This week I was travelling on a bus. Whilst travelling I observed something which I felt was such a fitting metaphor for mental wellbeing that I feel I should share it. In a way I love bus journeys. I live in a fairly rural place, so when I’m on the bus I’m usually looking out the window to be greeted with serene scenes of fields, livestock and wildflowers. I find that travelling down country lanes is so often suitably calming.
On this particular morning, I was sat at the back of the bus, watching the world pass by on the outside. There was a variety of passengers on the bus, all varying in their appearances and ages; there was a small child in a pram talking to its mother about big dogs, next to an elderly gentlemen reading the days news in the Guardian. Although full of different people, there was a peaceful equilibrium as the bus drove peacefully through the lanes. As the bus progressed, it picked up and dropped off people, still maintaining its peaceful environment.
But at one stage of the journey a young couple got on. They sat down and started a heated discussion, apparently the guy had been seeing someone else and hadn’t told his partner. This argument got louder and more aggressive between the two as the journey went on, and the environment began to feel hostile. Although things in the back of the bus were beginning to become nasty between the couple, the bus driver still had to drive on. They couldn’t pull over because it wasn’t safe to do so. Also the driver had to keep to the set timetable, so they just carried on driving, transporting this negative energy with them. While all this was happening, a bus passed on the opposite side of the road. The bus drivers shared a friendly hello gesture and a smile as they passed each other, irrespective of the events happening in the back of their vehicles that they were transporting around.
At this point I found myself reflecting upon this, comparing the bus to an individuals mind. The chaos that ensues inside an individuals mind is not totally visible to those outside, similar to that of the events on the bus. Irresponsive to the events on the bus, the driver presents a positive face to other drivers as they pass. I feel this to be representative of the face that an individual presents to others. For some who are living with mental distress, they may feel the need to cover this up, often appearing smiley and cheery to others, regardless of their actual feelings. We are all bus drivers in a sense; travelling with our own passengers and events going on. I just found this metaphor to be so fitting I felt I had to share.
So be kind to your fellow bus drivers, even if you can’t see inside their vehicle very well. You just never know what chaos they may be having to handle inside.
This post is a bit of a personal one. Throughout my mental health journey, I have made changes to my lifestyle in an attempt to improve my state of mind and generally make me a little bit happier. One of the changes I made was deciding to deactivate my Facebook. I last logged onto my Facebook page on March 20th 2018. Before I deactivated, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without my daily habitual hour of aimless scrolling. I initially set out to go without Facebook for a month. Then this month turned into six months, then a year. I thought for this post I could explain some of the personal benefits I’ve felt to my mental health from making this decision.
I have more time to conduct other activities
Since quitting Facebook, I have spent time doing other activities to fill my spare time. Instead of scrolling every night, I’ve taken a keen interest in reading novels. I’m finding this new hobby to be of great benefit to my mental health, as I find reading a great escape from the stresses of daily life. Having no social media also encourages me to spend more time away from the computer screen, which can only be a good thing in my opinion.
I can focus more on myself
Reading the statement above may make me appear a tad narcissistic, but I think everyone should spend more time on themselves. I used to spend most of my time on Facebook feeling sad, because my life didn’t appear as glamorous and exciting as the lives of my peers. In reality, it really doesn’t matter if you’re married, have kids or go on exotic holidays, as long as you are happy in yourself. By removing Facebook, I couldn’t make social comparisons, which lead me to focus more on my own life and how I could live it in a way which made me happiest. I think the biggest lesson I learnt was that It’s not selfish to show an interest in your own life instead of the lives of other people.
I could address my obsession with likes
When I was a regular user of Facebook, I would post a status or photo and then sit there waiting for people to like it. Reflecting back on this behaviour, I realise how unhealthy doing this was for my own mental health. If a photo didn’t get many likes, I would take this personally and it would create anxiety. But I’m now living my life to get ‘likes’ from myself. It’s so liberating to let go of the feeling that I need to live my life in a way that gets approval from others. This has allowed me to enjoy the process of actually doing things, instead of anticipating the number of likes I will get from announcing I’ve done it on Facebook.
It changed my views on birthday messages
Another thing I got obsessed with was the number of birthday wishes I received on my Facebook wall each year. I would actively compare year upon year and it would have an impact on my overall mental wellbeing. I would get worried if I was receiving less messages and it would make me feel like something was going wrong in my life. Reflecting upon this made me realise that my feelings were completely unreal, but they felt so reasonable to me at the time.
Since quitting Facebook, I have not missed receiving all those extra birthday wishes on my birthday. There’s something lovely about receiving a good old fashioned card or even a text, it just feels a bit more genuine to me. I was definitely a lot less anxious on my birthday last year, which allowed me to enjoy and live in the actual day.
The thought of disconnecting from social media can be enough to start a panic attack for some people. I’m not telling you all to quit your social media accounts right now, as for some this may not be feasible or beneficial, but I’m so glad that I did. I truly believe that setting limits on the amount of social media you expose yourself to can only lead to positive effects on your mental well being.
