(Here is another fantastic post from our guest blogger: Nikita Rishton)
We are always told we need the next new phone; pair of trainers, car, and every other new invention that will make our lives perfect!
We are surrounded by advertisements wherever we look, telling us what we need in our lives. There is a gadget for everything, even ones we didn’t know we needed. Call me old fashioned but I thought we just used our hands to turn on lights!
It is easy to get possessed by our possessions and become obsessed by getting the next best thing. We can get trapped in this cycle of wanting something, getting it, then the next moment there is a newer version we are told we need.
We are constantly trying to keep up, but it’s never going to end. This is why we need to think about, and evaluate our possessions.
When we strip everything back and think about what is truly important to us, the things with the greatest value are actually people, time, and ourselves!
Be happy with the real values in your life and don’t be consumed by consumerism.
(This is an excellent post from our guest blogger: Nikita Rishton)
In 2021 there is no doubt going to be very little escape from technology. Although technology is a useful tool; especially whilst living through a global pandemic, it can also have negative impacts upon us.
To maintain a healthy relationship with technology it is important to draw boundaries and avoid becoming consumed by it.
The term technology covers many bases from phones and computers to gadgets we may find around our home. This is going to focus on arguably the most used piece of technology today… the smart phone!
Problems arise from technology when items that are designed to make our life easier actually start to have the opposite affects. If this happens it could be time for us to take a step back and re-evaluate our use of technology.
We have our phones with us almost all day so it is important that we do not create a toxic relationship with them. At times we can get so wrapped up in our virtual lives that we forget to live our real lives!
There is a phone application for everything these days; for working, studying, socialising, gaming, the list goes on. The problem with this is that every time we look at our phones there are so many apps all grabbing our attention with their notifications. This can become chaotic and even stressful when we are trying to manage different aspects of our lives through this little screen.
Now could be the time to clean up our phones!
To do this we can: Have the same attitude to your phone as you would your living space. If its messy and chaotic we can feel overwhelmed and stressed. If it’s clean and tidy we feel calmer and more relaxed.
Look at every app and think about how it makes you feel.
If there are any that bring stress then evaluate, do you really need it?
If you do really need it can it be on another device?
Are there any that haven’t been used recently? If so then delete it!
Can we condense our social media to one platform? Maybe the one we enjoy the most or the one that is a calmer happier place to be!
It is time of us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality. Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day.
Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep
Research shows that sleep plays a vital role in pretty much every system in the body. This includes cognitive functioning and our emotional state. So, when life seems to be throwing everything at you, one thing you can do to increase resilience and maximise your performance is to get enough sleep (and yes that is 8 hours).
It’s so easy to sacrifice sleep when you’ve got a lot to do, or when a good party or staying up late chatting with friends beckons. However, the impacts of sleep deprivation soon build up, so it is highly recommended to catch up with sleep and get back into a routine as soon as you can. For now, I will let the evidence (Walker, 2017) speak for itself and focus on what you might do to improve sleep.
When we’re struggling with stress, worry or low mood, often this shows up as disrupted sleep: struggling to get to sleep, or waking up during the night, or waking up too early (or all of these!). Then the lack of sleep exacerbates the problems we were struggling with. So for example, you’re worrying about an assignment and you can’t sleep, then the lack of sleep hinders concentration, focus, memory, cognitive functioning, emotional balance etc. Which then makes it even harder to get the work done. So you get even more stressed out. Sound familiar?
So clearly, it’s important to do our best to break out of this vicious cycle. The rest of this article focuses on tips to improve sleep so keep reading. And here is a guided meditation to help you settle for sleep, give it a try and let us know what you think.
Things to avoid or reduce:
Cut out caffeine from 6:00 pm onwards
Avoid computer games that get lots of adrenaline going, close to bedtime
Bed is for sleeping (or sex) don’t work in bed or watch telly and
It is best to avoid all screen based devices, so put away your laptop, tablet or phone
Turn off the phone, or put it on airplane mode and a few feet away from the bed
Alcohol seems to help at the time because of it’s temporary sedative effects, but later on it causes all sorts of rebound problems, and disrupts the sleep rhythms.
