Friendship

most of us can count on the fingers of one hand how many close friends we have

Conduct a survey of what constitutes a good friendship and, irrespective of gender, cultural background or marital status, chances are the same answers would come back: a good listener, someone who understands, good company, someone who’s there for me through good times, and bad.  Whilst the concept of a ‘friend’ may have changed in this era of social media dominated by Facebook where you can have hundreds of virtual ‘friends’, in everyday real life the reality is that most of us can count on our fingers how many close friends we have.

You might not immediately associate the Student Wellbeing Department as being a place where great friendship is on show, but, daily, touching displays of friendship are witnessed.  This can range from a friend encouraging a distressed course mate to sign up for counselling, a tearful first year discussing how much they miss their friends back home, or a mature student talking about how their friends and partners understand the journey that they are on, and support them in their academic venture.

Often it can be difficult to be a friend to someone who’s upset, or experiencing mental health difficulties and it isn’t always easy knowing how to talk to someone or show concern without worrying about saying the wrong thing or inadvertently offending them.  Yet, research undertaken by the N.U.S (2013) shows that students are most likely to turn to their friends if they are distressed.

With this in mind, the Student Wellbeing Team, in conjunction with Student Minds regularly runs workshops called Look After Your Mates which seek to increase your confidence in opening up conversations about emotionally difficult subjects, such as mental distress.  If you would like to participate in the next workshop running on February 15th between 11am – 1pm, sign up via the following link: http://goo.gl/forms/ICc4HMrBeU  or contact counselling@reading.ac.uk for more information.

 

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Albert Camus

Feeling Lonely?

Returning to Uni after the Christmas break, with lots of people around you, you might not expect to feel lonely.  And yet, simply being in the midst of lots of people, doesn’t mean you won’t experience a ‘feeling’ of loneliness.

When asked about loneliness, people usually say it is caused by one of two things:    Either, being isolated – which might include not speaking to or seeing other people very often; or it’s the feeling that although you are with other people, it seems they aren’t concerned about you and that you aren’t really understood; Perhaps this is how you are feeling.

Feeling lonely can be something that you experience just for a day, or it can be longer-term.  If you have been feeling like this for a while, then perhaps it’s time to do something to help yourself, or to ask for help from others.

The mental health organisation Mind (http://www.mind.org.uk/) say you should think of loneliness as being a bit like hunger. Hunger is your body’s way of reminding you to eat. Loneliness is the mind’s way of letting you know that it wants to socialise. So what is socialising?  Socialising doesn’t just mean going to a bar or clubbing; it can mean watching a TV series with someone else, playing a board-game, or chatting and hanging out in one of your rooms or kitchen together. It’s all about making a connection with someone.

Simply being in the midst of lots of people doesn't mean you won't experience a 'feeling' of loneliness

Simply being in the midst of lots of people doesn’t mean you won’t experience a ‘feeling’ of loneliness

Try to make the most of other people’s company.  When you are in a crowd, sit still and listen. Most people are very keen on being listened to, so you’ll make a welcome addition to a group. Even though it might be hard to do, try to make eye-contact with the others so they know you’re interested and taking in what they’re saying.

If you aren’t sure what to talk about, try asking someone about themselves.  Most people are willing to open up on a neutral topic, and this can lead to finding out about each other. What are neutral topics? Very simple ones are what subject they’re studying and what made them choose it; Where they come from;  Do they have brothers and sisters?  What do they do in their spare time? Then, how about music preferences? Favourite TV shows? YouTube clips they’ve seen recently? Be prepared to share some of your own answers to these questions though, so it doesn’t just become a long list of questions!

It may be that you need some quiet time- we all do after a busy day.  However, sometimes you may notice that you feel like hiding from the world and others, by playing games on your phone. While this sometimes works in the short-term, helping you feel less awkward, in the long-term it cuts you off from contact with people around you, leading to a deeper feeling of isolation. Could you keep your phone in your pocket and know that it’s there, while trying to get to know people? Then you will seem more approachable, and it’s more likely that someone will respond and smile back at you.

Perhaps it feels like you have such a unique attitude to life that no-one else could understand how you feel. So although you know plenty of people, you miss feeling close to them because you assume they can’t empathise with you. But could you be mistaken?   Think about the others you live with. Who’s the most on your wave-length? On your course, who seems most similar in outlook? If you can find the courage to open up and tell them a bit about yourself, you could eventually build a friendship.

how about joining one of the sports groups or societies to meet new people

how about joining one of the sports groups or societies to meet new people

There are other ways to overcome loneliness:  If you missed joining a society or club at the start of the year, you could always try it now;  RUSU has a list of the clubs and societies who always welcome new members – whatever the time of year.

How about joining an online community that’s focused on an interest you have?  Remember to keep safe online. Take a look at our ‘Personal safety at university’ leaflet – It’s on the Essentials page under Support and Wellbeing.

