Monday, 13 August 2018

When Results Day Doesn't Go To Plan

Carys writes about how her A-level results day didn't go as she wanted it to, and gives advice for anyone else finding themselves in a similar position.
-Carys Robins

Hi everyone!

My A-level results day 3 years ago was a terrible day. Well, it was for 18-year-old me back then. In school I based all my self-worth on my exam results, I worked so hard I made myself really unwell, and I still didn't get the grades I wanted (to begin with). 3 years on, here I am writing about my story of results day 2015, and the events leading up to it. 

I got my Durham offer (AAA) in February 2015, and a place at St. Mary's College. I worked super hard: I took Chemistry, French and Spanish A-level. I was struggling with Spanish, and I was right on the grade boundary of A/B. Results day came around, and I got a B. I didn't get into Durham University.

In the end I did get my place at Durham University, but I really had to fight for it. Here is the story:

My school made it that you had to go into school to collect your results by hand at 9am. UCAS changes at 8am. My UCAS didn't change. I was getting messages from my friends saying they got into their first choice unis, going on social media and seeing others posting their UCAS screenshots and there I was, 8 o'clock in the morning and getting myself into a right tizzy because I "failed". But Durham hadn't rejected me yet.

First, phone your academic department, don't email! I got to school and there it was: B in Spanish. I was so devastated. I had to go and sit in our careers department crying my eyes out along with the other people who found themselves unlucky that day. I was in a lot of distress as we sat in the office and rang Durham continuously and they said all I could do was wait. They hadn't rejected me yet because I had only just missed my offer, so I was still being considered. But my B was in a language A-level and I applied to study languages. My A in French suddenly seemed worthless to them. I didn't even want to study Spanish at university.

Second, get that re-mark! The saviour was my Spanish teacher. She suggested a re-mark. I've had re-marks in the past, and for me they'd never been beneficial. They never change by much, and I was 3 marks off that A grade boundary. It cost a lot of money. I told Durham I was waiting for a re-mark and to hold my place open until the result. They rejected me before I got my new results, but when I got them I saw that I had gone up 11 marks. I had got that A so easily, I'd gone past the boundary by a good 8 marks. I rang Durham with the news, but they still wouldn't accept me. They had filled all the places.

Third, always speak up if you believe you're being treated unfairly! This is where the arguments began. My Durham offer was AAA and I had got AAA but I was still rejected. That isn't how the deal works. It was no fault of mine that my results weren't as they should have been on results day. I couldn't go to the university I wanted, not because I didn't work hard enough, but because some stranger marked my exam incorrectly. I got people involved. Having good relationships with teachers was so useful in getting me my place at university. My ex-headteacher and my head of sixth form rallied round to get me the place I deserved. Magically a place appeared for me at Durham University, but at University College instead. College is just where you live and socialise: it didn't affect the academic side of my degree. 

Since results day 2015 I have learned a lot more about my self-worth and academic success. Here are some tips:

They really do not matter! I know people used to say this all the time to me and I was like "yeah what a load of rubbish" but I can promise you it is true! Your results will not matter in 5 years’ time. 
There is always a way! A-levels are not the only way to get into university, and they also will not limit you to achieving your goals for the future. I've found employers prefer my experience to my A-level results. As long as you have the passion and motivation, you will achieve what you want. 
You can always leave! Remember that university isn't for everyone, and if you want to leave or take a year out, the only thing stopping you is anxiety. 
You won't know what you're missing! Most universities all have the same societies anyway which is how you'll meet friends. You will make friends at any university you attend.
Remember it's all just an advert! Every prospectus, web-page and open day you attended before choosing your university is just an advert, and you fell for it! Good advertising doesn't always mean that the academic quality is excellent, just the marketing team. 
Life is too short! Seriously, there is more to life than studying, so get out there and live doing what you love because you never know when your time's up! Get living and fall in love with life again!

I'm Carys, a 4th year student at Durham University. I am passionate about student mental health and using my story and experience to help others. I am one of the editors for the student minds blog, I am actively involved with Durham's branch of Student Minds, Time to Change and run my own blog too. Please get in touch if you have any questions! 



