Saturday, 19 May 2018

You Didn't Fail Anyone

Rachel shares her experience of how even through tough times, mental health difficulties do not have to limit your success. 
- Rachel

I was eleven when my Granddad passed away. 

One conversation with him in those last few months stuck with me. 

At eleven, I had already decided I wanted to be a writer, and when Granddad told me he wanted me to go to Oxford to study English, I informed him that was already a part of My Life Plan.

(I was a cocky, annoying eleven-year-old.)

I never expected to spend time bouncing in and out of doctor’s offices, hospitals, and psychiatric wards, but I did. My focus, grades, and attendance all dropped. 
My Life Plan inevitably collapsed. 

I would later be diagnosed with anxiety, depression and ADHD, which would also add to the development of Emotionally Unstable (or Borderline) Personality Disorder. While I won't go into the details of these disorders, they had a massive effect on my life, particularly in my first year of University.  I barely attended anything in my first term and resigned myself to failure. I didn't submit assignments or make many friends, and mostly just drank alone. I wasn't in Oxford. I didn't have three A-Levels. I didn't have a good relationship with practically anyone. I eventually dropped out of first year entirely. 

I was living the opposite to My Life Plan.

I convinced myself that I was a failure, and that I had no value to anyone. I no longer even thought of the future, as if it wasn't going to be perfect, I believed I wouldn't have one at all. But there isn't a time limit on success. I thought that I had to have everything together by the time I was twenty-five, otherwise I'd failed. I was so full of guilt, I was ready to throw away my whole life. But along with psychiatric help and medication, I slowly began to understand my mental state, and get myself out of it. 

A symptom of EU/BPD is 'black and white thinking', AKA seeing a situation as entirely good or entirely bad. While this can be a symptom of EU/BPD, I believe it's something many people can relate to.

'If I can't be the best at something, why do it at all?'
'If I don't succeed, then I have failed.'

I saw myself as only a failure over that first year after dropping out of university. Ultimately, I learned that even at your absolute worst, you're still capable of good. I forced myself to accept the fact that I had done bad things, but I was still capable of change. My future didn't have to be empty. 

The world isn't goodies vs baddies. You aren't successful or unsuccessful. 

I'm now back in University, breaking for summer after first year. No, I may not be in Oxford. I didn't get all of my A Levels. It's likely that I'll continue to deal with mental health symptoms for a while yet. I've had to defer some of my assignments due to my health this year.

That's okay. 

I'm sure my Granddad would have loved it if I did achieve My Life Plan by twenty-five.

But I bet he wanted me to be kind, hardworking and happy even more.

Hello! I’m Rachel, a 19 year old Creative Writing student originally from Wales, currently studying at DeMontfort in Leicester. I am diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, ADHD, anxiety and depression. 

Friday, 18 May 2018

Lowering Stress

Lauren shares tips to lowering your stress levels when it all gets a bit too much.

- Lauren

Stress seems like quite a normal emotion, doesn’t it? Everyone can be a little stressed, whether it’s in their personal or professional lives, or possibly even both. But what happens when stress becomes so great that it is no longer manageable? Stress can have a negative impact on our mental health states, leading to illnesses like depression and anxiety. Here are the following steps I would recommend in taking to help manage it…

1.       If you notice yourself becoming too overwhelmed, take some time out to relax. Do something which will ease your mind of its worries. It could be an activity that you enjoy. There are mindfulness colouring books, which are designed to help people with stress, anxiety or depression. Or perhaps a bubble bath will help you to switch off.

2.       Talk to other people, it’s very easy when you are feeling stressed to shut others out, not wanting to burden them with your own worries and concerns. But talking to friends and family can help you to unload any issues or problems you may be having. There may also be someone feeling the exact same way that you are.

3.       Try learning some breathing techniques, through meditation or mindfulness, so that you can try and relieve yourself from some of the physical symptoms associated with stress. Controlling your breathing can also help you to clear your mind from anxiety ridden thought patterns.

4.       Exercising can be a great stress reliever, as it increases the endorphins in your body, which are responsible for your levels of happiness. I personally find this an immense help when dealing with periods of great stress and anxiety. Yoga is a form of exercise which can also help to teach you to control your breathing and be aware of your surroundings.