Maybe you could consider some volunteering in your spare time? Charity shops are always grateful for an extra pair of hands, and you’ll meet people on the staff team, as well as customers.  If you don’t want a regular commitment, RUSU organise a number of volunteering events, including one-off events:  https://www.facebook.com/RUSUVolunteering

Or maybe you could get involved in volunteering as a student tutor in one of the local schools – just contact studenttutoring@reading.ac.uk for more information.

If you feel loneliness is impacting on you severely, Mind is a mental health charity that can provide online/phone support:

Mind’s Infoline:  9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).

0300 123 3393
info@mind.org.uk
Text: 86463

Mind says: “Elefriends is a supportive online community where you can be yourself. We all know what it’s like to struggle sometimes, but now there’s a safe place to listen, share and be heard.” Elefriends.org.uk

Pick up our Reading Uni leaflet on “How to gain Social Confidence”, from the wall pockets in the first floor corridor of the Carrington building.

If you’re really struggling, don’t forget the Counselling Team is on campus. Come in to Carrington Building, room 106 and register any weekday between 10 – 4. We’ll contact you soon with an appointment to speak with a counsellor about how you are feeling.

 

How long did you keep your New Year resolution?

spring crocus

New Year is a time for resolutions – but how are you doing with keeping them?

Did you make a New Year resolution this year?  How are you doing with keeping it?  Not good?  Don’t worry – you aren’t alone!  While 75% of people manage to keep resolutions through the entire first week of January, in the longer term the numbers fall off alarmingly!

New Year Resolutions started many years ago.  In ancient times, the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts – both good resolutions to make –  while the Romans made promises to the god ‘Janus’ after whom the month of January is named.  In the past, I too have made well intentioned resolutions at the start of a New Year.  Like many people I have had great ambitions to make changes to my life.  In a survey of the top 10 New Year Resolutions undertaken by an American university, Resolutions ranged from the more obvious – lose weight, getting organised, spending less and saving more  to  the slightly less usual such as ‘helping others in achieving their dreams’.

So what constitutes a good New Year’s resolution?  It’s all about trying to break bad habits and this is bound to be difficult isn’t it?  Perhaps the problem is that most people try to set too many resolutions or alternatively make ones which they are unlikely to achieve.

daffodils

now you’re back for the spring term, new year resolutions might feel harder to keep

It might be that now you are back for the spring term, you are finding it hard to keep your own New Year resolutions – but don’t give up just yet.  Research shows that people in their 20’s are far better at achieving their resolution each year than people over the age of 50.  Possibly the problem is more to do with the difficult changes you are trying to make?   Perhaps you could do with a few tips to help you keep going?

I asked some of the Student Wellbeing staff if they had any helpful ideas for achieving positive change after the break.  I asked them to base their advice on the types of issues which they talk about with students coming in for Counselling and Wellbeing appointments.  Here are a few of their suggestions which you might like to try out:

  • Be modest in your ambitions – don’t set yourself unrealistic targets such as going to the gym three times a week if you’ve never set foot in one before! This is going to be disappointing if you can’t follow through.  Think instead about more realistic targets such as walking to town more often rather than catching the bus, using the stairs in the Oracle Shopping Centre rather than the escalator.

    why not try walking into town rather than taking the bus!

    why not try walking into town rather than taking the bus!

  • If you are struggling to keep going on your own, perhaps ask a mate to join with you – for example exercising together, stopping smoking together – it’s much easier to keep resolutions if they’re shared.
  • And if the resolution is falling by the wayside and you are starting to feel negative…one way of focusing on positive changes is to make a conscious effort to acknowledge the positive in your life every day. It’s very easy to reflect on negatives e.g. I should have gone to the gym, I shouldn’t have eaten all that pizza, why didn’t I say ‘no’?  Focus on what you can do next time to keep you going.  Try again.  Experiment by allocating a bit of time every day to notice positive things eg. it didn’t rain today, I had an alcohol-free day, my bank balance is looking healthy for a change!

All the best for the coming year and good luck with any resolutions you might have made.

 

MANXIETY…is it really a thing?

Ok, so you’ve probably heard of man-flu and mankini’s, but manxiety….?  Is this a rising phenomenon, is it something you should be aware of, does it even exist, or does it belittle the experience of anxiety experienced by men?  The term ‘manxiety’ is undoubtedly emotive, and you may well have a strong reaction to it, and in some ways that in itself is a positive as it gets people thinking and talking about anxiety.  Current estimates are that 8.2 million people (men & women) experience anxiety to a level that would be considered ‘clinical’.

So, why is it that anxiety and men is such a hot topic currently to the point that a new concept has been invented?  The rise of technology has its part to play – increasingly we are spending more time on social media and gaming, and it has become common place to hear people mentioning that they were chatting with their friends when they mean that they exchanged a couple of WhatsApp messages.  It’s very easy to hide how you are feeling when your chosen method of communication is a few carefully chosen words, or banter.  It’s also very easy to become plagued with self-doubt when everyone else seems to be having a better / easier / more interesting time than you.