It is likely that alcohol interferes with a range of essential psychophysiological processes that happen in our sleep, so make sure you have enough nights of sleep without alcohol to catch up with essential REM sleep etc.
Nicotine is a stimulant, smoking close to bedtime will make it harder to settle
Avoid a heavy meal close to bedtime
Things that help with sleep
During the day, getting some exercise and exposure to some daylight is a good idea
Get bedding, duvet and pillow to suit you, if possible arrange the room so it feels ‘right’ to you
A nice warm herb tea is comforting (there are lots to choose from, try Camomile)
Have a good sleep routine, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
A good bedtime routine helps, do things that are calming: reading, bath/shower, brush teeth, getting makeup off, changing into comfortable sleep clothes, listening to music, meditating, very gentle stretching
Reading in bed or listening to music or guided meditations is good
Have enough water during the evening, have some water beside the bed and have a sip before settling, have a sip if you wake up in the night (tea, coffee and alcohol will make you want to pee in the night, but water doesn’t irritate the bladder so works just fine)
The room should not be too hot, in particular cool your feet, try sticking them out of the covers, try and get some good ventilation
Get the room as dark as you can
If the environment is noisy you could try earplugs, or headphones to play ambeint sounds or ‘white noise’
There are lots of aromatherapy herbs worth exploring, Lavender is worth a try, just put a few drops on a tissue somewhere in the room
Strategies for when the mind is overactive, when we’re trying to switch off for sleep
Reduce the adrenalin in the system, here are a few more ideas to turn down the ‘activation dial’: This calming breath exercise, guided safe place visualisation, think of 5 things you are grateful for, remembering a time when you felt safe and relaxed
If there is a persistent thought of something you have to do, it is probably trying to remind you of something important. Acknowledge it and write it down on your list of important things to consider the next day. Out of your mind and on to your list.
Step back from ruminative thinking, learning to let go. This might not be easy but is one of the most important mental skills we can learn. Mindfulness teaches us to get better at this; here’s an introduction
The guided meditation above has been specifically designed to help you settle for sleep, listen to it in bed so that you can fall to sleep without having to get up. You can also play it if you wake up in the night. We can’t force ourselves to go to sleep, so be gentle with yourself. And if you don’t always fall asleep then you’ve got a win-win, because you’ve done you daily meditation instead.
Between us, our team has about a hundred years of experience of supporting students (slight exaggeration maybe 😊!).
Here we’ve collected together the main things we’ve found that might be helpful to you as you begin your journey here at University.
We’re also drawing on things that final year students have told us they wished they’d known when they started. Things they wished they could’ve gone back and told their younger self. So now you get the benefit of that too.
It’s natural and OK to be nervous: don’t get caught up in thinking everyone else is confident, that they know what they are doing. Most of us came to university terrified! Just let it be. Be curious, explore, get to know the person next to you, and your tutor, the person in the café/shop/local pub. Explore the nearest fell, learn to meditate, and before you know it, you’ll start to relax and get into the flow of university life.
There’s so much to do! Starting University often brings with it a lot of things that need to be done. Registration, student finance, preparing for lectures etc. Making a list of everything that needs to be done can help you to prepare and makes sure you don’t forget anything important.
While it’s a busy, exciting time, it can be easy to get swept up with all the things that need to be done. Remember to take some time for self-care that allows you to rest and recharge both physically and mentally. Don’t feel that you need to spend all your time being busy, you need some time to yourself.
You won’t be the first person coming to university to feel homesick: It might be frightening or upsetting if you’ve moved away from home for the first time, and your parents/family/loved ones have left after dropping you off. Feeling this way is perfectly normal and will soon pass.
Getting involved in an activity or socialising will help to give you something else to focus on. Living independently might feel overwhelming for the first days or weeks; adding a routine and some structure to your day will help you to settle in.
