrange but is something everyone can get on board with (who doesn’t like cake?). I have control of the internal newsletter, so I'll be making sure I slip that information in...

What would your top tip be for someone who is thinking of fundraising for Student Minds?
My top tip for anyone who is thinking of fundraising for Student Minds is to just do it, and don’t be scared that you’re oversharing your fundraising page. Spam away! Ask friends if they're interested and then you'll get more donations as well are more morale support. It's a great charity and one that's definitely worth your time, so go ahead!

"Katherine post Broadgate Tower Stair Climb"
Our Fundraising Champions are volunteers who actively fundraise for Student Minds, champion the importance of fundraising for student mental health and raise awareness. Find out more about our Fundraising Champions here.

Want to get involved with fundraising for Student Minds? Check out our page here.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Meet the Student Minds Team!

Student Minds is currently recruiting a Volunteer Officer, Equality Improvement Officer and Programme Development Manager. To find out more about these positions and to apply visit

As staff recruitment for the charity opens, the Student Minds team talk about their experiences as part of the charity, the Worthwhile Graduate Scheme and life in Oxford.

Krishna, Internal Communications Officer
I have had the pleasure of working with Student Minds for almost 3 and a half years from the varying perspectives of a student, campaigner, intern and employee. As a charity, Student Minds focuses on the mental well being of not just hundreds of students and volunteers across the country, but also the individuals within the charity. It is amazing to be part of such a caring, open and passionate team that made my move to Oxford much less scary!

Nicholas, Digital and Campaigns Manager
The main things that made me so excited to work for Student Minds were the thought of getting a chance of doing a varied job with lots of responsibility, being able to work closely with students at a grass-roots level and staying connected to the people we're supporting. I've learned a huge amount, from the ongoing support and skills sharing within the team and training from Worthwhile. It's been fantastic working at Student Minds, the team have been incredible to work with and inspire me every day!

Emily, Peer Support Manager
My time with Student Minds has been exciting, challenging, varied, inspiring... (the list goes on!). I’ve been working directly with volunteers for almost two years and being able to support passionate and motivated volunteers who are working to transform the state of student mental health across the UK is very rewarding.  Working within a such a collaborative, supportive and open team in the surrounds of beautiful Oxford is a real privilege.

Grace, Fundraising Officer 

I have been involved with Student Minds for 3 years; from a blogger, to a campaigner, to now working as part of the national team. Since joining in August I have found it very easy to settle in, the team are very supportive, friendly and welcoming. On our first day we were given a list of fun things to do in Oxford which was great, it really is a beautiful town. Working with the staff team, volunteers and our network to transform the state of student mental health is really empowering. I feel very lucky to be around such passionate, empathetic and inspiring individuals everyday!

Rosie, CEO 
It's a great time to be working in mental health. There's much to be done, and real appetite across the health and education sector to learn more about how we improve support for young people experiencing difficulties and do more on the prevention end. For me, it's the combination of the inspiring work and the opportunity to collaborate with such committed staff, volunteers and experts which makes Student Minds such a fulfilling and motivating place to work. I can't wait to find out who will be joining us on the next part of our journey as we look to implement our 3 year strategy. If you're not sure whether to put in that application I encourage you to go for it, we look at candidates as individuals not a number, and would love to hear from you - good luck!

Eleri, Head of Operations
I’ve absolutely loved my time with Student Minds so far, working with such an enthusiastic and motivated team is a real pleasure. I’ve enjoyed seeing team members gain in confidence and develop in their roles. Working for a small organisation means you can have real responsibility and input, developing a wide range of skills. I’m excited about where the next few years will take the charity and for what we can achieve. I look forward to working with individuals who can help us realise our goals and accomplish even more to support student mental health.

Amelia, Training Programmes Officer
Working at Student Minds and being on the Worthwhile grad scheme has been the greatest opportunity after university that I could have hoped for. Working closely with students and staff across the UK, every day is different and exciting. I have been challenged, trusted and valued - taking control on various projects and learning constantly through extensive training and my role. The team is friendly, supportive and uplifting and we are in such a fantastic location, I couldn't ask for more.

