Advice and tips, Understanding

Are you struggling with stress? – The signs you should look out for

Stress refers to an individuals reaction to being put under pressure. For us human beings, it is totally normal to encounter stress on a daily basis. Only the other day I was stressed rushing about the house trying to find something. I then proceeded to step on a plug which definitely didn’t help the situation, leading to a string of expletives rolling out my mouth (sorry mum!).

Although in some situations, stress can be useful as it can motivate action (like a flight or fright response), the charity Rethink Mental illness suggests that too much of it can also make us ill.  But when is the amount of stress an issue? Obviously, different people can handle varying amounts of stress, but below is a list of indicators and symptoms of stress to look out for. 

  • Sleep issues – Some individuals may feel tired all the time, while others may have difficulties with being able to sleep.
  • Headaches – Constant stress can also cause some individuals to have headaches or migraines.
  • Changes in thought patterns – Those experiencing extreme or long periods of stress may start to feel depressed or even experience suicidal thoughts. 
  • Changes in behaviour – The feelings of stress can feel overwhelming and lead to an otherwise calm individual becoming irritable or aggressive towards themselves or others. The sense of dread that stress can create can also lead to an individual losing their sense of humour, as they struggle to cope with the burden. 
  • Feelings of anxiety – Stress is often associated with nervous feelings and anxiety. For example, the stress of preparing for an exam can make an individual feel nervous to complete it.
  • Loss of interest – Stress can also make individuals feel a loss of interest in their relationships and hobbies. 
  • Restlessness – Struggling with stress can lead an individual to constantly worry, which can result in restlessness or fidgeting (such as nail biting).
  • Indecisiveness – Some may find it difficult to make decisions due to the constant worry that they feel.
  • Lifestyle changes – Some may cope with stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviours, such as drinking too much or taking drugs.

Stress can have the ability to interfere with and influence an individuals physical and mental well-being. Exposure to prolonged amounts of stress can contribute to a number of health issues. These issues can include, the development of mental illness, weakening of the immune system or the worsening of current health conditions such as asthma.

If you find yourself able to relate to the points explained above, you may need help and support for your stress. Luckily there’s a lot of information and support online, which I think would be a great first port of call. Here’s a list of resources on stress and forms of self-help which I hope are useful:

Mood juice – This is a great in depth self-help book. You can print it out and complete the exercises that aim to identify and challenge the sources of your stress.

What is stress? – Another detailed guide on stress and its causes by the UK charity Mind.

Stressbusting– This website has an extensive list of treatments for stress and how they work, from yoga to mindfulness

Stress management society – This website has a stress test, to indicate your current levels of stress and whether they are dangerously high. They have so many resources here to help manage your stress, including free guides and printable colouring books. 

As it’s mental health awareness week, I think there’s no better time to raise awareness of stress and the effect too much of it can have on our wellbeing. It’s important to keep checking in with yourself and how you are feeling each day. If you are feeling overwhelmed it may be time to take a step back, identify the sources of your stress and reach out for support (whether this be from yourself or others).

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Your mental wellbeing – When should you seek help?

First of all, I hope you are all keeping well in these weird times. I rarely read and watch the news these days but whenever I do catch it I never see them addressing or talking about the mental health aspects of the coronavirus situation (although do feel free to correct me on this if I’m wrong). Mental wellbeing is something that needs to be talked about more, especially at this current time. It’s totally understandable to feel like you’re struggling with your wellbeing given the current situation.

Something that I have personally found difficult in the past is understanding when to seek help with your mental wellbeing. And sadly I can’t provide you with any concrete guidelines of when to do so in this post. Everybody is different; different environments, different minds and different characteristics. Your mental wellbeing is personal to you and knowing when you should seek help is something that is also a personal decision you have to make, based on your own views and beliefs. When I was younger and struggling with my own mental well-being, I thought I wasn’t suffering enough to warrant seeking help and support. I thought only those people who were acting strange or being manic should get help, how naïve was I.