If the weather’s nice (or if you’ve got some bracing Cumbria weather then put on some warm clothes), and you’ve got some free time, a walk around campus is good exercise, which usually improves mood. It also allows you a chance to familiarise yourself with the campus, which helps to avoid trying to find your lecture or meeting on the day.
Balance: Although your university work is of course important, try not to lose perspective when it comes to your studies; remember you are more than a grade and it does not define you.
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed by deadlines and exams, get organised! Create a revision/essay timetable, breaking down your work into smaller, digestible chunks. That way you know what you need to complete and when.
Don’t overdo it. Try not to study any longer than you would if you were doing an average working day (around 7 hours). Allow for plenty of breaks and be boundaried. For example, if you have a lot of work, then study 9am to 6pm (with several breaks), and then mark the end of study time by doing a self-care activity, whether that be coffee with a friend, a walk or gym session or your favourite hobby.
Routines and Self-Care: When we feel worried or stressed, we might struggle to relax or sleep, which can then lead to getting more tired. We can start to lose touch with things we used to enjoy or give us pleasure, things that sustain us, eating and sleeping properly, getting some exercise. And all this makes it harder to concentrate, which then creates more stress. So, what can we do to help ourselves out of this cycle?
Get into a routine with sleep, preparing meals, and exercise
Make time to do things you enjoy, chatting with people, a hobby…
Stay ‘connected’ with others, especially spending time around positive and supportive people
Doing something that gives you a sense of achievement for example, learning something new or completing a piece of work
Time to pause, relax and reflect. Check in with yourself at the end of the day, reflect on what you have achieved and what gave you a sense of pleasure and closeness
These things help to nourish both our mind and body
Try something new: Coming to University can be a time to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Although we are constrained by Covid, where possible, maybe it’s time to try something new. Take a fresh look at the societies and clubs available. It’s a good way to meet new people and have some fun.
Some useful maxims to live by: (Lorrie and I like the cheeky positivity of NLP and we’d like to share some of this wisdom with you)
‘There is no such thing as failure only feedback’. Such a great way to approach life! It supports me every time I get things ‘wrong’. For example, applying this to a situation where maybe I got a disappointing grade. Rather than thinking this is evidence that I am not good enough, to remind myself that it is now a great opportunity to learn how not to repeat the same mistakes and approach my work differently next time. It’s an opportunity to identify needs, tap into the available resources at the university and get skilled up.
‘If it’s possible in the world its possible for me, it’s just a matter of how’. There are many examples in the world of people achieving amazing things and reaching their personal goals. Sometimes we forget what drives us to where we want to be. If we refocus our attention of why our chosen topic is important to us, we can then access what is valuable and meaningful to us. Once we reconnect to our life purpose we can continue driving forward and stay positive.
A useful tip for people who are worried about worrying. Sometimes overthinking can be a problem because having too many choices prevents us from making a choice and we remain inert. It can be useful to reframe this ‘The person with the greatest flexibility of thought and behaviour will have the greatest influence in any interaction (Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety). The things we think of are often limited by our own life experiences, thoughts and feelings. By listening, learning, and maintaining our curiosity, we can start to think beyond what we know. This leads to richer understandings, and a greater number of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and choices available to us.
People make the best choice available to them, given their model of the world and resources available to them at the time. This helps us to stop beating ourselves up over the mistakes that we make. Remembering this can also help us to develop patience when dealing with others, as we learn to accept that other people’s ideas and feelings are as important to them as ours are to us.
Remember that we’re here for you, if you need us. If you’re struggling just ask for help.
Student Minds have also produced some good information about coping with the transition to student life in the time of Covid.
The MH&WB Team: Bridget, Dave, Fred, Lauren, Lorrie, Nesta, Pat, Sarah, Shez, Tessa (in alphabetical order)
If you find yourself struggling to cope then there are a range of support services at the UoC. Of course reaching out to family and friends is usually a good idea as well. Even though you might not want to worry them, just think how you would want to help them if they faced a similar situation.