So how often do you spend on social media? and do you actively gain anything positive and beneficial by spending time scrolling through each day? If the answer to the latter question is no, then maybe a lifestyle change could be just what you needed.
Last week, thousands of young people received their A-level results. For some, they may have chosen to further their studies by completing a university degree. For me, going to university as an undergraduate student was the most life changing period of my life (to date). In addition to the knowledge I gained from the course, I personally learnt a lot more about myself and how I tick. This sounds weird, but up to this point I had never took the time to think about me, I had been focused on the schooling system and spent most of my time with my head in a book. The freedom that occurred at this stage in my life was liberating but also suffocating. I was free to do what I wanted with my future, but the struggles I was having with my own mental health limited what I felt I could achieve.
As many say, hindsight is a beautiful thing. As a fresh-faced university student, I never gave two thoughts to my mental health. Recent research has shown that over 15,000 first-year university students struggle with their mental health every year (Source here). I didn’t even consider that mental health was something that a person could struggle with. It’s only when I reflect upon it now, with the mental health knowledge I’ve gained, that I realise how much I struggled at that time.
I thought in this post I thought I could offer some advice that I would’ve given to my eighteen year old self, in the hope that it may be useful to others. This is simply my own opinions and advice based upon my own experiences as a student. I have included a list of useful sources for students and their mental health provided by charities at the end of this post.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore it.
I am guilty of this, although in my case it was due to my own naivety. When I was an undergraduate I knew my mental health was taking a hit but I chose to ignore it in the hope that it would fix itself in time. This may work for some, but it definitely wasn’t the case for me. I always ponder what I may have done differently if I had addressed and cared for my mental health a little better than I did. Be proactive, try to learn about mental health and keep an eye on your own.
Look into what facilities there are at your university.
It’s no secret that facilities to help with mental health are few and far between within university environments. I could write a whole other post about this, but this article sums it up. But although facilities are stretched, they are available. In my undergraduate degree I wasn’t even aware what help was available and it wasn’t widely advertised.
Make sure to check out what help is available at your university because you may be surprised. A little further down the line whilst completing my PhD studies I found out that my university offered free counselling sessions for students. I am forever grateful for finding this resource and the sessions helped my mental health through a really tough point.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
The transition from school to university student is a tough one, so you should cut yourself some slack. For those struggling with their mental health it can be even more challenging, so be sure to focus on all the things you accomplish each day. It may sound like nothing, but you should feel proud of the things you achieve. Went to a lecture? Amazing. Washed all your washing without the colours running? Even better.
There will be challenges during your university journey and you may sometimes experience knock backs, both academically and non-academically. If knock backs happen, take time out to analyse the situation and be kind to yourself. Hate to include a clique but ‘Talk to yourself like you would someone you love’. For example telling yourself that you are a loser and you’re rubbish at getting up in time for those 9am lectures probably won’t have a benefit on your mental health.
It’s okay to take a break
Taking a breather is not failing. Recognising when you need to stop is a good and brave thing to do. In my undergraduate I never did this and eventually I burnt out. Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for putting life on hold for a little while so you can work on yourself. Your own mental health needs to come first. If you have good mental health, the other parts of your life may also start to fall into place a little easier.
Also, you may meet people who don’t regard mental health issues as actual real life problems and may act towards you in a negative way. Ignore these people. In response to my own issues I’ve been told to ‘man up’ and ‘have a hot beverage to calm myself down’ before now. Surprisingly, neither of these words of wisdom helped me at all. But now I do wonder what would happen if I had a manly hot beverage?
It’s not you, it’s them
People act the way they do for their own reasons that you may never understand. Everyone has their own struggles in life and we all have bad days. If a person acts in a harsh or nasty manner to you, try not to take it personally. Don’t let the nasty manners and behaviours of others have a negative effect on your mental health. Try to develop methods of responding to these types of behaviour in a way that is best for you and your mental health.
Focus on being the best version of yourself
To me, this is probably the advice I most wish I’d taken. When I say the best version of yourself, I don’t mean pushing yourself to get washboard abs or studying day and night to get 100% on a test. I think what I mean is try to be the most ‘peaceful’ version of yourself. This can refer to many aspects of your life, such as relationships, health or academically. Reflecting upon when I was an undergrad, I didn’t surround myself with people that made me feel happy within myself and I believe this didn’t help me mentally. The university culture of drinking and partying can also take a toll on your mental health. I didn’t care for or look after my body, I wish I had been a little more active and had partied a little less (although you still need to have fun, but I was excessive in my approach).
My main advice is if you don’t feel okay, remember that you are not alone and there are people you can talk to. It is okay not to feel okay, nobody is okay one hundred percent of the time no matter how they may appear.
I hope this post hasn’t made university appear in a negative light to any of you. Going to university is such a life-changing period of an individual’s life and you should go out and enjoy every minute of it. Just remember to check in with your mental health every so often 🙂
Just to finish, here is a list of really good student mental health resources I found if anyone requires them:
https://www.studentminds.org.uk/resources.html – information regarding many aspects of student life from the charity ‘Student Mind’. There is also a wide range of useful information I wish I had access to when I was eighteen on their website.