These are just a few ways of lowering stress, whilst it is important to note that stress is a normal emotion. When it becomes overwhelming to the point of affecting your own mental wellbeing, it is important to seek help and support to help aid recovery.

Hi, I'm Lauren, I am a first year student studying Social Work. I suffer from Depression, OCD and anxiety, I am writing for Student Minds to try and help others.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

It’s Easier to Run

Michael discusses how he uses running to as a way to cope with depression and anxiety.

For a long time I struggled with depression and social anxiety and my two ways of coping with these feelings, avoidance and distraction. Now, having learned how unhelpful these behaviours are for my mental health, I have developed a new way of coping, running, which has been massively beneficial for my wellbeing. Here, I recall the destructive impact of psychologically running away from my feelings through avoidance and distraction, and the benefit of physically running for my mental health.

Firstly, avoidance. I would run away from social contact. I was convinced that people would see me as I saw myself, and whilst I had become numb to my own pain, I found that, around others, I felt an expectation (real or imagined) that I could only disappoint, an intensified self-consciousness and humiliation, and a heightened sense of vulnerability and misplacement. I distanced and isolated myself, pushing away and shutting down anyone that tried to reach out to me.

Second, distraction. I would run through life as fast as I could to try and distract myself from how I was feeling: I was running away from myself. In my desire to distract myself, I became unhealthily occupied by my University studies. For me, study was simultaneously a manifestation, an excuse and a comfort for my isolation; a psychological space to channel my self-dissatisfaction as perfectionism, whilst at the same time being one where I didn’t have to face anyone and where I could pretend to myself and others that my isolation was a choice that I was in control of.

Clearly then, these safety behaviours were destructive. They exacerbated the very feelings and insecurities that I was running away from. I lost both confidence and practice in social situations which simply reinforced my beliefs of inadequacy and misplacement. It’s like the harder I ran away from my feelings, the bigger the shadow that I was running from became and the harder it became to face. It had become a cycle that felt impossible to break out of. Not only this, but in running away from myself and others, I ended up shutting down any opportunity to get help or support. Just as I felt I couldn’t run anymore, I reached the finish line: the line in my life were I was finished. I was finished running and I knew that I had to, with some help, make some changes.

This is why I decided to run the Edinburgh Marathon for Student Minds. I am running, but this time I am running as an enabling and empowering physical activity, not as a destructive psychological defence mechanism. In doing so, I hope both to raise funds for Student Minds and to raise awareness of student mental health issues and the support available. I am still running but now, with the direction and support provided by Student Minds, I am moving forward. Increasing my physical activity has massively benefitted my mental health: I am eating better, sleeping better and have so much more energy to cope with life’s pressures. Sometimes, it’s easier to run.

If you would like to donate, you can do here:

Hi, I'm Michael. I'm currently a PhD student at Durham University and wanted to write for Student Minds about my own experiences of depression, anxiety and university life.

Coping with Stress

Tazmin shares her experience of stress at University and her tips for coping with it.
- Tazmin

Stress is a part of life, but when felt to an extreme level it can have life-damaging effects.

During and post-university you are going to be met with stress, but I believe part of the reason students become so stressed is because they’re surprised by how much pressure they’re feeling. You’re going to have moments in university where stress consumes you and if you already suffer with an anxiety disorder then the levels of stress, for you, may feel more extreme however, the ways you can deal with this are all the same.

Stress affects us all via our bodily responses, our thoughts and our behaviour. When recognising these symptoms, we can get a head start in learning how to recognise and manage them effectively.

Firstly, when you are feeling high stress every day, it can have an impact on your immune system, meaning you’re more likely to become ill and this illness will prolong itself – I’ve had a cough/cold for 6 weeks due to this fact – when I usually recover from them within 4-5 days at most.

Secondly, when we are feeling stressed, our mood will inevitably change, and we may feel high anxiety, fidgety and restless, overwhelmed, easily irritable or low and maybe even depressed. These changes in our mood then affect our behaviour, including changing the way we eat, causing bursts of anger, and causing us to use other substances more frequently, such as drugs and alcohol. We may also withdraw ourselves socially and naturally this can have effects on your personal relationships.