This blog has lots of information and tips on looking after yourself and improving your wellbeing, just take a look at the tags for the various topics. And we have also produced a list of self-help resources. If you’ve got to a point where you think you need professional advice and support then here is some information about Health and Wellbeing.
About the Mental Health Team:
We had 600+ students make contact with us in the 2019-20; wanting help for a whole range of difficulties. These included low mood and depression, anxiety, panic and stress, relationship difficulties (with family, friends, colleagues, housemates, partners, etc.), current or historical abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), bereavement, homesickness, self-harm, drinking too much alcohol, eating problems, sleep problems, and a range of other emotional difficulties.
The team has practitioners from a range of professional backgrounds, with a wide range of therapeutic training, interests and experience. This includes Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Person Centred Counselling, Integrative Counselling, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Mindfulness Based Counselling, Solution Focused Therapy, Advocacy and Motivational Interviewing. 94% of students who have used our service would recommend it to a friend
How to access the service
You can access our service if you are registered with a programme of study at the University of Cumbria by completing this self-referral form, which should only take you about 10 minutes. (If you are studying on a programme at a partner organisation of the University of Cumbria, you will need to access the support services at that organisation). Filling in the form with as much information about you and your present situation as you can, will give the team a good starting point to help you work through your difficulties. The details you put on the form will only be available to the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team (unless you ask us to share it with others, for example your GP, or it is required by law – please speak to us if you have any concerns about this).
We will then get in touch to arrange a therapeutic consultation with one of our practitioners. Your appointment will come via the email address that you provide in the online form, so do check this regularly. To ensure the message gets to you rather than getting filtered as spam, please remember to check your spam/junk mail folder as well.
Please respond to the message by accepting the appointment date and time (or requesting to reschedule, if you can’t make the one offered). Please note that we will usually close a file if the student does not respond or not show up for their appointment, and in that case you will need to re-refer yourself.
At our first (therapeutic consultation) meeting we will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible, so that you can let us know the situation you’re struggling with. We will advise you on the limitations of the service, including the limitations of confidentiality. It will be an opportunity for you to ask any questions you may have of the services we provide. We will then suggest things that you could do to help, provide information about resources and other services that might be appropriate, and decide what else might be needed from our service.
It might be that a single session is all that is needed for you to begin to resolve your situation. Or one of our wellbeing courses might be the most appropriate thing to do. Or referred to other services within the University, or referred to specialist services external to the University. Or it might be that further 1 to 1 work is needed.
Complementing our service, there is also a free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, online support service provided by Togetherall
Fridays 4:00 to 5:00 pm online, live via ‘Teams‘ – Starting on 25.9.20
We live in stressful times. There is just so much in the news and social media to cause us to worry. And then there are the stresses and strains of everyday living. University life is an exciting and positive time, and it comes with the challenges of a significant life transition, and academic work as well!
Here’s a fun and relaxing way to increase wellbeing and feelings of calm. Build skills to handle stress and improve mood.
Would you like to increase your coping skills? Is there a way to increase wellbeing and resilience? Here’s your chance to be kind to yourself and to create a nurturing space for yourself. We can’t ‘magic away’ the struggles of everyday life, but we can increase our ability to cope, and strength to face our challenges.
These sessions aim to introduce you to practical, easy to use, skills that can help to enhance your physical and mental wellbeing, and increase your ability to handle stress and manage difficult emotions.