I thought for those who need it, I would provide a list of factors I feel could be indicators that you may need a bit of support for your mental wellbeing. I am be no means a professional; the indicators below are purely based on my own previous experiences.

  1. You notice changes in your own behaviour – these changes may not always be ones you find good or healthy. You may be more snappy towards others or lethargic and finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You may also become dependant on something such as alcohol to get through the day.
  2. A person you trust has expressed concern – An example may be a friend or family member asking you if you’re okay because you seem a bit down. Notice I use the word ‘trust’ here. A lot of people can fling around insults like ‘you’re crazy’ without thinking about the consequences.
  3. You avoid doing things you normally would do – for me, I started to avoid going out to see friends or going to busy places because I knew this would trigger my anxiety. Although avoidance feels good in the short term, it may not be the best solution long term.
  4. Basic functioning becomes difficult – For example, you may find eating a meal or going to sleep challenging.
  5. You can’t see a way out – When you are struggling, it can be difficult or impossible to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

I think that ultimately, I just got ‘a feeling’ in my gut that I was struggling and that prompted me to seek support for my own mental wellbeing. If you find yourself struggling I would always recommend seeking help from a professional as a first port of call. But counselling may not be feasible for everyone for a variety of reasons so here’s a few other techniques I’ve used to help support my own mental wellbeing over the past few years:

  1. If you feel comfortable in doing so, try talking with a person you trust (maybe a friend or family member). Sometimes talking can help ease your worries and you will have an extra person to help you tackle the issues and discuss your options with.
  2. Try Mindfullness. I know this may not be for everyone, even I was a bit skeptical at first. But I have practised guided meditations on a free mobile app called Headspace and I have found them to be beneficial for me.
  3. Be active and try to exercise every day, no matter how little (just do what you feel up to). If you don’t feel able to leave your home there are loads of workouts on youtube that you can take part in without going outside. There is also an app I’ve used previously called down dog which is offering free home yoga classes for beginners until the beginning of June.
  4. Listen to a podcasts, there are some great mental health ones out there. I find it can help to hear others talking about their struggles and discussing how they have overcome them.
  5. Check out cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This therapy can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave about certain situations. Although it’s typically done in a talking environment with a counsellor, I have recently started working through this book and I have found it interesting challenging myself and my own beliefs. Hopefully it will be beneficial to me in the longterm!

I hope that some of the things I’ve discussed in this post are helpful to you or someone you know. I regard mental wellbeing as something that needs continuous support and work, like working your muscles at the gym. I was surprised by just how beneficial indulging in a little ‘mind-time’ each day was for my mental wellbeing.

What techniques do you use to support your mental wellbeing? I’d love to know below 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences, The PhD process

Dear PhD Student – Why the doctoral research process may be hurting your mental well-being

This post is aimed at any PhD students; perspective, current or graduated. I was reading an article the other day which states that 1 in 2 students will experience some kind of psychological distress during the PhD process (although from my own observations I’m surprised this isn’t higher).

But feeling mentally drained and unwell isn’t your own fault. In my opinion, the current PhD process is full of different factors that can contribute towards poor mental well-being. Below I outline the reasons I believe the PhD process to have such a negative impact on mental well-being, based upon my own experiences and observations.

Under pressure

First of all there’s pressure, lots of pressure. Throughout the PhD journey you are expected to cope with pressures that would be overwhelming for anyone. When you aren’t working on that conference paper, you are running yourself into the ground to meet the internal stage deadlines set by your supervisor. The pressure of having to deliver results can dominate your life, leading to a loss of sleep and self care time. When I was completing my research it was just accepted that PhD students are put under significant pressure and this is simply the way it is. The current ‘accepted norm’ of a constant three years of pressure can definitely contribute to bad mental well-being, especially when paired with any of the other factors mentioned below. 