The effects of stress can be damaging and can prolong themselves in a way that impacts your mental and physical health. Therefore, there are a few things that must be said to attempt to prevent long withstanding stress levels - such as:

1. Don’t leave your work to the last minute, this should go without saying, but we’ve all done it and we’ve all felt the stress and pressure from doing so. It’s easy to say, ‘oh I’ve got plenty of time’ and then BAM it’s May and you’re like ‘oh no I’ve got no time’

2. Get an academic diary and USE IT! It will help you feel more in control and know what’s what.

3. If you’re a relatively free-spirited individual who would benefit from a little structure, make a realistic timetable including all the current modules, coursework and exams to be completed.  Give a reasonable amount of time per item and stick to it! If it’s not working for you, be realistic and change it.

4. Have time for yourself as overworking yourself doesn’t help your immune system either. Sometimes people stress about not doing anything and feel guilty – but we need time to recuperate and relax. Let’s say you’ve just handed in your dissertation but have an exam next week you need to revise for. Take a night off, then get back into it. You’re allowed time for yourself.

5. Be active, don’t just wake up and go to the library everyday – get yourself a gym membership, or just go for a long walk every now and then. Do something active to get those endorphins pumping and your mind distracted.

Now, these few things may contribute to preventing stress but you’re still going to feel stressed – it’s university and it’s a big deal! You’re paying a lot of money and you may feel swamped with work. I mean, I was often referred to as a ‘stress head’ during university and I did a lot of group work on my course and that energy can be infectious. If everyone around you is in the same boat and are talking non-stop about university and their work load, it can become overwhelming and you may feel like you need to take time out.

Be with you; watch your favourite show, go for a walk without your phone, take yourself away from the energy and know that with hard work – all will be ok.

To finish off, I have recently learnt a little Buddhist meditation practice that helps me when my mind starts going too fast with anxiety and wanted to share it. So, take a moment when you feel the stress taking over you, stop and look around you. Without judgement, in your head, or written down on paper think of:

5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch or reach out to touch
2 things you can smell
1 deep breath

And remember, you got this. Don’t let stress tell you otherwise – okay?

Hey everyone, I’m Taz. My journey suffering with depression and anxiety has been and can continue to be a difficult one; but I would not be who I am today had I not accepted my illness and work hard to get better. I have recently graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a First in Film and Media Production. I’ve been writing my blog Awareness for over two years and it has been truly rewarding for me. I write about the things many people fear talking about – our wonderfully complex minds. I wish to encourage anyone suffering through university and offer them a helping hand. Happy reading.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

How to prevent stress overflow: the stress bucket

Emma shares a useful analogy about stress to help students manage their stressors. 
- Emma Pratt

Stress is something that most of us feel the weight of regularly in our lives. From trying to juggle multiple deadlines, to revision, to trying to maintain a social life outside of university. However, there is a way to reduce it, and it only takes a few minutes of writing and planning (perhaps a task to do in your revision break!). Trust me, the stress this will save you is more than worth the effort it takes to do.

Recently, I learned that (and bear with me here) we can all be thought of as buckets for collecting stress – our stress being represented by the level of liquid within the bucket. We may have multiple taps pouring (stress) into our bucket; these can be anything from deadlines, to finding time for relationships, to noisy neighbours, but they usually fall into four categories:

Academic – something that we as students are all too aware of
Intrapersonal – stuff that affects us as individuals (e.g. eating a balanced diet)
Interpersonal – anything to do with other people (e.g. a strained friendship)
Environmental – things in the space around us (broken fridge, messy room etc.)

Eventually, these taps will pour so much stress into our bucket that it will overflow and we can be left feeling overwhelmed, down and de-motivated. 

There is a way out though! At the bottom of each of our buckets are more taps. These are the helpful kind as they can release some of the stress in our buckets, creating a buffer and reducing the risk of stress overflow. These taps are our coping mechanisms.

We have two main types of coping mechanism: problem-focused and emotion-focused. They involve either looking at our situation and engaging in behaviours to actively reduce stress levels – for example delegating tasks if your group-work is becoming overwhelming (problem-focused) or having a nice warm bath at the end of the day as you know this relaxes you (emotion focused). Both are helpful, so it may be useful to take some time to write a small list of behaviours you can engage in which include a mixture of coping strategies. By doing this, you’ve given yourself a tool to refer to when you feel stress overflow beginning to creep in.