The sessions offer ‘wellbeing hacks’ drawn from a wide range of sources – Movement & Yoga, Mindfulness, Breathwork, Compassionate Mind, CBT, Polyvagal Theory, EFT, Guided Imagery and the NHS Five Ways to Wellbeing:
Breathing and focusing techniques to help calm and centre
Simple mindfulness meditation practices to focus and quiet the mind
Visualisation techniques to increase feelings of wellbeing
Movement and postures that can settle emotions, and help us to feel more grounded
Back in March as part of University Mental Health day we asked students to tell us their Mental Health and Wellbeing tips.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts. We had lots of really good ideas and wanted to share your wisdom with other students, in your words (in a few places we’ve added a comment or a link). Here is what you told us:
Be around people who care and they will help bounce you out of any bad feelings/moods
Just talk about it, people will listen and it’s a weight of your chest
Do not keep toxic people in your life, even if they are on your course
Mind your thinking, and learn to meditate
Take every day as it comes. If you’ve got things on your mind, switch off at night, write them down and put them aside, come back to them when the time is right. Don’t overthink every little thing, it will seem worse and spiral out of control
Practice mindfulness as a normal thing (Excellent idea! As well as lots of other benefits, mindfulness has been shown to help develop skills in stepping back from rumination (negative-overthinking) here’s a practice to get you started)
Think of a positive thing you’ve done today, even something small counts
Download the ‘headspace’ app. Take advantage of the sleep music and exercises
Accept yourself, there is only one of you
Small steps and a good balance
Start writing, rather than facing assignments as whole, less stressful, less full on
Get organised, and reward yourself with each step (this fits very nicely with suggestions in our procrastination blog)
Make sure you plan time well, so that you make time to step back and take time for yourself
Social life and studying should be evenly split
Take deep breath, get a cup of tea and make a plan, and start again
Get out in in the fresh air
Get some activities that are not to do with the university, like walking through the park or going to a place that calms you
Go for a walk whatever the weather!
Go for a nice walk
Walking with headphones
If you can take a break and get outside, even just 5 or 10 minutes away from a screen, getting some fresh air can clear a foggy mind
Spend time outdoors in nature
Go to the hills
Make sure you get enough sleep. Have a good regular amount of sleep
Give yourself time to relax and do a self-care routine, e.g. bath, read a book, pamper yourself
Have 20 minutes off your phone before bed every evening to help sleep. Try reading, drawing, knitting, sewing, talking to friend or yoga instead (yes definitely better than too much screen time)
You’ve got to the end of the semester or the academic year, and you’ve submitted your assignments, survived your exams… it’s all done, phew!
Wait what! Where’s the elation, the euphoria? This is very confusing!
During the stress and struggle of the days leading up to deadlines, we imagine how wonderful life will be after the work is done! The relief, the joy, the freedom!
Yet strangely sometimes we don’t feel as ecstatic as we had imagined. We expected to feel just great. What happened to all those good feelings, what a disappointment!?
Time and time again I hear students describe this as an anti-climax, a feeling of emptiness; sometimes even feelings of anxiety, as if you’re standing on the edge of a precipice.
But since submitting my dissertation last month I’ve been in a weird limbo. My executive dysfunction has got quite bad because I have no urgent deadlines, so I can’t even bring myself to do the things I really want to do and instead just daydream about them all day. So trying to get myself unstuck has been a bit of a struggle.
Please don’t beat yourself up about not feeling as you expected to. Let’s consider what might be going on, and what you might do about it:
The crash in mood is a comedown from all that adrenalin. This is a very real phenomenon; it happens all the time. If you’ve been in a heightened state of excitement and alert for a while, you’ve been pushing out that adrenaline (and dopamine), you’ve been using up your resources, the batteries can get pretty flat. The higher you were and the longer you stayed there, the more intense the comedown.
Solution: That flat feeling is your system recharging, and the neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, are restocking. Don’t fight the feeling, accept it, rest up, pamper yourself, sleep. It will pass, and you will soon feel much better. I call this ‘cognitive override’, you might say to yourself: I’ve been working my socks off, and achieved so much, I’ve made it through. This feeling won’t last – it’s just my nervous system recovering, I will feel better once I’ve recharged.
You’ve got used to having all your time structured around the work you had to get done, you’ve had a purpose, now you’ve got all this empty space and that feels weird. Life feels empty – you don’t know what to do with all this time on your hands, the days ahead feel like a vacuum.
Solution: You’ve got so used a particular state of alert and focus. When the situation changes your nervous system doesn’t know how to come out of that, just yet. You need a bit of time to get used to the new situation and become convinced that there really is nothing to do but chill for a while. And then when you’re ready, to begin to discover what you want to do next.