Saturday, 11 August 2018

How Being Mindful of My Judgements of Others Helped Me Manage Anxiety


Ethan explores how mindfulness, while not always the quick and easy solution to mental health struggles it is often claimed to be, helped him with his depression and anxiety.
- Ethan

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the word ‘mindfulness’ by now, a very popular buzzword that is often presented as a quick solution to many common mental health struggles. But, because of how often mindfulness is portrayed as a seemingly effortless solution, it can be frustrating when our issues are not immediately solved upon a first attempt to be mindful. As a result, to many, it can seem like a futile exercise. 

Before starting University, intrigued by this illusive practice that promised to make me happier, I picked up one of many books on mindfulness: G. Hasson’s ‘Mindfulness: Be mindful. Live in the moment.’As I was reading through it, it all seemed to make sense; take time to breathe, don’t let your thoughts run wild, and keep calm when facing new situations. Even though this all sounded very idealistic and unachievable, I began to dedicate periods of time to mindfulness – like a form of meditation but while doing other things – into my life. 

However, after coming to university and facing struggles with depression and constant self-deprecating thoughts, living a mindful life couldn’t have seemed more unrealistic. I became very fixated on my appearance, as it was something I could use to control how people viewed me and to hide how I really felt. Before leaving my room, I would first shower, then meticulously iron my clothes and lather my hair with gel, not allowing one hair to be out of place. 

This constant self-criticism and surveillance of my appearance didn’t end when I got ready for the day. Leaving my room only ramped-up my anxiety. Not feeling great about your appearance doesn’t pair well with having low confidence with what’s on the inside too. I also found that if I caught myself judging other people on the way they looked, talked, or presented themselves, I would evoke a feeling of guilt in myself. I felt horrible about how quickly my mind leapt to judgments of others; it was unfair of me to label them, or think less of them, and doing so, in turn, made me think less of myself. 

It was at this time that I began trying again to incorporate more bursts of mindfulness into my life, but nothing too significant or frustrating to overwhelm myself. I began simply being mindful of my judgments of others before I even began to try to be mindful of my own thoughts or life. Of course, it is difficult at first to control the judgments that pop into our heads. At first, I tried my best to pass positive judgments on others. Perhaps I would identify a nice piece of clothing, or the happy mood they appeared to be in, without being too envious of either. I then began to try to imagine and empathise with the identity struggles that they may also be facing. I found it beneficial to just look at each person as a human trying to get by, rather than the veil that they presented themselves behind. 

After practicing this more, and guilting myself less for judging others, I had found a beneficial way to practice mindfulness. I felt like I had imposed some sense of control over my thoughts, rather than letting them run riot as it is so easy for us to do. I could then put this into practice with my own appearance, negative thoughts, and stressful situations, helping me to manage my anxious thoughts a bit more each day. 


Hey, I'm Ethan! Having not found the past few years a breeze, as few people do, and struggling along the journey to know myself and where I'd like for my life to take me, I thought I'd share my experiences and the lessons I've learnt from for others going through similar struggles, in hope that you also get a better idea of how you want to experience life. I'm currently studying Philosophy and Politics at UEA.

Friday, 3 August 2018

How To Make The Most Of Fresher's Week (And Beyond)


Rhianna looks back on her First Year experience and shares her 3 top tips for making the most of it.
- Rhianna Levi


University is such an exciting and life-changing experiencing. You’re not simply studying a degree; you’re also gaining new skills, opening yourself to new opportunities and meeting new people. It’s inevitable you’re going to develop immensely as an individual.

This time last year, I was starting that experience myself. So, I thought it would be beneficial to share my top tips in regard to starting University and making the most of that transition!

1. Take advantage of meeting new people. 

Whether it be on your course, in your halls or through university events, you’ll find many opportunities to meet new people as socialising is a big part of university life. Even though it can be terrifying at first, remember that you’re not alone in feeling nervous. You’re all in the same boat, hoping to make friends quickly.

Connecting with others from different backgrounds makes first year and beyond really enjoyable and eye-opening. What you will find is that the friends you make at University have a tendency to become friends for life!

2. Find and utilise the support available. 

In Fresher’s week, become aware of the support your university offers and try and remember this for the entirety of your University career. Your supervisors, your lecturers, the University mental health services and The Student Union are all there to help you settle and succeed, both socially, emotionally and academically. They do not bite; they are really lovely and approachable and will go out of their way to support you in your endeavours and wellbeing! 

3. Keep organised

Obviously, the first few weeks are very chaotic. They’re full of adrenaline and the apprehensive attempts of ‘Adulting’! However, when things start to settle, remember your passion for your course and your academic aspirations and responsibilities.