Steps to prevent your bucket from overflowing:
  1. Identify the source(s) of your stress.
  2. Look at any unhelpful behaviours you engage in which may decrease stress in the short term, but only serve to recycle your stress and add to it in the long run (procrastination does count here, sorry!).
  3. Think about ways you can counteract the source of your stress (problem-focused strategies) and start doing them! For example, if your financial situation is stressing you out, counteract this by creating a budgeting plan or setting up a meeting with your bank.
  4. Consider some strategies to ease some of the negative emotions associated with stress, things that make you feel good – maybe an activity that relaxes you or spending time with people you love.
Some times of year are more stressful than others, and some people are more prone to suffering from the effects of stress, so it is important to be mindful of where your own stress levels are at. 

The key to remember is that you are the master of your own stress levels and you control the taps. If you take a few minutes to think how you can increase the number of stress-relieving taps, and minimise the stress-receiving ones in your own life, you may be surprised by the benefits!

You can find a video summary of this analogy, as well as some techniques to promote relaxation and wellbeing, at the mindwell website.

Hi everyone! I’m Emma and I study Psychology at King’s College London. I’m currently on a placement year working in the NHS – so (hopefully!) I can combine what I’ve learnt on placement with my experience as a student in my writing. I haven’t got much of a background in blogging/writing but I look forward to sharing my take on mental health and student life. I’m really excited to be able to contribute to the Student Minds blog as mental wellbeing is a topic I love to talk about and should never be overlooked!

Combating University Stress

Lucy shares her views on university stress and her methods of combating it.
- Lucy

Stress is something we have all probably experienced before. It seems to be a natural part of university life that we just put up with. Although that is the case, it can be very frustrating and exhausting and a lot of the time actually limits the amazing things we are capable of.

Of course, it is incredibly important to work hard and do your absolute best, but I don’t think we should have to suffer so much as a consequence.

Stress is something I have suffered with throughout my four years at University. It is also something that I have never been all that great at coping with either. All it does is worsen my anxiety, causing me to shut myself out from the world, as it was previously the only coping mechanism I know.

This is why I think talking about stress, and sharing tips and techniques we all use in our daily lives to combat it is so important. We all may be using certain ways to help ourselves, and someone else may find these tips incredibly useful too! Therefore, I am going to use this blog post to talk about a few of the methods I have used throughout university to help me cope with the stress.

1. Go for a walk. If I feel myself starting to get stressed, I like to get away from the work and go for a walk. Although it can be difficult to allow myself the time to do this, it always works wonders at clearing my head and putting me in a better position to get back to work again.

2. Read, write, be creative! Another way that works to reduce my stress, is to distract my mind from the work and do something creative. I study Psychology, which consists of a lot of academic papers and complicated statistic calculations. Therefore, it can easily become very exhausting. Therefore, doing something creative de-stresses my mind, whether this be through reading a fictional book or doing some writing of my own.

3. Have a relaxing evening to wind down. At the end of a long stressful day of essay writing, the thing I love most is to take the evening to relax and wind down. To do this, I run a hot bath, light some candles in my room, make a cup of tea, and snuggle down to watch whatever Netflix series I am currently binging. This is such an easy way to clear my mind of all the stressful and overwhelming thoughts that have built up throughout the day. It allows me to refocus my attention on things other than my work and to take some time for myself. During this time, I also like to switch my phone off, so I can fully shut myself out from any distractions and just focus on me. Times like this are when it’s important to be selfish!

4. Talk to someone. This is one of the things I probably find the hardest to do but it’s also the most effective. I’ve learned that it doesn’t always have to be the deepest of chats - it can just be as simple as talking to someone who understands what you are going through. Having friends who do the same course as you makes this super easy to do. Whenever I’m feeling stressed over an assignment, I’ll pick up my phone and text a friend, and chances are, they are feeling the exact same way! There is something about having someone who can totally relate to your experience that can prevent you from feeling alone in that suffering. As a result, this is a key way that I manage to alleviate my stress.

Although stress has become such a natural part of university life, it shouldn’t have to be so intense. I believe that we should all allow ourselves some time in the day to focus on us, to ensure we don’t let the stress take over. We are capable of so much and if we can find the balance between working hard and looking after ourselves, then nothing can stop us!