Elly, Training Programmes Officer 
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Student Minds this year. Working with such a motivated and supportive team in the centre of the beautiful city of Oxford makes me excited to come into work every day. The main aspect of my role involves training university staff and it's so rewarding to see their knowledge and confidence around supporting student mental health increase during our training sessions. Student Minds is doing amazing work and there's never been a better time to get involved with transforming the state of student mental health.

Rachel, Policy Manager
Leaving the uni bubble and stepping into the working world has been a massive learning curve, challenging at times, but also incredibly refreshing.  I felt very fortunate to be a part of the Worthwhile Scheme - the training allowed me learn new approaches to challenges at work, and hear from other people doing similar things. Being a part of a cohort of graduates is a great way to start your career in the charity sector - with an emphasis on open-minded collaboration and support.

Want to find out more...?
We are currently recruiting a Volunteer Officer, Equality Improvement Officer and Programme Development Manager. To find out more and to apply visit here. To learn more about what Student Minds does, take a look at our latest Annual Report.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

It Gets Brighter

Rebecca re-visits an old blog she wrote for Student Minds and reflects on the progress she’s made in the past two years - proving that it does get brighter. 
- Rebecca Down

Depression tells me that if I died, it would be fairly inconsequential. People would move on with their lives perfectly okay without me. The world wouldn’t miss me. The only thing that keeps me here is the hope that if I stay around, I might be able to prove it wrong; I might be able to achieve things that make myself proud, and I might be able to reach out and give back to my family and friends some of the love, encouragement and faith that they have given to me. Where there’s life, there’s hope. That’s depression’s weakness. That’s what I’ll use to defeat it. And those are the days I’ll live for.

-  April 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was looking through old documents on my laptop. Inside a folder I’d left unopened for almost two years was a copy of a blog post I submitted to Student Minds and Students Against Depression in early 2015 – A Portrait of Anxiety and Depression. I’d written this post in the second term of my second year at university, and just a few months before I’d made the decision to defer my studies for a year in order to recover from a depressive episode. At the time of writing, I would never have believed that the world I am living in now – the world I was clinging on to life for – would actually exist. 

Two years on from that post being published, I am back at university and successfully balancing the demands of my course with a happy social life and time spent pursuing projects outside my academic studies. I have re-established my sociable, motivated identity, my sense of self-worth, and I’ve gained the ability to cope with my illnesses so that they no longer dominate my life.

I can’t say exactly what it was that allowed me to recover – it took a combination of hard work, patience and practice to challenge my thoughts and gradually change my perspective. At times I felt hopeless and my efforts seemed futile, but I was continually encouraged to try new things, break out of comfort zone and keep myself going. During my year away from university I found a part-time job in a primary school which gave me the structure I needed to use the time productively. At weekends I travelled around the country visiting friends, or exploring new places with my camera. 

For the same reason, I expect, that people are changed by journeying to different continents and experiencing different cultures, I found that paying attention to the lives and work of others around me allowed my mind to break out of the restraints that depression had created. Undoubtedly one of the most important reasons for my recovery was the love and support that I received from some truly exceptional friends and boyfriend. Opening up to them has been one of the very best things I’ve done for myself, and it's something I will always be extremely grateful to them for.

Even after two incredibly challenging years, I wouldn't choose to go back and change my experience. I am grateful for its lessons, I am grateful for the way it has shaped me, and I am grateful for the clarity it's given to my view of my life. I now have a much better awareness of the values I hold and the things that I want to achieve, and have a much better ability to embrace and confront new challenges. 

In many ways, I consider my period of illness a necessary lesson that prevented me from following a path of endless self-hatred and unhappiness. I have learnt that life does not abide by a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy, that perfection does not exist, and that there is no defined way to be – the best thing you can do is to simply be yourself. For two dark and dreary years I lost myself, but now my identity is stronger than ever and my biggest struggles have become my greatest gift. It does get brighter.

Monday, 10 April 2017

No, I'm Not Stressed!

Denise explores the crucial differences between feeling stressed and suffering from anxiety.
- Denise Porter

“Are you stressed?” My boyfriend asked me again this past week. 

“Are you stressed out, you look exhausted!”  My friend asked me while I was focusing on my revision. 

“I think she’s stressed,” whispered a few acquaintances as I made my way into my lecture room. 