It’s important to keep up to date with the reading and tasks that your course gives. This will prevent you feeling overwhelmed and becoming too stressed. Use good time management and essay planning in your assignments, exams and projects. Also, act upon the feedback you are given. Remember, your tutors are NOT belittling you, but are helping you get the best degree classification that you can at the end of your degree! Finally, try and aim for regular contact with your personal academic tutor throughout the three years. They’ll help you to check your progress and are often a first point of call for if you begin to struggle.

Overall, uni will be a unique and exciting experience. Hopefully, these tips will make your transition a smooth one and will set you up for a great first year!



I am a 19-year-old BA Hons English Literature student from The University of Worcester with a love for literature, cats, coffee, and travelling. I am an active mental health advocate and blogger, and not only write for Student Minds, but also run my own blog, and I am largely involved in various campaigns and social media platforms. Hope you all like my writing!

Thursday, 26 July 2018

How To Make The Best Of Time Out

Eloise shares her tips on how to make the best of time out from university due to your mental health. 
- Eloise Stark


Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Taking time out from university is a growing occurrence, and is often due to mental health difficulties. At Oxford, the process of taking time out has the intimidating verb “rusticating”, derived from the Latin word rus, which means countryside. This is because students were often sent back to their family in the country. 

Taking time out may be compulsory or voluntary, but despite the reasons for why you need to put a pause on university, there are ways to make sure that your time is well spent.

Recovery

If you have taken time out due to mental health problems, the first priority will be to work towards recovery. This may take different forms depending on your mental health condition and level of functioning, but could include time spent in hospital, outpatient treatment, trips to your GP, trials of medication, or various types of therapy. Trust in the people who are here to help you and be honest and open at appointments. If you don’t feel you are getting the right support, try finding an advocate or writing a letter to explain what you think you need. Don’t give up. The NHS is horribly stretched but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for sub-optimum care. 

My experience has been that you will get a degree of help from others, but you also need to learn to help yourself. There is no magic bullet and no one is going to swoop in and save you. But equally, you know yourself best. You are the person who can best learn about your triggers, your unhelpful cognitions, what makes you tick and what your ultimate goals are. 

It is important to be realistic about your recovery – it might not happen overnight and you might not be “recovered” when you return to university in a year or two. Indeed, some conditions may be lifelong. What you should aim for is improvement and understanding of how to make life easier. Aim for progress, not perfection, and remember that you can improve your situation, however dire it may feel. 

Making your time meaningful 

I found during my time out that at first I felt very low because I didn’t feel as if I had any purpose while I wasn’t a student any more. I had nothing to do with my time, and so I felt useless and lazy. I would have liked to find a part-time job but I was not well enough. So I mobilised myself to find things to do that make me feel purposeful and like my life was meaningful. 

I found several volunteering opportunities for a couple of hours at a time. For instance, I did some admin for the charity Oxford Hub every Wednesday afternoon and I volunteered at my local village library. I also tried some things that didn’t work out, and that’s okay too. I signed up to volunteer in an Oxfam bookshop, and was left alone on the till after a 30-minute induction. I was so terrified and anxious of getting the till wrong, that I gave my thanks but never returned.

Can you join a local sports team? Do you enjoy going to the gym? Is there a reading group you could join? How about a couple of hours helping in a retirement home, or a charity shop? Is there a local Scouts group you could volunteer with? There are tonnes of opportunities if you look hard enough! 

Goals

Keeping an eye on the future is an important thing to do. Make goals, even if they are as silly as seeing the S Club 7 reunion band live in concert. What do you want to do as a career? Would you like a family? Would you like to continue to do a PhD? On a shorter timescale, goals could be things like making it to see a friend once a week (social contact is very important during your time out too), or reading a novel every month. Be kind to yourself, don’t set anything too difficult for yourself, but keep the future in mind. 

Never give up

I know what it is like when it feels as if you’ll never get back to university. When you see your friend’s photos on Facebook or Instagram and they look like they’re having a great time, and you feel sad that it’s not you. But time out can be a wonderful, healing time if you make the most from it. 

You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot before the other, and God damn it, you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.
- Elizabeth Taylor



Hi, my name is Eloise and I am a second year PhD student at Oxford University, studying at the intersection between Neuroscience and Psychiatry. I am passionate about mental health, reducing stigma and increasing empathy for people experiencing distress.




