Monday, 28 January 2019

What to remember if you have had a tough day at university

Niraj gives four tips for managing difficult times at university. 

Sometimes things can get overwhelming and feel impossible to deal with whilst at university. I have certainly felt pushed to the limit many times, have often felt under pressure and faced a lot of difficult days and times whilst at university. However, despite this I have managed to develop my mental strength and resilience. In this article, I share four things I have learnt which have helped me significantly.

1) Difficult days can help you develop as a person
University is challenging. Every student has to manage constant deadlines, career planning, finances, as well as other responsibilities and commitments. As a result, you probably will be pushed out of your comfort zone, which will lead to some days being extremely demanding and difficult. However, by reflecting on these difficult days and finding strategies to overcome them, you will be able to learn a lot, and develop as a person. In my specific case, even though I have faced several challenges and difficult times regarding my mental health, this has also helped me build my ability to be resilient and adapt to tough situations.

2) There is always something good in every day
Sometimes when things are difficult, it is very easy to think that the world is against you and it is impossible to see the bright side. However, one thing that has helped me to deal with my current challenges recently is positive thinking, and trying to see what went well in the day rather than focus purely on the negatives. For example, this could be making small progress towards a long-term goal, something simple such as making someone smile, or even learning from a mistake that you have made. Not every day will be amazing, but thinking about all the good things that have happened in the day as well as what you have learnt will help you stay determined and motivated.

3) Taking things one day at a time can be so beneficial 
Remembering to take things one day at a time can make such a difference, especially at times when you feel overwhelmed. Previously, one of the biggest mistakes that I made was expecting my mental health to magically improve overnight and beating myself up when it didn’t. Nothing extremely fulfilling in life happens overnight, and sometimes it’s how you deal with the journey that can make a big difference. A simple yet effective way to deal with bad days in a positive light is to think about ways you can make the next day better and remembering that even making small progress and improvements every day will accumulate in the long run.

4) The rewards are sweeter if you have overcome challenges  
You have all achieved so much already that you should be proud of, such as getting into university, learning new skills, becoming more independent as well as so much more. None of these achievements were a walk in the park, and you have had to overcome many barriers to get to where you are today. We all have goals and aims that we want to achieve, and it is expected that we will face setbacks and tough periods. It is sometimes easy to lose perspective and beat ourselves up, thinking that we are doing something wrong whenever we are finding things hard. Life isn’t plain sailing, and being able to stay motivated despite the constant challenges, and thriving as a result is what will make the successes and rewards even more worthwhile. Furthermore, you can grow from the struggles and challenges that you have faced, which will serve you well in the future.

For more advice on looking after your mental wellbeing at university, click here

Hi, I'm Niraj! I am a third-year student from the University of Warwick studying Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics. Having suffered from anxiety issues whilst at university, I know about the various mental health issues that university students face, and how tough it can be. I, therefore, want to raise awareness on different aspects of mental health and wellbeing, and help as many people as I can by sharing my own experiences.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

The one word that dictates how I spend my time

In this blog, Ethan discusses how to find fulfillment in university life, and how he keeps his mental health in check. 

When we don’t feel like we’re getting enough from our lives, or are putting enough back into them, it can become easy to over-indulge in escapism, believing that it will take hard work to find satisfaction. But enjoying ourselves shouldn’t feel like hard work, and once we find beneficial ways of spending our time, it will become easier to repeat these activities.

When starting University, it is easy to succumb to the lifestyles that are expected of us as students. We assume that attending society taster sessions, drinking with strangers, or going clubbing will inject happiness into our lives. For many, these activities aren’t enjoyable. Just because we expect to enjoy these things does not mean that we will, nor that they will provide us with much satisfaction.

As someone who had never done any of these things before University, I found myself confused as to why I was not enjoying the same activities that everybody else seemed to be enjoying; I ended up feeling alone and worthless as a result.

However, when I really thought about not just the activities that I enjoyed, but why I enjoyed them, I discovered a goal to strive towards: fulfillment. The reason that I was not enjoying the activities that I had expected to was because I was not fulfilled. I was spending time with people that I didn’t genuinely connect with, and filling my time with things that didn’t truly make me happy.

Now, a couple more years into University, I am filling my time with things that leave me feeling fulfilled, and like I am doing something purposeful with my potential.

For me, this include going out less with friends and spending more time just chatting with them instead; writing, reading or playing guitar rather than scrolling through YouTube; wasting less time napping and listening to music to increase my energy instead; and dedicating myself to more fulfilling causes, such as mental health, rather than the interests of societies that I feel I ‘should’ be involved with.