Imposter syndrome and social comparison

I spent most of my PhD journey feeling like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t fit in and I just wasn’t good enough to get a PhD (spoiler: I was good enough and I did get one in the end). Feelings of imposter syndrome seem to be common and I talked to many other students who felt the same way that I did. Talking to others actually made me start to question if anyone ever truly ‘fits in’. Whilst struggling at times during my PhD, I would look around at others who appear to be breezing through the process. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, comparison is the thief of happiness. Social comparison is a completely natural and sometimes unavoidable thing to do but it can lead to negative effects on your mental well-being. 

Looking back after completing my PhD, there are a couple of reasons why comparing myself to others was never going to be beneficial. Firstly, I was comparing myself to my own perceptions of my fellow research students. To me they appeared to be doing fine, but I would find out later on that they weren’t doing as well as I thought they were. They struggled too at times the same way I did. From my own observations, I feel that there’s a stigma around admitting you are struggling as a PhD student. Some feel that to talk about struggling is like admitting weakness and this stops research students sharing these worries with each other. Secondly, each PhD journey is a deeply personal thing to each student and it can vary depending on their research area, supervisor and environment. Because of this, it was never useful to compare myself to others. It would be like comparing the process of training to be a teacher and training to be a vet; similar in some aspects, but so very different in others. 

Loneliness

Getting a PhD can feel like a lonely process, and for me it did most of the time. These feelings of loneliness can definitely affect your mental well-being. Although I worked in an office some days with about eight other people, at times I couldn’t have felt more lonely. Alongside this loneliness, some students may feel a lack of support available to them, which can have a further negative impact on their mental well-being. Some may feel that talking to their supervisor about mental well-being is a no go area; I myself only talked to my supervisor when I absolutely had to. I think this circles back around to feelings of not wanting to appear weak. Your supervisors are amazing at conducting research and analysing results, but they may not be trained in how to support you with the mental aspects of the process. Because of this it may appear tough to find support within the academic environment when you are struggling.

Fear of failure

Finally, during a PhD you are highly likely to experience some type of failure and rejection (unless you are super super lucky). For some it can happen on a daily basis, maybe you had a conference paper rejected or you didn’t get the study results you were expecting. This failure and rejection can definitely have a negative effect on your mental well-being, especially in the cases where multiple rejections happen at the same time (believe me, I had a few days of this throughout my PhD journey).

I hope that this post isn’t disheartening, there’s no doubt that the PhD process is a tough one. I guess in a way I’m writing what I wish I had heard a few years ago. I just wanted to highlight some of the issues I found with the process to ensure any PhD researchers out there that you are doing a great job, and if your mental well-being is struggling at times then it is totally understandable given the circumstances.

If you are struggling, I would suggest talking to someone you can trust about how you are feeling and working through things together; whether this be a personal friend or a trained professional. As a follow up to this post I will be sharing some tips and advice based on my own PhD experience which I hope may help some of you out there.

Are there any other elements of the PhD process which you feel can impact mental well-being? Feel free to share below

My Experiences

Supporting my mental wellbeing – What I did for 30 minutes each day this week instead of watching the news

Hi everyone, I hope that you are all doing as well as you can given the circumstances. These are strange times, nobody really knows what to do with themselves. For those of you that are unaware, here in the UK we have been on lockdown since Monday. The prime minister made an address to the nation where he outlined that we should stay at home, only leaving to shop for food or to conduct daily exercise once a day. From Monday I have vowed not to watch the news each evening as I normally did pre-coronavirus. Instead, I planned to spend this time on myself, conducting activities that I felt would benefit my own mental health.

On Monday I spent 30 minutes colouring a picture of a unicorn. I realised that I actually haven’t actively coloured anything for about four years and it was strange to pick up a pencil and ‘get back on that horse’, so to speak. I really appreciated this time because when I was colouring, my mind wasn’t thinking of anything else and it was a much needed form of release for me. More recently I have discovered this colouring book and honestly, I need it in my life right now.

On Tuesday I played with my dog. My dog has been constantly confused this week (even more than usual). She has no idea why everyone is at home all the time but she’s definitely not complaining. I spend time each night actively playing with her. Her favourite game is catch the rolling donut toy and she could literally play it for hours (I sometimes wish I could apply the same level of commitment to something in my life).