Thursday, 19 July 2018

Secrets, Shame, and Sharing your Story

Andrew explores why it took him time to open up about his mental health struggles, and why he resists being labelled as 'disabled'.

- Andrew

I was diagnosed with depression at seventeen years old. Fortunately for me I have friends who, at the time, convinced me that I needed to tell my parents something wasn’t right in my head. In my first appointments with many psychiatrist and psychologists I was told the same thing, almost word for word: ‘there is a chemical imbalance in your brain’ and ‘you aren’t producing enough serotonin’. During that time of regularly seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist, taking my daily medication (SSRI’s), there were only a handful of people who knew I had depression. My depression was something which made me ashamed.

While I was at university, I decided I wanted to keep it to myself and not tell the university. That was, until I reached my final year and was required to complete a final project. After a few mental breakdowns in the computer labs, I decided to tell my lectures and seek help. I was then directed to ‘Disability Services’. I can remember being on the phone to one of the university employees who help ‘disabled students' and I cried afterwards. He was extremely nice, but it felt devastating. Being labelled as ‘disabled’ really set me back. I can understand their reasoning for sending me to ‘Disability Services’, but it’s not the type of thing a 23-year-old wants to hear.

I had a few opportunities to open up about my depression. One occasion came when I was offered to share my story with a charity called Baytr back home in Australia, but I wasn’t ready and was just changing my medication. But once university finished, I felt free and didn’t feel the need to wear a ‘disabled’ label. 

Just before I moved to the UK, I sat down with the founder of Batyr for coffee in Sydney. He told me about Student Minds and said I should get in touch. When I eventually made the move to the UK, I decided I wasn’t going to let my depression define me. Writing my first blog for Student Minds in April 2017 was the first real moment I felt comfortable and fine with people knowing that I have depression. I even told my current employers about my mental health when I was offered my job.

Now I have regular sit downs with my managers at work and talk about my counselling, my workload, my mental health and if there is any way they can help me if I’m struggling. I can’t thank enough all those people who have given me support and so much positive feedback. I’ve learnt that being depressed isn’t something to be ashamed of, and it shouldn’t define you. In the last month, I have turned to yoga and crossfit to ‘exercise my demons’, as well as reading books about the human consciousness to retrain my brain to be more positive. 

Really, my journey has only just begun.

I am a twenty-five-year-old Aussie bloke; atfer buying my one-way ticket and making the big move, I came into contact with Student Minds and 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.


The Real Reason Why Every University Student Should Cook

The blog explains how cooking is an alternative to meditation and the how it can positively affect mental health.
- Sam

We’re all aware of the stereotypes around the student meal time. Noodles or baked beans on toast seems to be the go to that all your family assume you eat and to some extent this stereotype is accurate. Cheap meals that require little preparation can be a simple solution to the busy student schedule, but is there a greater benefit in labouring for an hour to create a more elaborate plate?

Many of you may have been deterred by the very idea of cooking an actual meal but bear with me – the benefits of cooking are severely underestimated. Maybe you fit the stereotype, or perhaps you simply don’t like cooking? Read on.

Cooking – and I mean real cooking – provides refuge from stress in the same way that meditation does. University live is hectic, busy and stressful. Juggling lectures, essays, your social life and extra-curricular commitments is very demanding. Without an escape, the pressures of uni life can be crippling.

The common way to deal with such problems is meditation. All sorts of counsellors, health gurus and professionals support the benefits of meditation, and rightly so – it can be invaluable. But meditation is not for everyone, I get it. Cooking could be the alternative relaxation method that many of us need.

Many of us struggle with the idea of sitting still and focusing on thoughts and feelings and, although meditation can be improved by practice, physically performing an activity may be a better way to switch off for a lot of people. People with ADHD, for example, would struggle with the concept of being still and focusing on their thoughts and cooking has proved a great way to deal with their hyperactivity.

So just why is cooking such a good alternative way to achieve mindfulness? Of course, slicing through vegetables with a perfectly sharpened knife can be very therapeutic, but there is a deeper benefit to cooking. Cooking is centring in a way that allows you to catch up with yourself and be truly in the present. With the busy modern life, many of us live at a pace that our minds can’t always keep up with. Cooking allows the mind to catch up as it works in tandem with your body in the present as the two are focused solely on the task at hand – creating a meal. Even when you are completing smaller tasks within the preparation of your meal, they are still parts of the greater goal.