I have unwillingly accepted people I come across on a daily basis may assume I look stressed. However, the truth of the matter is I am not stressed; I am experiencing anxiety. I was recently diagnosed with social anxiety. 

Social anxiety is an overwhelming and persistent fear of social situations that leads to intense worry before, during and after a social situation. My fear can occur in situations that wouldn’t faze others, such as sitting in a large lecture room, writing with other people around me, and meeting new people – basically any situation where I feel I may be evaluated or judged.

I used to feel ashamed and embarrassed of shaking, sweating, and feeling unable to conquer an activity that others take for granted. However, with the help of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I have learned to be forgiving and accepting of my anxiety.

 It is true  both stress and anxiety appear to present similar symptoms: they both leave you unfocused, edgy and frantic. However, it is important to know the difference between the two, so figuring out whether you are experiencing anxiety or stress is important for forming the foundation of your recovery. 

Stress is caused by ‘stressors’ (such as work) that place pressure on the body and the mind resulting in adrenaline release. It usually ends once the source of the stress has passed. David Spiegel Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University, suggests dismissing the idea of multitasking and instead focusing on what you can do and rewarding your accomplishments. 

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a feeling of intense fear, apprehension and worry that can happen at any time without a known source of where the fear comes from. This inevitably adds to feelings of distress on a day-to-day basis. Anxiety may be treated with medication or by a professional psychological treatment such as CBT.

Anxiety also persists after the problem has been resolved. I cannot pinpoint one single factor which first triggered my anxiety.  I do remember feeling anxious when starting secondary school, and the pressures associated with trying to fit in and do well academically so I could eventually go to uni may also have played a part. I eventually started to experience insomnia, shakiness for no apparent reason, and a need to hide from everyone.  

Eight years later I had started my first year at university and I thought I had finally made it. However, while everyone was enjoying Freshers’ Week, going out, meeting new people, and settling into university well, I was struggling – and I continued to struggle throughout the three years of my undergraduate degree. Due to my anxiety, I found it difficult to concentrate in lectures and I missed out on a lot of opportunities. 

Chronic anxiety must be treated distinctly rather than as a by-product of stress. If you are experiencing either stress or anxiety you don’t have to deal with it on your own. You can start by talking to a trusted friend, family member, or health professionals. No matter what you are going through you owe it to yourself to receive the support you deserve to feel happy and safe. 

And as for those well-meaning family, friends and acquaintances I mentioned at the start - please read this article! Although your concerns come from a good place, inferring that I am stressed does not provide me with the opportunity to evaluate my health for myself and seek out the right help needed for me. So, before you’re quick to impose a label on me, ask me how I feel instead.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A checklist for when you're feeling anxious

Abi writes about her anxiety and provides top tips to follow to try and lift your mood when struggling with your mental health.

Not everyone has a mental health problem, but everyone has mental health.

As a psychology student and a volunteer for Student Minds, you would think that the above statement would be obvious to me; the concept underlying a large part of my life, from what I study to what I do in my spare time. However, when I saw this I had a realisation: that whilst 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, every single one of us has mental health, which is as equally important to maintain as physical health.

Though I’ve never had a mental health problem as such, I noticed symptoms of social anxiety when I joined secondary school. If I was asked to speak in front of the class, or had to talk to anyone outside of my regular social circle, my heart would race, my breath shorten and the whole room would feel like it was closing in on me. Luckily, as a result of forcing myself to talk to people outside of my social circle, and growing more confident as I grew older, social situations rarely phase me now, and I rarely feel anxious.

However, if I’ve been super busy, and neglected to take care of myself (mentally and physically), the feelings of anxiety come creeping back. I’ll wake up feeling overly emotional for no reason, and the thought of doing day-to-day tasks or seeing my friends, will bring on shortness of breath and dizziness.

This is totally normal - according to the Mental Health Foundation, the one-week prevalence of generalised anxiety in England is 6.6%. Many more people experience ‘down’ days or weeks, often caused by seemingly unexplained reasons, but sometimes brought on by a stressful life event, such as loss/bereavement, relationship problems, or stress at work or education.