On Wednesday I listened to some truly terrible music. I’m sure we have all done this at some point in our lives? Think Backstreet boys, Britney spears or One direction. I may have even taken this further and had a little sing and a boogie (although my leg muscles definitely regretted that the day after). It was very liberating and once again it helped to keep my mind busy on something other than worrying about the state of the world at the moment.

On Thursday I taught myself to knit. Some people have the desire to learn a new language or to dance like a pro. Myself, at the humble age of 30 all I wanted to learn was how to knit. It’s just something I’ve always wished I could do as I always thought it looks really cool when people just do it naturally without thought (like completing a Rubix cube, maybe I can learn that next week?). A couple of youtube videos later, I had created something that could be considered a scarf for a mouse and I felt great in doing so. I always find it refreshing to learn new skills and it’s something I definitely want to continue doing.

On Friday I cleaned out my bedroom cabinets and drawers. Never underestimate the power of clean drawers! It was strangely therapeutic to clear out old junk I’d found stuck at the back of cabinets including chewing gum with a disgustingly old best before date (I know, I’m a terrible person).

So thats basically my first week on lockdown. What have you been up to this week? have you done anything to support your mental wellbeing. I’m looking for ideas of more things I can do next week so any suggestions would be great 🙂

Stay safe x

Advice and tips, My Experiences

Coping with the coronavirus when you have an anxiety disorder

I’m sure you are all aware of the current news surrounding the coronavirus. There has been a lot of information about the physical effects of the virus and how to tackle these but I’ve found little about the mental health aspects associated with the pandemic. For those who already suffer from mental health issues like anxiety, the current climate makes for unsettling viewing. As some of you know, I have been diagnosed with GAD in the past and I admit that I find it difficult not to get overly worried with the current given situation. There have been studies to show a relationship between our mental health and our immune system; when we are feeling stressed and anxious, this can have a bad impact and even weaken our immune system.

In times like these we need to look after our minds and our bodies so I thought I would make a list of the things I aim to do over the next few weeks. I hope that maybe they will be of help to others:

Accepting how I feel – Something I’ve learnt from previous experience is that fighting how you feel is an endless battle. Feeling anxious is a totally normal reaction and it’s easier to accept and feel these emotions then try and block them out. I’ve blocked them in the past and they build up and usually result in a panic attack. I aim to accept and even embrace my feelings of anxiety, allow it to come and pass as smoothly as possible.

Taking all media with a pinch of salt – When I talk about media here, I’m referring to both traditional and social. I’ve seen so much news about the coronavirus over the past few weeks. I’ve got no idea what is the truth and what is exaggerated anymore. I’ve decided to stop watching the news and only get my information about the coronavirus from credible sources. I’ve realised that in some cases it’s impossible to avoid all media but I’m going to definitely limit what I am exposed to. Social media is just a no-go for me at the moment, I won’t benefit from seeing pictures of empty shelves and people speculating about every aspect of their lives with no information to back themselves up.

Staying healthy – It’s difficult when I start to worry but I’m aiming to stick to my health routines that I know help ease my anxiety. These include exercise and my diet, restricting my caffeine intake and things like that. Ditching these is only the start of a slippery slope for my personal mental wellbeing.

Keeping myself distracted – I’m one of these people that if I’m left to my own devices, my mind will start to go into overdrive. I plan to try and ease this by taking more time to do the things I enjoy to stop my mind taking a detour. I really enjoy reading and this is a great form of escapism for me. I think it’s important to carry on doing the things that you love where possible and keep your mind focussed on things that make you feel happy.

Taking reasonable precautions – I find that having a plan can help ease some of my own anxiety. I’ve already took reasonable steps to try and stay safe, following the guidelines provided by the government. It can be easy to feel the need to panic and take action but it’s important to ensure that these actions are proportionate to the proposed threat, which can be tough for people with anxiety. For example, I know that shutting myself away for weeks in fear of catching the virus will do my mental health no favours, I just need to ensure I stay safe when I’m in public spaces. If I catch it, I’ve made a plan in my mind so I know how I would cope with it and ensure I don’t pass it onto my loved ones. Making these plans has really helped.