Given the demands of making a more elaborate meal, especially when you are new to cooking, you stop thinking about all the other aspects of your life – the anxiety about that upcoming exam, the worry that you’re deep into your overdraft or the difficulty you have had finding good friends. Your focus is solely on creating a meal.

When you first start cooking, you may find it frustrating and your meals may not be Michelin Star, but no one said it would be easy. Much like any other hobby or relaxation technique, it requires practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you enjoy it. You might even find yourself creating a masterpiece every evening – now that will be rewarding!

Hopefully you will quickly become absorbed in your meal preparation and the deeper benefits of cooking will really start to show.

Not everyone is suited to the traditional means of meditation – even if you are, an active meditation may be a nice way to diversify your relaxation. Cooking could be the alternative that many of us need.


Hi, I’m Sam. I am a BSc Psychology student at the University of Birmingham and co-author of the Psych Life Bog (https://psychlife.co.uk/). Conversing with others and observing the pressures of modern life has given me a passion for showing young people how to look after their mental health removing the stigma that surrounds it.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Recognising behaviours caused by my personality, not depression

When in a state of depression, I was confused about why I felt how I did. Until I discovered that I had been neglecting certain aspects of my personality, causing me to feel depressed.
- Ethan

Starting University was, as it is for everyone, a significant shock to the system for me, as well as a far greater learning curve than I had ever expected it to be so early on. With no-one to keep an eye on you and little accountability for not attending lectures, it quickly becomes very easy to hide yourself away in your room, with only your thoughts for company.

After what I thought to be a great start to University, seemed to end very abruptly as hiding away in my room became my daily experience of University. Behaviours and mindsets that would come and go throughout Sixth Form quickly returned in what felt like a far less temporary state of being.

When this state continued, feeling as though it would never leave, and hope rapidly faded away, I concluded that I must have depression. Looking back on it now, I don't retract that I was indeed in a state of depression, though I now disagree that I was at all clinically depressed. This is easy to see now. However, at the time, I struggled to find justification for this. Admittedly, I did have reason to be upset following what had happened in my first term, but why I battled to get out of bed each morning and instead continued to sleep throughout the day repeatedly over an extended period of time was a mystery. I felt guilty for the feelings I had; selfish and ungrateful. And ashamed of the way I was; lazy and wasting my potential.

Throughout the time I kept to myself, I had an abundance of time to look within, reflecting on my life and where it was headed. With a negative cloud tainting my thoughts, it was difficult to draw any conclusions for myself. It was then I remembered the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Personality Test that my flatmates and I had messed around with towards the start of University. Having taken the test twice at this time, I never looked too much into it, as the results I had received didn't seem to reflect my personality at all; although it had seemed far more accurate for my flatmates.

In the dark months of winter in the early hours of the morning, I decided to give the test another try. This time I really thought about my answers, being as true to myself as I could, and not answering the questions based on the person I wanted and pretended to be as I had done so before.

My personality type came through as INFJ, the rarest personality type, making up less than 1% of the world’s population. The deeply comprehensive breakdown of my personality revealed why I struggled to open up to and connect with others, why I was sensitive to criticism and overly analytical of myself, and why I have a tendency to suppress emotions, lashing-out unexpectedly. Through neglecting certain aspects of my personality that I had put down to being caused by depression, it became clear that I had instead caused myself to become depressed.

Discovering my personality type did not, of course, instantly solve my depressive state, but being aware of certain behaviours of my personality meant I could better cope with and prevent them. The more positive aspects of my personality were also made clear to me, meaning I could better find a path to help me feel more fulfilled throughout my life. I strongly recommend anyone struggling with their identity to take the MBTI Test in order to aid them in their journey towards living more truly to yourself.


