Thursday, 29 November 2018

5 Reasons Why You Should Write for the Student Minds Blog

In this blog, Carys, one of our sub-editors, shares the reasons why she writes for this blog and reassures those considering blogging for us…

1. Blogging is powerful:

A lot of people who are struggling with their mental health find comfort on the internet, where they can research symptoms and read stories of personal experiences without anyone knowing. The Student Minds blog is an enormous hub of information about pretty much everything to do with student well-being (if there’s something you feel is missing… write about it for us!). We know a lot of students and recent graduates find comfort and reassurance in the work we publish, in addition to the relevant signposting to other charities or services that they might find beneficial. 

2. Blogging is rewarding:

Furthermore, blogging for us is so rewarding. By sharing your personal story and experience on the “biggest blog dedicated to student mental health and well-being”, you are certainly helping at least one other person to get the help they need or to manage challenging situations. We all know how it feels when university isn’t really the time of our lives like everyone said it would be. The Student Minds blog gives us a platform to help someone else in their recovery. It is so fulfilling. 

3. Blogging does not require you to have a diagnosed mental illness:

Mental health and mental illness are two separate things: everyone has a mental health but only some people have a mental illness. Here at Student Minds we talk about mental health as a continuum, which means we recognise our mental health as fluctuating constantly and as incredibly personal to an individual. Needing to have a mental illness to write for us is a complete myth! Student mental well-being is such a broad subject area that affects all students and we welcome posts from all perspectives. Check out the blog for ideas and examples of titles. 

4. Blogging is for everyone:

Honestly, if you’re interested in contributing to our blog, we want to hear from you! Even if you’ve never blogged before or are not sure about your topic being relevant – I bet if past-you would have found it useful, it will be for someone else too! 

In addition to our blogging guidelines which contain loads of blogging tips and rules, there is the blog editorial team. There are 9 of us in total and we are just ordinary student volunteers from across the UK - not professional writers or famous bloggers – so the pressure’s off! After you’ve sent us your draft blog via the Write for the Blog web-page, one of us will be assigned to work with you to make sure that it is trigger-free and typo-free before uploading it. We will always make sure you’re happy with the edited version before we publish. Lots of you may be worried about “writing the wrong thing” – a concern we hear a lot. The role of the editorial team is to make sure things are appropriate to publish and we are trained to spot these “wrong things” and change them. 

Finally, an average blog post is 600-800 words – not a lot at all! It’s not as time consuming or difficult as you might think. We also are not just all about blogging: this year we are wanting to expand the blog to include vlogs! If writing isn’t your thing but the camera is, why not give it a go? 

5. Blogging is awesome:

The blogging community (you guys) is really the heart of the blog. So many contributors from many different walks of life all come together to make this blog a reality – it could be you too! I personally love the mini biography and photo at the end of each post, as it really helps give some personality to the blog and show that we are all just students helping other students. In this section we are more than happy to link your personal blog or website too if you’d like! 

However, we understand writing about mental health can be a sensitive area and sometimes you’re not quite fully ready to share. Of course, you can publish your blog anonymously – we just won’t put this part at the end, nor your name in the blurb – either giving you a pseudonym of your choice or simply being called anon.

Behind this blog are 9 amazing volunteers who give up our time to make this a reality and be a huge source of information for students and recent graduates across the UK. We all really hope to see your work in our inbox and online very soon! If you have any questions you can tweet or DM us @StudentMindsOrg and we’ll get back to you! 

I'm Carys, a 4th year Modern Languages student at Durham University. As well as my passion for languages and travel, I love talking about mental health and I am one of the Student Minds editors this year. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments about my work - I love hearing from you!

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at University

In this blog, Emily shares tips she’s learned through experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at university

For some, the idea of the coming winter months fills them with warmth and joy. Cosy nights in with blankets and hot chocolate and Christmas movies sound welcoming. However, for others, the winter months fills them with dread. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is sometimes referred to as “Winter Depression”, is a type of depression which typically arises during the winter months, when it gets darker and colder. 

You can find out more about the symptoms and causes of SAD either on the Mind website, or on the NHS website.

My experience:

Before starting university in 2013, I had never heard of SAD, but since losing my Dad to cancer in early 2012, I had been aware of a pattern of my mental health getting worse during the winter months. During my second year at university, I went to speak to my GP because I was worried at how the upcoming colder and darker months would affect me at this important time of the year for my studies. This was because, in my first year, I had missed several lectures before Christmas because my mood was low, I was feeling exhausted and generally had very little energy or motivation to do anything. A year later, I was diagnosed with SAD. 

Each year, I still dread the winter months. My mental health is significantly better in the summer when the weather is generally nicer, there are more hours of daylight and I have more energy and motivation to do things. 

Since being diagnosed with SAD, I have learnt and developed some techniques that help me to cope better during the winter months. From November onwards, it’s a particularly stressful time for students, with essay deadlines and the upcoming exam season after the Christmas break. Coping with SAD (or any mental health difficulty for that matter) on top of assignments and revision is even more stressful and challenging. 