Hello! I'm Lucy, a Clinical Psychology Masters student at Anglia Ruskin University! Through studying Psychology and experiencing life as a student, I have become incredibly passionate about mental health and helping to make a positive change. I have been volunteering for Student Minds for the past 2 years as a Peer Support Facilitator at my university, and have been the Editor of the Student Minds blog since June 2017.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Competitive Burnout

Julia, a Sub-Editor for Student Minds, writes about 'competitive burnout' at University, the added stress this can bring, and how to juggle the demands of University Life.

- Julia

I’ve always been involved with lots of things in my time at university (and when I was at school), both extra-curricular and academic. Of course, why wouldn’t you want to do things that intrigue you or which allow you to challenge yourself? However, I’ve noticed that more and more at university there is pressure to do things for the sake of doing things. People feel that in order to be seen as competent or successful they need to have been in a play, written articles, and played a sport to a high standard… and all while maintaining top grades and an active social life.

Even more so, in the desire to come across as this successful and all-rounded person, it is now seen as important to show that you do more than anybody else, even showing off about being burnt out. At my university, it is incredibly common for people to one-up each other on how many deadlines they have and how little sleep they have been living off. While I think it is important that we acknowledge that there are times when university is difficult and we experience high stress, I don’t think it is healthy that it becomes a culture of ‘competitive burn out’. Particularly for students, like myself, who experience mental health conditions or other disabilities, the pressure to always be stressed can put a particular strain on our health or make us feel inadequate when actually we are intelligent and dedicated.

I still do lots of extracurricular because I want to; I take pride in putting work into my degree, and, yes, I certainly have a social life. However, being burnt out and constantly stressed is not a pleasant way to live your life, nor something to strive too. I encourage you to think about the impact of telling someone around you that you were up all night working on an essay, and doing twenty other tasks at once. Not only is it bad for your health and increases your stress, but it can contribute to the anxiety and imposter syndrome that many already feel at university.

It is okay to decide that you would benefit more from an early night than finishing an essay or to turn down an opportunity for an extra-curricular activity (even something you’d otherwise love to do) just because you feel you need some downtime. Sure, you might find yourself experiencing stress or lacking sleep during term time, but it is also okay to prioritise yourself over overworking.

I'm Julia and I'm currently studying music at the University of Oxford. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I've been keen to do work talking about mental health, as well as other disabilities. Alongside sub-editing for Student Minds, I am the Oxford editor for Blueprint zine, a website with articles on mental health started by students at Cambridge University, and I'm also the chair for Oxford SU's disability campaign. I am absolutely delighted to be able to help with the Student Minds blog, to allow other students to talk about their mental health experiences and make discussing mental health not taboo, but something people can discuss openly and unashamedly.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Living with Procrastination

Lucy shares her experience of procrastination at University and how to make the best of it so it doesn't hold you back.
- Lucy

As I sit up my kitchen side, staring at my laptop screen, while desperately trying to make a start on an assignment, I feel like now is the best time to write a post about procrastination.

Procrastination is something I am almost certain that everyone experiences at some point in their university lives (or life in general), and for some of us, it happens on the daily. This can cause a bit of a tricky situation, where that inability to force ourselves to do an assignment only ends up causing a huge amount of stress in the long run. At the time, it's so difficult to convince yourself that you'll be suffering much more from the decisions you are making now. Even if you're aware of that fact, for some reason, your brain just doesn't want to process it and take action. So instead, we continue to sit and stare at a blank word document and waste a whole day doing absolutely nothing, out of guilt for doing anything but that.

It doesn't really make sense when you think about it.

Fair enough, it's going to be one of those days where you just can't produce a single sentence without checking your phone or staring out of the window. However, why should that mean that we waste a whole day doing absolutely nothing because of it? I don't know about you, but when I find myself procrastinating, I'll find small and useless things to do while just sitting in front of that piece of work. For some reason, I feel guilty if I step away from my laptop screen and do something a little more productive, because then I'm no longer paying any attention to the assignment that should be in front of me. So as a result, I just end up wasting a whole day sat in front of my laptop screen, doing absolutely nothing, but still manage to feel a sense of achievement at the fact that I 'tried', when in actual fact, I just wasted a day.