If you are not feeling fulfilled, it does not mean that all that you do is futile. You’ll already be doing things which fulfill you, but it the things that don’t which can leave us feeling lost. Take some time to really think about what makes you happy, and how you can be exploring the causes that mean the most to you, not just things that you think you should care about.

A good place to start can be the hobbies that we enjoyed as a child, and the things we used to spend the days dreaming about. These are often forgotten as we get older, and we begin to care more about what we should be doing, or what is cool. Take inspiration from lost hobbies, and find activities that you can be doing now which will satisfy the same imaginative desires that you had as a child. Also look at the ways in which you have developed since then, and the interests that have been introduced as you’ve grown up. Filling your life with the things that make you truly happy is the ultimate way to find fulfillment.

Hey, I'm Ethan! I'm currently studying Philosophy and Politics at UEA. 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 others going through similar struggles, in hope that you also get a better idea of how you want to experience life.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

When University gets too much for your mental health and ways in which you can look after yourself

Niraj talks about coping with university pressure. 
- Niraj

We all get told on how university is meant to be the best years of your life, and how we have to enjoy every minute of it. And I do agree that university can be a wonderful experience due to the people you meet, the endless amount of opportunities that come your way and the level of independence and freedom you get. But we have to consider both sides of the picture. For a good number of freshers this will be the first time that they have lived away from home and they now have to be responsible for things that are generally done for them at home, such as cooking, laundry and budgeting. Moreover, students from later years face the pressure of having to balance an increased workload, house bills, job applications, commuting to university every day as well as a lot of other things. Suddenly, university doesn’t seem like the perfect fantasy that we were told it would be. With a lot of things to balance at the same time, everything can hit like a truck.

I am personally someone that can relate very closely to having too much to do at the same time. Will I get everything done? Am I doing enough? What else do I need to do? These are questions that enter my mind at a regular basis. Alongside a very intense and challenging degree, I have several other commitments and responsibilities that I have to juggle at the same time, some of which are very time consuming and difficult. Not only does it cause a lot of stress and pressure, it sometimes feels like a pressure bubble has formed in my head which I can’t get out of. 

I see my friends from other degrees that face similar problems. On top of lectures, those studying maths related degrees have multiple assignments and problem sheets a week. Those studying humanities degrees have long essays to grind out at a regular basis, not to forget the hours of reading that goes along with it. Those doing science degrees have full days of intense and gruelling lab sessions as well as lab reports to complete. That’s just a handful of degrees I have mentioned, and people in other degrees experience equal difficulty. Clearly, managing a degree on its own is hard enough. But when you add in things such as commuting and dealing with overcrowded buses, multiple job applications, never ending problems with landlords and even making sure that your housemates clean the dishes, it can seem that everything is impossible to handle. I know people that have dismissed this as something that you are expected to deal with easily at university. But it is not as simple as that. When this pressure you are faced with becomes unrelenting and never ending then it can trigger feelings of anxiety and can have a detrimental impact on your mental health. And sadly, this is becoming more and more common at university, with more students than ever disclosing a mental health condition.

However, despite all the challenges you face at university, there are solutions that you can regularly implement in your routine that can go towards improving wellbeing. There are the obvious and well-known ways that provide effective long term solutions to improve your wellbeing such as seeking counselling and wellbeing services at your university. But it is worth noting that this may not be the best solution for everyone, and that there are other ways in which you can take care of yourself. Activities such as sports and exercising have been scientifically proven to have a positive impact on your wellbeing, and it is something that may help you if you have the capacity to do so. But even small things which don’t require a lot of effort and time such as treating yourself to a meal out, making time to do a hobby that you love or even going for a walk can have a massive impact. Personally, I have always enjoyed socialising and I use that as a way to destress, but everyone has different things that work for them.

Furthermore, if there was one specific piece of advice I would give you, it would be to keep things in perspective. There is a lot that we have to do as students at university, and there are times where it gets too much to handle, but your wellbeing and mental health is very important. In the moment it can feel like the essay deadline or exam that you may have is the only thing that matters right now, and that everything else doesn’t matter. This can make it extremely easy to lose perspective, as your mental health is something that will have a bigger impact in the long run than any essay or exam. It is important to realise when the pressure at university is getting to a point where your mental health is getting affected, as your mental health is something that cannot be neglected.