It’s important, if you do suffer with SAD, to acknowledge that you’re not always going to have the energy to do work, and that’s okay. There are certainly support services at university who you can speak to if you are struggling. You can speak to a tutor, a doctor, anyone you feel comfortable talking to. Talking to your friends about how you feel can also help. I remember in my final year, one day when I was desperately struggling with SAD and assignments and other deadlines, my friend came over to make me dinner, which was a real help. Cooking healthy meals either by yourself or with your housemates can really help at this time of year too. 

Another good idea is to get as much natural daylight as possible. At Swansea, I was really lucky because I could just go for a walk on the beach or in the park. If your university has any nice parks (or a beach) nearby, then get out into the daylight each day if possible, or even walking into the town centre. Taking a walk in the daylight also means that you’re getting some exercise too. Another thing that can help with SAD – but is difficult as a student – is to avoid stress. In this case, from my own experiences, I have found that it helps to take some time each day to do something that makes me happy, usually writing or watching a favourite TV programme. Whilst I was at university, I ensured that I had one day or at least half a day off from university work each week to just relax. 

If you do suffer with SAD, it’s important to remember that the winter months are temporary. Spring and summer soon come back around. There are so many things you can do to help yourself get through the difficult winter months, however, if you’re finding it really difficult, speak to your doctor for more advice. 

My name is Emily (Em). I have recently graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

Understanding negative thought process - and reclaiming control

In this blog, Romana describes different types of thinking processes that can have a negative impact upon your mental health, and explores ways in which we can manage them.

Earlier today when I was walking through town, I felt my nose tingle. Immediately I thought: “Oh my God. I’m going to sneeze. This could cause a nosebleed. Here, in public. I won’t have any tissues and I’ll make a huge mess. I might even faint and have to be taken away in an ambulance. I’ll be stuck in hospital and won’t be able to make my meeting tomorrow.” Upon reflection, this is arguably one of the most ridiculous thought processes that I’ve ever had. But at the time, the threat and the fear felt very real to me.

Every day, many of us get stuck in negative, unhelpful thinking patterns like this. Thoughts that drive fear, panic and low mood. Thoughts that, if we stepped back and actually considered, are doing more bad than good, and might not be entirely reasonable.

The type of thinking that I have described above is called catastrophic thinking: taking a small situation and blowing it out of proportion. This thinking pattern is very common in those of us with anxiety disorders. Another common example for me could be when I struggle with a coursework question, and I will immediately think: “I can’t do this. I will fail this coursework, and then the whole module. My degree grade will slip, and I won’t be good enough to get the graduate job that I want.” With this completely skewed outlook, it’s no wonder that we begin to feel anxious and panic.

Another negative thinking pattern is black or white thinking: an either/or mentality, where we fail to see that there are grey areas in-between the black and white. This kind of thinking involves a lot of ‘never’ and ‘always’ statements: “I am never comfortable in social situations” or “I always fail at essays”. Everything is negative or positive, and we fail to see that there is a middle ground. For me, my black or white thinking is paired with depression. On my least productive days I will think: “No way will I get a first-class degree, I am going to fail”. This leads me to feelings of helplessness and hopeless, not recognising that there are grades between first-class and failure.

There are lots of negative thinking patterns like this. Unrealistic expectations: “I need to get a first in every exam, nothing less is good enough”. Self-blame: “My housemate seems irritated, it must be something I said”. Disqualifying the positive: “My grade was good, but I probably just got lucky”. These distorted thinking patterns are all linked to mental health disorders, so it is worth researching them and finding which ones you can recognise in yourself. This way, you are in a position to change your thinking and reduce your anxiety.

What we really need to do is catch these thought processes and challenge them. Question them. Ask, “What is my evidence for thinking this way, and is it reasonable?” I have found that learning more about distorted thinking has been very helpful in understanding my anxiety. It makes me feel in control, which is something that many of us with anxiety feel we are lacking.

So, if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to learn more about and become engaged with your negative thinking – you may be able to understand and help yourself much better.

My name is Romana, and I am a fourth year Maths student at the University of Exeter. I have never been one to open up about my struggles with mental health, but I have decided to write for the Student Minds blog as a way to express and understand what I have been going through, as well as to hopefully bring reassurance to others who are feeling as I have.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Mental Health is Fluid

Rosie shares why it's important to recognise how experiences of mental health can change and fluctuate.
- Rosie

In recent years, one of the most important changes in attitudes to gender and sexuality has been the recognition of fluidity. To my understanding, fluidity means two things. It means recognising that people do not fit neatly into labels: everyone who identifies with a label will experience it slightly differently. It also means that an individual’s experience isn’t static, but can change over time. What if we started to think of mental health in these terms?

Labels can be important and liberating; they can give people the language to express their experiences and access support. Yet it is essential to recognise the fact that mental health does not exist statically within these labels. It changes person-to-person, day-to-day. Personally, two very different stages of my life have taught me how these two aspects of fluidity apply to mental health.