There’s a feeling of anxiety, you’re on a cliff edge, about to step into the unknown. This fear of the future is understandable – suddenly there’s more uncertainty than you’re used. You’ve been in a place where you always had the next goal in front of you, the next task. Now it all seems more uncertain.
Solution: Accept the feelings, as natural, give yourself space, time to think about the future, accept that uncertainty is a part of this major transition in your life. So maybe the uncertainty of not knowing is the feeling you get just before you discover something new.
So, what next? Once you’ve had a chance to recharge those batteries, give yourself permission, a bit of space, to be uncertain. Take a bit of time, to reconnect with yourself, and your surroundings; rest, take a walk, talk to friends, meditate. In this space of not knowing exactly what will happen next, let yourself rediscover the sense of freedom, the excitement of new possibilities…
“We all know that being kind is the right thing to do but did you know that kindness is good for you? A little act of kindness can boost your mental health, reduce stress and it can cheer you up to think of someone else – not forgetting, of course, to be kind to yourself. It is a path to a society that better protects our mental health”
They point to research evidence for the positive impact of kindness on protecting and improving mental health. Their survey has shown that almost three quarters of UK adults say it’s important that we learn from the coronavirus pandemic to be more kind as a society. Also almost two-thirds of UK adults say that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.
Psychologists have long shown that kindness to others (altruism) also has a positive effect on the giver (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003; Kurzban, et al., 2015; Wang, et al., 2020).
There is evidence that accessing states of caring and compassion have a profound healing effect on us (Gilbert, 2010) and there appears to be a evolutionary neuro-biological basis for this (Porges, 2011).
Based on ancient wisdom, a growing body of research suggests that kindness & compassion meditations activate these healing systems within us. These meditative practices can be effective as part of the treatment of a wide range of mental health conditions and promote physical and emotional wellbeing (Graser & Stangier, 2018; Hofmann, et al., 2011; Shonin, et al., 2015).
Here is a short introductory guided meditation to help cultivate this state of self healing. Please read the guidance below before you try it.
This guided meditation requires active engagement and participation, so while it can be calming, it does ask for some mental effort
A bit of perseverance is likely to pay off, with a bit of practice the positive effects of meditation increase
If you find it difficult to settle and follow along with the guidance, then you might need a bit more brain-training with a breath practice
By using the meditation, you are taking responsibility for your wellbeing. It is not a substitute for counselling or treatment. It is an educational and self-development resource
Meditative practices have been shown to offer powerful tools for mental health and wellbeing by helping to develop enhanced emotional and thinking skills. They are not a quick fix and require effort and practice
Meditation is not usually suggested as mental health first aid. It can be very helpful in managing difficult emotions, yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do first, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use)
Of course if you are acutely unwell then please get appropriate support, make yourself safe, and come back to this practice when you are feeling stable enough to engage with it
I hope you find this meditation helpful, feel free to get in touch with any feedback
Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U., 2003. The nature of human altruism. Nature, Volume 425, pp. 785-791.
During the current lockdown there is a lot of good advice out there. Our contribution here is just a small practical thing that you can do to help reduce stress and increase wellbeing. There is strong evidence that stress levels can have a significant impact on our immune functioning.
This is a short guided meditation. The visual element is just to add flavour, it is OK to close your eyes during the practice, if you like. At just under 8 minutes you can pop this on anytime you have a bit of time to spare.
Mindfulness isn’t the same as relaxation, but is a very good way of building wellbeing if practiced for a time. A very common misunderstanding is to expect to have an ‘empty mind’ or feel more relaxed (which may or may not happen). So if there is agitation or lots going through the mind, then there is no need to suppress anything, just observe what’s there.
Meditation is not first aid for anxiety. It can be very helpful in managing anxiety (and other difficult emotions) yet this skill takes time to build. I think when you’re feeling anxious or unsettled, there are lots of other helpful things you can to do, for example here is a calming exercise which I have used with many people (link opens in dropbox where you can directly play the file or download it for offline use).