Hi, I'm Niraj! I am a third-year student from the University of Warwick studying Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics. Having suffered from anxiety issues whilst at university, I know about the various mental health issues that university students face, and how tough it can be. I, therefore, want to raise awareness on different aspects of mental health and wellbeing, and help as many people as I can by sharing my own experiences.

For more information on how to cope, check out this link.

Staying Focused During Recovery

Martha explores the difficulties of recovery, and how people can sometimes struggle with staying focused during recovery.
- Martha Lee

Ever since hitting rock bottom and beginning to receive help, all I have ever hoped and aimed for is recovery. I have been lucky enough to have amazing people in my life who have allowed me to see that a future free of mental pain is possible. Therefore, during the darkest times I have always had something to look forward to – a goal motivating me to keep going. But since coming so far in recovery, I have realised that, for me, choosing recovery was the easier part. It is having the strength to keep going in recovery that is hard. I know now that I will be faced with this struggle of keeping moving forwards, even when it can feel so much easier to revert back to old habits. I have found that mental illness can almost become a safety net, and a part of your identity. 

The sad truth of the matter is that sometimes it can take getting to crisis point to get help or sympathy. As you begin to recover, slowly some of that help might get taken away again. People can assume you’re recovered mentally just because you look physically recovered. They think that you no longer require the support that, over the last few years, has become so important to you. Yes, you may have come a long way and yes, you may be getting somewhere in recovery, but that doesn’t always mean you are recovered. 

You may almost find yourself wishing that you were back to that point in order to get help and support. You might feel like you don’t know how to live without your illness, which has almost become a part of your identity. You know deep down that you don’t want to go back to that dark place, and you will do everything you possibly can to stop yourself slipping back. You know that you have come so far and have to keep going. But keeping going is unbelievably exhausting and hard and gruelling. On the one hand you see how far you have come, you see your achievements, goals reached, happier days. But you also see the struggles that still haven’t fully gone away, the reminders of the past, the unhealthy coping mechanisms that oddly helped and provided some comfort.

But I tell you now; keep going. You may feel things would be easier if you slipped back to old ways but I promise you they won’t. You have to try to ignore those feelings. You have come so far in your recovery and you shouldn’t listen to the lies your head is telling you. Yes it may be a struggle, but fighting through the struggle takes strength and courage. You are beautiful and amazing for everything you have achieved and you don’t deserve to go back to that place of pain and suffering after all the work you have already put in to come this far.

For information and advice on finding support, click here. 

I'm Martha, and I'm currently a student at Nottingham University. During my recovery I have found it important to open up, and writing has become a key way to explore and cope with my difficulties. Through sharing my own writing, I hope to inspire and help others and allow everyone to see that there is hope at the end of the darkness.

Friday, 11 January 2019

A Journey to Diagnosis

Daisy speaks about her experiences of mental illness at university and eventual diagnosis of autism.
-Daisy Shearer

I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I remember but it all came to a fore when I turned 16. With GCSEs over and done with, I started the transition into 6th form and struggled socially. Constantly self-criticising and feeling as if I did not fit in meant that I spiralled into a depression. At this point my body decided to manifest my stress in the form of shingles, giving me a good excuse to not attend school… for 10 weeks. This didn’t help me face my social anxiety and exacerbated my depression. 

I scraped through A-levels and miraculously got offered a place on the physics BSc course at my first choice of University. I had applied for the MPhys course and was on the fence about whether I should take up my place as I had started to doubt whether I was cut out to be a scientist. I decided to go for it.

Moving away from home was hard. I had to learn to look after myself and no longer had the comfort of the routine I was accustomed to back home. My depression worsened and by the end of first year I was considering dropping out. Luckily one of my friends took me to the university counselling service. Although I didn’t realise it, I had become depressed and wasn’t looking after myself properly. I needed a helping hand from somebody who wasn’t in my head to acknowledge that I needed help. I was offered 6 sessions but didn’t go to all of them as, at the time, my anxiety often prevented me from leaving my room. At the end of second year I got the grades to transfer onto the MPhys which I had originally applied to; I began to think that I could be a scientist after all. 

The MPhys included a year-long placement in industry and I chose a placement close to my family home. With another big change my depression got a lot worse, but this time my family was immediately around me for support. My mum accompanied me to the GP where I was prescribed antidepressants and referred to a psychiatrist. At last I was diagnosed: I had generalised anxiety, recurrent depression and mild OCD symptoms. 7 months later, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

I applied for Disabled Students Allowance for my final semester and got examination adjustments plus a specialist mentor. My mood began to stabilise, and I developed techniques to manage what I now recognised as sensory overload. The adjustments made a huge difference to my results and in July 2018 I graduated from my MPhys with first-class honours! I was also offered a PhD project at Surrey. Now I’m a PhD student I have psychodynamic therapy fortnightly and prioritise my mental wellbeing. I’m more confident, self-assured and have fewer invasive thoughts as time goes on.