That's where learning how to deal with procrastination can really come in handy. Having the ability to notice when you're procrastinating is the first step. But to then pull yourself away from the guilt you feel by not doing your work and to then distract your mind by doing something else instead, is the real game changer.

It's about learning to pull yourself away from that blank word document and teach your mind that it's okay to step away if you're incapable of being productive. It's okay to take a couple of hours off, or even a whole day, because as a result, you'll be allowing yourself to do something more enjoyable and also productive with that time. 
In addition, that time away may even provide you with a little motivation to sit down and get a few paragraphs written over a few days. Or it may even give you enough motivation to get the whole thing finished way before the deadline date, and escape all that last minute stress.

Procrastination can be incredibly difficult to live with because it consumes you with guilt, which leads to frustration, which ends up adding to the procrastination you are already experiencing.

Learning to accept you're having an off day is the key to overcoming it.

Learning to appreciate writing a few sentences as a success when you're really struggling, is the best way to remove the guilt and to keep on going.

Learning to allow yourself some time away from those deadlines to refresh your mind, can really help avoid those few days of stress as you reach a final deadline and still have a tonne of the assignment left to complete.

Procrastination can be difficult to live with, but it is possible to learn to live with it too. It's all about training your mind to remove the guilt you feel and instead, fill that time with something else productive that you're going to gain a little more enjoyment from, until you regain your motivation!

Hello! I'm Lucy, a Clinical Psychology Masters student at Anglia Ruskin University! Through studying Psychology and experiencing life as a student, I have become incredibly passionate about mental health and helping to make a positive change. I have been volunteering for Student Minds for the past 2 years as a Peer Support Facilitator at my university, and have been the Editor of the Student Minds blog since June 2017.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Home Stressy Home: How to Maintain a Happy Household During Exams

Elise shares how she maintains a happy household during the busy exam period.
- Elise Jackson

Whether you prefer to work from home, in the library with your Bluetooth headphones, or on the floor of a pitying friend’s bedroom, exam time can be a nightmare. You’re living off meal deals and triple shot lattes, everything you wear has an elasticated waistband and you’ve lost all sense of time. And you’re surrounded by thousands of people doing the exact same thing, a few of whom you live with. So how do you stay okay? In the spirit of listening, I asked my housemates what they thought were the most important things in maintaining a happy home, and here’s what they said:

Routine, Routine, Routine

To me, this is the most essential. My routine for the past month or so has been: get up at 7.30/8, library, work, lunch break with friends, work, then home around 3pm. Writing that out, I see I’m on a secondary school schedule. At home, I’ll do some lighter low-pressure work and often I do it with friends, sitting in the living room or garden together. I try not to work past dinner time, so I can get into my PJs, listen to a podcast or watch an episode of TV, meditate, and be asleep by 11ish. Most of my house are on the same schedule, and there is something about knowing each other’s routines that helps soften the stress a little. Additionally, I’ve found it really helps to check in with each other regularly – mainly centred around mealtimes.
Along that vein…

Don’t sacrifice your social life!

Make sure you still do things with your friends during exams – balance is key. The proportion of time you can spend going out will be hugely reduced, but that social need remains. Whether this means a board game, a cinema trip or, as my house have done, a weekly pub quiz, you can make it as low-key as you like. Letting off steam and reminding yourselves why you enjoy spending time together will make your house dynamic infinitely better, as well as allowing yourself the time off will do wonders for your mental health. No whiskey, though.

Get a change of scenery

Changing your space can really change your mindset. My house got into the habit of switching rooms to study in when working from home, as this maintains your bedroom as a place reserved for sleep and relaxation. If you can’t do this, then make sure you don’t eat in your bedroom – take your lunch downstairs, or the garden if you have one. If the day is particularly overwhelming, go for a quick walk, or offer to do a run to the shop for sweets. Get out, breathe the air, and come back ready to go.

Don’t expect too much of each other…

It’s likely that not everyone is going to be on their game. People will forget things, be snappy, and there may be some tears. The best way to tackle conflict is to acknowledge it when it happens, allow for it (within reason), agree to apologise and move on. Additionally, if you want to do things that your housemates don’t, or if there’s no milk, or if someone is doing something that just gets under your skin, consider letting it slide this time. Ask yourself that if you were in their position, what could you handle, and deal with it accordingly. Recognise that it might be a you problem, not a them problem.