Hey, I'm Ethan! Having not found the past few years a breeze, as few people do, and struggling along the journey to know myself and where I'd like for my life to take me, I thought I'd share my experiences and the lessons I've learnt from for others going through similar struggles, in hope that you also get a better idea of how you want to experience life. 
I'm currently studying Philosophy and Politics at UEA

Friday, 13 July 2018

Men’s Mental Health: Difficulties Opening up about Mental Health in Relationships

Ethan shares his difficulties of opening up about mental health when in a relationship, due to the expectations society places on men.
- Ethan

As a student, it is clear to see that our generation are spearheading the effort to create a more equal and accepting society for ourselves, and recognising and combating issues with the way that we treat each other as humans. Coming to University, I feel that this appreciation for each other and our differences is more prominent than anywhere else, and it is becoming much easier for individuals to express themselves however they please.
Of course, society is not perfect, and gender roles still prove to be instilled in the minds of even young people, such as ourselves and can be hard to let go of. At University, where sex becomes a priority for many people for the first times, women can feel that it is expected of them to be elegantly feminine and men, aggressively masculine.

While there is clearly an issue with the expectations that society places on women, it is the pressures that men are held under which I would like to discuss. In societies of the not-so-distant past, men were expected to be the breadwinner of the family; going out to work, providing for and protecting his family, and never making a fuss about it. This has recognisably changed, and women more than ever are building successful careers of their own. Domestic life is also changing, and women are no longer expected to assume complete responsibility of household tasks as well as raising children by herself.

Having been in two relationships myself, I am more than happy to take responsibility of previously ‘womanly’ tasks, and take pride in supporting my partner in their individual achievements and career advancements; solely because I see no reason why I should be any superior, or my partner inferior, within a relationship.

Despite my efforts to avoid excessively typical gender expectations within my relationships, it is hard to battle the expectation I place on myself to protect and remain strong for my partner. It is not through doubt that my partner can’t take care of herself, but instinctively I feel the need to always be on the lookout, ready to protect her at all times.

To convince myself and my partner of this strength, I also feel the need to shelter certain emotions, or signs of instability or unpredictability. Having struggled with mental health difficulties in the past, and these experiences having been so formative of my character, I have discussed this past with my partners. However, I feel the need to keep it as just that, my past. If I ever feel a turbulence striking up again, I concern myself that I would worry my partner, that they would no longer see me as the stable rock that they need to support them when facing their own struggles.

For this reason, I feel it can be very difficult for men to feel comfortable when opening up about struggles that they are facing, through fear of showing cracks in the continually strong persona that we attempt to represent ourselves as. Despite this, the reality is that many women do want a partner that isn’t afraid to show these cracks, and that in some ways is conveying a courage of its own. I myself attempt in little ways to share my feelings in comfortable bursts, as it is important to remind ourselves that our partners and our friends really do care about us and want us to recognise struggles that we’re facing, in order to help ourselves and to help them help us.



Hey, I'm Ethan! Having not found the past few years a breeze, as few people do, and struggling along the journey to know myself and where I'd like for my life to take me, I thought I'd share my experiences and the lessons I've learnt from for others going through similar struggles, in hope that you also get a better idea of how you want to experience life. 
I'm currently studying Philosophy and Politics at UEA

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Impostor Syndrome and Me

Will shares his experiences and the things that he does to deal with negative thoughts during his PhD.
- Will


“You’re no good at this.” “If everyone knew how awful you were, they would all hate you.” “What if I don’t know anything? What if everyone finds out?” – just a few of the things that my raging impostor syndrome has repeatedly dictated to my consciousness during my PhD. Today I’m going to share my experiences and things I do to deal with these kinds of negative thoughts.

For a long time it didn’t even have a name. I only became aware of the phrase towards the end of the first year of my PhD. A quick Google search brings up ‘impostor syndrome PhD’ as the second suggestion. Second! I don't know why it happens to me, and I don't know if I actually have it worse than others, or whether it's just that I'm prepared to talk about it more. But having a problem isn't important, it is how you deal with it that matters:

So what do I do?

1. “You don’t know anything” - Write everything down and take stock

I don’t have much experience with swords, but apparently a pen is mightier than one. A few months ago, I decided to write down everything I knew about my project in an effort to combat my impostor syndrome. I realised that I knew perhaps more than I thought I did after about 10 sides of A4.
Without sounding horribly self-absorbed, I also find that it helps to write down all the things I've done that would make me 'successful': conference prizes won, solving problems that had been on me for months, making discoveries, raising mental health awareness, and so on. Downplaying your own successes is part of this syndrome, so switch off your filter for 10 minutes and just write about how great you are!