1: Everyone’s experience is different. Let’s rewind about two years. I was slowly acknowledging my struggles with food when I noticed a change in my social interactions. Looking back, what I was experiencing might be described as social anxiety. But, at the time, I never spoke to anyone about it, despite the fact that I was gradually open up about my problems with eating. The main reason for my silence on this particular struggle was that my experience didn’t match up with the symptoms I’d heard about. I never had panic attacks or heart palpitations, for instance. In hindsight, I wish I had known that my experience didn’t have to echo everyone else’s for it to be valid, real, or worth talking about. I may not have ticked all the boxes associated with social anxiety. But why should that have meant I didn’t deserve to talk about feeling physically sick when I bumped into people in the supermarket? 

2: Every day is different. By last year, as I had been recovering for some time, I no longer associate myself with the terms “eating disorder” or “body dysmorphia”. But in the stress of finals, I found myself experiencing some of the thought processes that I thought were long behind me. One of the scariest but most valuable lessons of this time was mental health can change day by day, minute by minute. Just as experiences of social anxiety vary person to person, recovery is not a permanent, unchanging state: it is complex and personal, with peaks and troughs. I still sometimes have days when I struggle with my body. But no more am I repulsed by myself to the extent that I can’t even look in a mirror. By recognising the fluidity of my mental health, I realised that any struggles I experience from day to day do not negate how far I’ve come. If anything, they highlight the progress I’ve already made and remind me of the importance of continuing to care for and monitor my mental health, regardless of my stage of recovery. 

So if you find yourself comparing your mental health to other people, or to your past experiences - you are not alone in that experience. But also know that you don’t have to think of it in those terms. I wish I could tell past Rosie that she didn’t need to meet any set of requirements and her feelings were and always would be valid. That labels were there only ever to help her express what she was feeling, not to limit or define her experience. That recovery didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to have bad days. That mental health was fluid, and that it would be ok. 

Hi! I'm Rosie, and I'm doing an MA in interpreting and Translating in Bath. Mental health is very close to my heart, and I hope sharing my experiences will help others in similar situations.

Friday, 2 November 2018

When Molehills Become Mountains

Katherine shares her tips on how to deal with overthinking. 

- Katherine Lund

I overthink EVERYTHING. I worry all the time. I worry about what I said, what I didn’t say, whether to go to a party or stay in and watch a film, what to wear, how to act, how to be and what to say. I ask myself so many questions. I think of the what-ifs and should-I-have’s. I over-analyse and I self-destruct. I make mountains out of molehills. But I can’t help it. Or can I?

Over the last few years I’ve come up with ways to stop myself overthinking.

They’ve helped so much that now I am able to stop myself, pause, and have more control. So here are my tips…

I stop comparing myself to other people.

I used to do this especially around my sister. Now, I say we’re completely different people. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve had various issues I’ve had to deal with and those have been massively important in shaping who I am today. Everyone is different. What might be your strong suit might be your best friends’ weakness and vice versa. Don’t compare when you don’t have a reason to compare.

I stop thinking about the worst that can happen, and start thinking about the best outcome.

When I get into that horrible mindset of thinking about all of the negative things that could happen, I shift my focus to what could go right. It’s all positive.

I try not to be a perfectionist. 

It’s great to be ambitious. That’s fantastic. But perfection is not going to happen. It’s like ‘fetch’ in Mean Girls… It’s never gunna happen. Just face it. Tip: Mean Girls is a great film. Watch it.

I found friends that love and support me for who I am.

They help me challenge that inner critic, so I can be a more confident, and less self-deprecating human being. Choose your friends wisely. A good friend is someone that appreciates you for who you are, not who you pretend to be.

I try not to think about the future too much.

I find that instead of making me feel good, it makes me anxious and worried. Live in the present. The ‘here and now’, as my therapist used to say. If you’re constantly thinking about the future, you’re not spending enough time focusing on yourself now. And what’s going on in your life now. Or what’s making you happy now. Live in the moment. Try not to look ahead too much. It’s tiring and isn’t actually that productive in the long run.

When I find myself overthinking something, I ask myself how much it will matter in the next few months, or days, or even hours.

Usually, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Something like which biscuit to buy at Tesco – yeah I might not have the best type of biscuit for dipping in my tea, but does it really matter? Will it ruin my day? No. You can dip any biscuit into tea. It’s still going to be yummy. Next time you’re worried about overthinking something, take a step back and work out how much it will affect you in the long run. I bet it won’t be as much of a deal as you thought it was.

Finally, I don’t think about plan B, because that makes me feel rubbish. 

Instead, I tweak plan A a little. In fact, I screw plan B all together.

Hi I’m Kat! I’m a mental health blogger from Norwich, and current university student at UEA. I write about everything, from student stress to sexuality, from anxiety to relationships. I love writing because it helps me in my recovery, but also because it can help other people too! I can’t wait to share my stories with you.

You can find more support on anxiety here.