… but keep yourselves to a standard.

Living in a student house can be gross at times, but there is a limit. During exams, no one wants to be cleaning the hobs but it must be done. Clean up after yourselves, take the bin out when its full, bleach the loo if it’s looking dodgy, replace the washing up sponge if its falling apart. Things that take two seconds now save aggro later.
Hold certain standards: keep the noise down in the morning and at night, don’t invite a bunch of people over without asking, don’t be completely horrible to each other and pass it off as ‘I’m just stressed’. If everyone is held accountable, things should run smoothly, but make sure you strike that balance, and maybe lower the bar of expectation just that little bit. You’ll be all the better for it.

So, there is some wisdom from a fairly well-functioning, fairly happy third year household. The biggest thing to remember is that, as much stress as you’re feeling right now, it will be over soon, and you’ll all still be together. Support one another, get into routine, and don’t forget to cut yourself a little slack and have a bit of fun every now and again!

Hello! I'm Elise. I'm currently in my final year studying English Language and Literature at the University of Nottingham. My writings for Student Minds will range from pieces about depression and DPD to coping with loss, bereavement and change during your studies - all the while remaining mindful and getting the most out of university life. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

What Doesn't Work?

Paula discusses unhelpful pieces of advice she has been given during her recovery from Anorexia.
- Paula

During my recovery from anorexia I relied on suggestions given by doctors, therapists as well as people who had already won the battle. I’d like to mention three pieces of advice that definitely did NOT work for me. Please keep in mind that everybody (and every body) is different, so if in doubt, always follow your team’s advice.

1. Keep your environment trigger-free.
In many treatment centres it’s not only a suggestion, it’s a formal rule. No health magazines with recent fad diets lying around. No discussions about food. Clothing must cover certain body parts.
I agree that trigger-free environment makes recovery easier. For example, reading a weight-loss meal plan just before being served a high-calorie lunch can make the meal extremely difficult. The same goes for looking at actresses with “perfect” (i.e. probably photoshopped) bodies when you need to accept your own weight gain.
However, our world is full of triggers for eating disorder sufferers. If I was getting a pound each time I hear someone talking about weights, calories, workouts or “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods, I’d be a millionaire. In my opinion recovery should let us live freely in the real-world, not only behind the walls of an eating disorder treatment centre.

2. Avoid cardio workout, but do some strength training and go for walks.
I believed this one for years before I decided to just quit exercise cold turkey. In principle building muscle is good for us, and it doesn’t burn too many calories. And walks? These innocent strolls in the fresh air? They can’t do any harm, can they?
Well, it’s more about the mindset than anything else. Sedentary lifestyle felt horrendous for me while I was recovering. I always felt I SHOULD do something, whatever, just as long as I’m moving. But guess what – healthy people don’t get anxious when they spend days going car-office-car-home. Challenging the fear of not exercising was one of the key parts of my recovery and helped me develop a healthy relationship with exercise.
Some might argue that exercise releases endorphins, so helpful for ED sufferers who tend to be depressed as well. However, if we follow this argument, there exists an excellent alternative method of getting the daily dose of happiness hormones. Chocolate. So think about it – if you care so much about endorphins, would you ever pick chocolate as an alternative to your exercise routine? If not, think about the reasons.

3. You need to focus 100% on your recovery.
Which means you probably should take a break from school/work, read recovery books and keep doing CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) exercises in your free time.
While I agree that recovery should be your priority, I also believe that one can overdo it. By no means am I saying that you’re allowed to skip meals or exercise “once in a while” (check point 2). However, recovery shouldn’t be about recovery, but about life. Chances are your ED made you forget who you are, what you enjoy, who you like. Therapy is important, but I think that the actual healing takes place in everyday life.
I truly started recovering when I began to build my life from scratch. Going out. Getting back to my hobbies. Making friends. You need some motivation to recover, something that will show you how much you’re missing when food and numbers are constantly on your mind. As long as your hobby doesn’t involve running or meal planning, go for it!

Whatever you do, make sure that the person in control is the real you, not the sneaky eating disorder. And if you haven’t found your voice yet (which is perfectly fine), always consult a trusted person. Never forget that recovery is possible!

Hi! I'm Paula, a PhD Maths student. I'd like to share my thoughts about mental health in graduate school.