If you are finding yourself resinating with some of the feelings I describe above, I hope some of the steps above are able to help you also. If you are finding it particularly difficult to cope with the current situation then please do talk to somebody. This could be a friend, family member or professional. If venturing outside is an issue then Skype can be a great tool and many councillors offer sessions over it these days. I think the main take away from this post is that we will all feel overwhelmed and worried at points in our lives, it’s totally fine and natural to feel this way. But given time, these feelings will pass, you just need to ride out the waves.

Take care x

Advice and tips

Rethinking Valentines Day – Showing appreciation to your own mind and wellbeing

So today is Valentines day, a day where you are meant to celebrate your nearest and dearest and just how much you love them. In the past some have been quick to describe this day as ‘made up consumerist rubbish’, and I guess to a point I would agree with them. I’ve never believed that spending money on someone is a good way to show your love to your significant other, but I do think it’s nice to have a day dedicated to love. For many, they will be treating their partners, friends and family today; showering them with gifts or taking them out somewhere gorgeous. But I think today is just as much about showing yourself some love, regardless of whether you are in a relationship or not.

I thought for this post I could provide some ways of appreciating your self and your mind today. You and your mind have come a long way together and it’s a relationship that should be celebrated. Here’s some ways to appreciate your mind today:

1) Feed it

Our minds love learning new stuff. Studies have found learning new skills to increase the density the white matter in your brain and stimulate neurons, allowing electrical impulses to travel faster around your mind. As a result, regularly feeding your mind can help you learn better and improve your performance in tasks. So why not have a go at reading a book about something that has always fascinated you? or maybe you could take up french lessons or teach yourself an instrument. Whatever you decide to do, just remember as the saying goes – Knowledge is power.

2) Stop making comparisons

Take a day off watching others. So Brenda is flaunting her new flashy sports car on instagram while you can barely afford your Road Tax, good for her. As the saying goes, ‘Comparison is the thief of happiness’. Give your mind a break and take today to make some self-comparisons instead. Think about and even make a list of all of the amazing things you’ve achieved in the last year, no matter how small they may seem to you. You’ve done a great job! (No sports car needed).

3) Make time to do something you love

Life can be tough, so everybody deserves to take part in something that they enjoy on a daily basis. Whether that be having a game of tennis with a friend, or just indulging in some ice-cream in front of some really rubbish TV show, you should take some time out to treat yourself for getting through this week still in one piece.

4) Practise positive thinking

When I say positive thinking I don’t mean you have to be optimistic 100% of the time, because thats just not realistic. But it may be helpful to try and reframe some of your unpleasant thoughts in a more positive light. For example if you fail at something like a test, it can be common to feel that you are not ever going to get better at it. Try and see each failure as a learning experience, reflect on what you have learnt and how you can improve for next time. More information on positive thinking and further examples can be found here. I do this with each and every job interview I do and it makes me feel less stressed and encourages me to continue on with my job search.

5) Take the time to fully relax

Many of us say we are relaxing, but when are we truly relaxing? Just because you are sitting down doesn’t mean you are relaxing as much as you could be. Why not try a bit of meditation today (the headspace app is great) or even just lay down in a quiet place, take in some fresh air and listen to the sound of nature around you. If you live in a more urban environment, you could relax and listen to some nature sounds through headphones. Whatever you find the most peaceful thing to do, try to take a few minutes out daily to truly relax.

6) Get an early night!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. There has been loads and loads of studies showing the positive effect that sleep can have on our mental wellbeing. How much sleep we need for our minds to function at their best varies from person-to-person, but 7 – 9 hours is generally recommended. The weekend is the perfect time to look after your mind and catch up on your 40 winks.