Therefore, it is important that you know how to make yourself feel better, if these feelings should arise. My go to checklist for when I’m feeling anxious is as follows:

Ring my mum.
My mum is my biggest supporter, and she gives the best pep talks. We have a special code word that I can tell her if I’m feeling anxious and she’ll be “sympathetic mum”, rather than telling me I’m being an idiot for panicking over the tiny things. Know who your support network is, and don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re feeling.

Look after myself physically.
A good sweaty gym session (although taking a lot of self-motivation to get myself there) always makes me feel better. Exercise has been proven to lift your mood due to the release of endorphins, and often the focus of a workout distracts my brain from what I’m worrying about.

Write down what you’re feeling.
Sometimes just acknowledging how you’re feeling, and writing whatever you want without feeling judged, can be a great way to lift your mood.

Go see your friends.
Even if your friends don’t know how you’re feeling, they will often make you feel better, and by pretending you’re okay, sometimes means you feel better naturally.

Equally, allow yourself some alone time.
Sometimes all I need is an evening on my own, watching Netflix and doing some serious life admin, and then I feel better - it all depends on the person.

Treat yourself.
Whether its buying yourself a magazine, or doing a face mask, or making something nice for dinner - its normally the little things that make you feel better about yourself, as sometimes splurging on shopping just makes you feel worse/more anxious. But you deserve to be treated and little treats can remind you of your self-worth.

So why not, next time you’re feeling down or anxious, try some of the things on the list - or make your own personal list and keep it somewhere safe, to look at it for reference, when you’re not sure how to make yourself feel better. Remember, self-care is not selfish, and your mental wellbeing is just as important to look after as your physical health.

If feelings of low mood and anxiety persist, then consider visiting your local GP, or contact services such as Student Minds, Samaritans or Nightline.

How to Stay Safe and Healthy While Travelling

For World Health Day, Courtney explains how you can stay safe and healthy while travelling. These tips are particularly relevant to people experiencing mental health difficulties, but can apply to anyone who wants to keep themselves healthy while travelling.
- Courtney Mower

My name is Courtney and I’m a final year American Studies student at the University of Leicester. As part of my course, I did a year abroad in Texas during which I spent lots of time travelling around the USA and Canada. I also have depression, which definitely impacted my year abroad and has affected my experience of travelling.

One of the most important things to do is plan.
Although planning will not cure your condition, it will help manage the symptoms of many conditions. Before I travel, I like to thoroughly research logistical things such as transport, food, entertainment, and the location of the nearest mental health services. Even when I impulsively booked a weekend trip to New York City during my year abroad, I researched my accommodation options for several hours before deciding that it was worth the extra $30 for a private room in a more centrally located and better connected hostel.
Planning should also include making sure any medication you take is legal and available where you’re going; in some countries, common medications such as sertraline are controlled substances which you will need a prescription to carry. You should also make sure you have enough of your medication to last the duration of your trip, as well as a buffer. You never know when a stolen passport or an Icelandic volcano may delay your travel plans, so you should always be prepared. You can find out lots of information about your destination, however remote, on the Travel Aware website. Once you’ve arrived you should continue to manage your condition how you manage it at home, be that through medication, counselling, mindfulness, or other techniques. If it’s not convenient, safe, or legal to do that while travelling you should consider what else may help you look after your mental wellbeing abroad.

For example, after my year abroad I returned to the US for a summit on Sustainable Development. Unfortunately, I couldn’t mentally prepare for how draining sixteen days with several hundred people from around the world would be. There were moments that were fantastic, but there were moments when I just couldn’t handle the physical and mental requirements of the program. Lack of sleep, adjusting to new medication, and feeling isolated from the people around me were a struggle. However, I helped myself by taking time out if I needed it and luckily my team were really supportive if I needed to stay in bed. I made sure to listen to my body and if I was tired I gave myself time to rest. When I felt overwhelmed, I explored New York City by myself to give myself some physical and mental space. I think the most important thing to remember if you’re travelling with depression is to do what you need to do to feel better.

So, in this blog post I’ve told you how you can keep yourself safe and healthy while travelling. I hope the advice has been informative, and has shown you that even with a mental health condition you can still travel. I myself am returning to Texas to visit my friends when my exams are over, and I cannot wait!

For more advice about travelling with mental health concerns visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website here.