2. “You’re no good at this” - Be kind to yourself

I think one of the things I struggled with most with moving to postgraduate from undergraduate studies was the complete lack of structure. Assessments are common during undergraduate, so it's easier to track progress and to benchmark how much work you're doing. Doing a PhD, it's rare that you'll be told that you're doing enough, and there's almost no assessments. It's very easy to fall in to the mindset of "I'm not doing enough, I'm not good enough". In addition, perfectionism and impossibly high standards are common among us impostors. When we don't or can't reach our own standards, this compounds the "you're no good at this" problem – a damaging circle of negative thoughts and feeling low.

This is a lot easier said than done, but you need to be kind to yourself. Comparing yourself to other students is a toxic mentality that will only make you feel far worse – it is also completely irrelevant because everyone is doing different things. Everyone – and I mean everyone – makes mistakes during their PhD. Of all of the things I've done during mine, it's the times when I haven't met my own standards through making a mistake that I've really learned something. What is a PhD if not an opportunity to learn new things?

3. “What if everyone finds out you’re a fraud?” – Talk

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: As a PhD student, I work alongside people who are either going through the same process – or have done very recently. These are the best people to talk to! If the statistics are correct, then between 5 and 6 of my 8 colleagues also have impostor syndrome. Just have an honest, open and unfiltered conversation about what's going on – though I understand that this isn't easy! Even if they can't help you, just to know that you're not on your own in feeling like this may well make you feel a bit better.

Conclusion

My experience so far suggests that this will probably be a never-ending battle, but I still believe that I will win in the end. Just like with a PhD, it's probably going to be a series of little victories that culminate in the end product. So here's my summary on what helps me to combat my impostor syndrome:

Write down everything you know.
Write down all of your successes or good things in your life – no matter how big or small.
Write a plan for your thesis – you'll realise there's more there than you think.
Talk to your friends, colleagues and supervisors about how you're feeling.
Don't be so hard on yourself – you are human! Let the mistakes happen – they're what you really learn from.
Know that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling.


I'm Will and I'm a final year PhD student. I've been dealing with anxiety since I was 14, and depression since I was 23. I found that writing and talking about my own experiences of mental health as a postgraduate student were hugely helpful to my recovery (and stress levels). I'm now working on improving student wellbeing at all levels and raising awareness of mental health.


Thursday, 5 July 2018

The effect of animals on our Mental Health

Ben shares his experience of having animals, and how they have benefitted his mental health. 
- Ben 

Since the day I was born, I have had an animal in my life, bar a short period at the end of 2015, and the love for an animal is never something I have taken for granted. Up until 2016, I had always had cats, guinea pigs, hamsters and even a caterpillar as a pet. Since 2016, we have had our beautiful ex-racing greyhound called Courtney, and these animals have a funny and instinctive way of cheering you up. They just seem to know when you’re feeling down and they seem to pop up and demand a cuddle.

As I’ve previously mentioned in other posts, Mental Health is something I’ve suffered with for a long time and I firmly believe that the pets I have had, have got me through the rough times. Whether that is when Sid, our beloved cat would just lie on my lap and meow until he got fuss, or even when he played on the fact my cousin was scared of him and he ran her ragged at family functions, much to all of our amusement. Sid in short was a SOD. The best kind of sod going, one to always keep us on our toes.

In 2016, when we had Courtney, I was a very aggressive person, constantly angry, feeling down and always shouting whenever I got the slightest bit frustrated. But suddenly, it changed. Courtney hated shouting and arguments. She would hide in her cage or on the bed and not even look at me because she was scared of me. This way, that dog has changed me to the calm, assured and more loving person I am today.

When I come home from work after a stressful day, her little face wanting to lick me and play with me, and the wagging little tail, seems to make all my worries and stresses fly away. She just wants a cuddle and wants to show that she loves me, and that feeling is unquestionably the best in the world. My family have a saying of, “Courtney makes a bad day, good, and a good day, amazing.” No doubt that saying is true. Not just of my pet but of the unconditional love animals show to the ones they love, which happens all over the world.

All of my pets have improved my life and made me the person I am today. Admittedly when I move out, I will miss not having my pup pup, but I know when I return home, she will make me feel better again.

Until next time,

Thankyou as always for reading,

Ben


I am an aspiring Primary School Teacher based in Shropshire, England. I was diagnosed with Autism in 2014 at 19 years of age and since then my journey to being a teacher started. I am a huge sports fan and a firm believer in exercise helping mental health and improving self esteem. I am passionate about everyone recognising their own individual talents.