I will definitely be following my own advice and showing my mind a bit of appreciation today, it’s been through a bit of a rough time the past couple of weeks so it deserves it. I hope you all have a nice day, regardless of what you get up to, I’m going to have a power nap now I think 🙂

Advice and tips

The most wonderful time of the year? – Looking after your mental wellbeing at Christmas

The twinkling of Christmas lights, the sound of Bublé in the air and the sight of some truly terrible jumpers, Christmas can really be the most delightful time of the year. But despite this, it can still be a difficult time for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

My anxiety wasn’t present during the first 15 or so years of my life. I guess Christmas was just exciting to me back then. Nowadays I find myself needing to look after my mental wellbeing more at this time of year. Things like gift buying, seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time and just other general stress at this time can have a knock on effect on my anxiety and mental well-being in general.

I thought in this post I could offer some tips on how to cope with the festive period if your mental wellbeing tends to suffer. These tips are by no means proven, they are based on my own previous experiences and having to learn to cope with my own anxieties at this time of year:

You are what you eat

For some this may not be the case, but I find that my anxiety tends to behave a little better the healthier I eat. This time of the year is associated with lots of delicious, but somewhat unhealthy food. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat all the exciting festive offerings (I’m not a total Scrooge), but I’ve found it to be beneficial to try and tame general indulgences. I’ve found this to be really helpful when it comes to things like caffeine and alcohol. It’s about getting that perfect balance between having fun but also considering the effects on consuming certain things on your mental well-being. Understanding your limits can really help, for example I’m happy to have a traditional glass of champagne, but I’ll always stop at one.

Have a break (Kit Kat is optional)

It’s totally normal for Christmas to be overwhelming at times, even for those that don’t struggle with their mental wellbeing. It’s important to take regular time out for yourself, this is definitely not a selfish thing to do. I will often take time out to do something I enjoy for a little while (for me it’s reading). Doing something that you personally enjoy can be a great way of eradicating or easing any negative feelings that you may be having at the time.

Be a lover not a fighter

Accept how you feel and stop working against yourself. No two people think and feel the same, what a boring place the world would be if that was the case. It’s okay to feel how you do. If you don’t feel festive, totally fine. Not in the mood to have in-depth conversations with relatives you see once a year? Then don’t. I fought against my own feelings for years and felt terrible because of the way I’ve behaved and felt in certain situations. Give yourself a break (it’s Christmas after all). Just accept that you feel how you do. If you become anxious, don’t fight it, I’ve found this to actually make the feelings worse. Instead, accept the anxiety and understand that the feelings will subside, like a storm in the ocean. Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling, they aren’t in your body.

Keep active

It’s pretty common knowledge that exercise has positive effects on mental well-being. But as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, it can be difficult to keep active. Ensure that you do a little something each day, even if this is a short walk outside. Your mental well-being may thank you for it.

Keep your fire burning

I think this is my most important advice. It’s so easy to work your mental health into the ground these days, but this burnout can be detrimental and difficult to come back from. If you can sense that you are struggling the do something to help. This could be talking to someone, or delegating things in order to reduce stress. Don’t worry about being a burden by putting things on your friends and family, if they love you, they honestly won’t mind. It personally took me a while to realise this and be comfortable in asking others for help.

So remember, check in with yourself and your mental wellbeing on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to avoid anything which will have a negative impact on this. It’s not being selfish, it’s called self care.

To all my blog readers, I wish you all good health and a pleasant Christmas! 🙂

My Experiences

Are we all bus drivers?- a mental wellbeing metaphor

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.

My Experiences

Why ditching Facebook was the best thing I ever did for my mental health

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.

Advice and tips

Looking after your mental health during university

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 🙂

I did finish my undergraduate degree in the end, I’m in there somewhere….

Just to finish, here is a list of really good student mental health resources I found if anyone requires them:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/student-life/#.XVkua5NKjBI – A useful guide to student mental health provided by the charity ‘Mind’ 

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.

https://www.savethestudent.org/save-money/health/mental-health-at-university.html – Article on student mental health