So, what should you do if you find things aren’t going to plan and you feel helpless?
Take opportunities that come your way 
Seek help if you can
If you can’t bring yourself to access support services, ask a friend to accompany you, or seek out online counselling
Never give up! Managing mental health conditions can be an uphill battle and takes time
Build a support system- this can be family, friends, mental health professionals etc.
Use online resources like Student Minds- read other people’s stories and explore what support is available.

For more information and advice on finding support, click here

Hi, I'm Daisy. I'm a first year PhD student in physics studying quantum technologies and spintronics. I graduated with an MPhys from the University of Surrey in 2018. I've suffered with anxiety and depression for many years and was recently diagnosed with autism. I wanted to share my experience on the Student Minds blog to help raise awareness about the support available to students.

I'm always happy to help discuss mental health as well as accessibility, equality & diversity so feel free to get in contact with me @DaisyShearer on Twitter or @notesfromthephysicslab on Instagram

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Taking time for yourself - even when you don’t feel like it

Charlotte shares her thoughts on why studying less may improve your grades - and your mental health.

Have you ever had that feeling that you have no time to do the things you enjoy because of the looming pressure of studying? Maybe you’d love to watch a movie, hang out with friends, or just lie in a hot bath, but you can’t make space for it in your schedule. When you are struggling with your mental health, this feeling of taking time for yourself can feel even less deserved. For some, makes us feel guilty for doing anything other than university work, and can seriously impact our wellbeing and our productivity.

When I started Brunel University as a fresh-faced 18 year old, I told myself that I didn’t have time for any clubs or societies. I was going to focus on my education and get a kick-ass degree! Things didn’t exactly work out that way; because I had no hobbies, and nothing else to dedicate my time to, I spent way too long studying in the library, or late into the night. One of the biggest regrets of my university experience is that I didn’t take the time to make friends through clubs and societies. I didn’t find that social outlet that I needed to help with the isolation and loneliness that living away from home can bring.

This guilt over ‘me-time’ got worse when I studied for a Master’s degree at Bristol UWE. Being a distance-learning course, I had even more of an opportunity to isolate myself due to the lack of a campus community, and the content of the course being completely online. I started to worry if I began working later than 9am. I wouldn’t give myself a lunch break longer than half an hour, and I completely neglected the need to exercise or just chill out.

Of course, this didn’t make me any better at studying. In fact, I spent most of my time worrying about studying and generally being inefficient, because studying was all I thought about. This resulted in me developing an anxiety disorder and unhealthy work habits that have stayed with me to this day, over a year after finishing my studies. According to the American Psychological Association, ‘excessive or inappropriate guilt’ is a key symptom of clinical depression, so it’s not surprising that a lot of students with mental health issues feel guilty for taking time off from studying.

One of my fellow course mates had a part-time job, a netball coaching job, and various other hobbies and activities that she indulged in, always managing to spend time on her studies as well. That girl eventually really DID get a kick-ass degree!

As counter intuitive as it seems, taking time away from studying and spending a healthy amount of time on self-care is THE BIGGEST tool for success and wellbeing that there is! Everyone needs to recharge their batteries regularly. So, have a think about what you like to do to relax and unwind. Is it reading a book? Going for a run? Something that has really helped me is having a list of things that I know I enjoy readily available to me to look at when I feel I need a break. Another helpful tip is to make yourself clear, realistic, small goals every day. Something like: ‘today I will read 2 journal articles’. And then when you complete those tasks, don’t be tempted to give yourself more. You’ve done what you set out to do!

Too much studying can have a really big impact on our health and wellbeing, and can give us a distorted view of how much our grades mean in the grand scheme of things. Be kind to yourself and prioritise that me-time as much as you need.

Hi I’m Charlotte! I work at the London School of Economics looking at refining and improving the student experience in my department. I graduated with a BSc in Psychology in 2012, and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2017; these university experiences alerted me to the debilitating effect anxiety and depression can have on young people, as it was something I struggled with. Coming across the Student Minds blog made me wish I’d found a resource like this when I was studying, so I want to give back to the community by sharing my experience.