Dressing like this is bound to bring on a bout of manxiety if nothing else! Source: https://dtuoscf35xuyg.cloudfront.net/556-large_default/borat-mankini.jpg

Dressing like this is bound to bring on a bout of manxiety if nothing else! Source: https://dtuoscf35xuyg.cloudfront.net/556-large_default/borat-mankini.jpg

Expectations are also at play with socio-cultural shifts and changing understanding of the role of men in society.  Our grand-parents generation had very clear role boundaries: the man was the main breadwinner, went out to work, wasn’t required to contribute much to child-care, and it was acceptable for them to disappear off into the shed / pub on a regular basis.  Nowadays, men’s roles are shifting and if anything, men are often still expected to be the main earner in a household, but also contribute to housework, be in-tune with their emotions, sensitive in the bedroom, and have a ‘six-pack’ to show.

Are you experiencing manxiety?  Signs that it might be time to ask for help:

  • Avoiding seminars as they are too intense & you might get asked a question;
  • Making excuses not to go on a night out when you used to enjoy going;
  • Feeling sick, or using the loo a lot before a presentation or interview;
  • Going red or getting excessively sweaty when in a new situation;
  • Being overly forgetful;
  • Getting easily agitated or put-off task.

Whether or not manxiety is a helpful term, the central point is that men do experience anxiety, and there is lots of support out there to help manage, and overcome it.  The Counselling & Wellbeing Service is a good start; we can provide 1:1 personalised input if you want to talk to a real person.  But, if that feels too daunting, CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably):  http://www.thecalmzone.net.gridhosted.co.uk  ) specifically targets men, and seeks to offer on-line support to a group who can often find it difficult to talk about how they feel, to acknowledge if they’re going through tough times, and possibly struggle to ask for help.

Everyone else seems happy!

“Everyone else seems to be having fun, but I’m finding uni stressful. Am I doing something wrong?”  Is this something you find yourself thinking?

Here’s something to consider: ‘Facebook. How much do you believe of what people post on it?’  Are most people you know, likely to post about the downside of life? Or post pictures of themselves looking less than perfect, or having a difficult time?   Some people work hard to keep up that positive image on-line, and even harder to maintain the façade in real life.  When we’re face-to-face with a relative stranger, we all tend to want to come across as confident and fun to know. But underneath that confident exterior, most people have doubts about themselves, things they wouldn’t want others to see. You’re not the only one.

You can ask yourself “How can I manage stress better to feel stronger?” 

Firstly, it might help if you acknowledge to yourself that actually, academic work at uni is meant to be quite demanding.  Think back and remember how much effort you made, just to get here.   Revising for your A levels, writing a personal statement…..and now you’re here, that effort and work goes on. At the end when you graduate, that’ll be validation of all that you’ve done here.

group of students study group

Think about getting together a group of ‘study buddies’

So, If you’re having a hard time academically, what about forming a small group of study-buddies?  See if anyone wants to talk about the meaning of the latest assignment for half an hour or so. It’s so much better when you have others’ perspectives too. Another source of help is Study Advice, for any kind of academic question:  www.reading.ac.uk/studyadvice

Make sure you’re also taking care of yourself physically, to give yourself the best chance to cope with the change from home life to uni life first. Think about what you are eating as this can have a huge impact on how you’re feeling about everything!    Make sure to drink plenty of water as well as whatever else you’re drinking.

Then start thinking about cultivating a good relationship with yourself.  No-one needs to be perfect. When things go wrong, stop and think: would I forgive someone else for doing that? If you accept others as ‘good enough’, what about easing up on yourself?

Socialising can be fun, or can be a stress-point. At home you probably had old friends you’d known for years.   Making new ones is going to take a while. Just because you didn’t get asked along when your flatmates went out isn’t a reflection on you. Another time, instead of waiting to be invited, decide what you’d like to do, think about who else might enjoy that, and suggest it to them. Be prepared to maybe hear that they’re busy – if so, suggest it to someone else. People who have a good time don’t give up on their plans when others say no, they just find someone who’ll say yes.

Best Night In

Are you one of Facebook’s 1.13 billion daily users?  Do you find it hard to resist posting a cheeky photo of a raucous night out, or an amazing activity that you and some mates got up to over the holidays?  Do you like catching up on what antics your old school friends are up to?

If yes… think back to the last time that you scrolled through your friends’ Walls – were there any pictures of them chilling at home, or enjoying doing something that wasn’t a huge adrenaline rush?

In our more rational moments, we know that someone’s Facebook profile isn’t the full story of their life, but at times, it can be difficult to sort out the fact from the fiction.  It can also sometimes be difficult to remind ourselves that people can have ‘down-time’ too, and just because their Wall is full of happy, smiling, party images, it doesn’t mean to say that they don’t also occasionally miss home / their old friends / crave a duvet day / enjoy doing things that don’t involve a 2am bed-time or copious amounts of alcohol.

During the first few weeks of university, there can be a lot of pressure to go out, or be ‘seen’ to be constantly up for social events.  After a while, this can take a toll on your pocket, not to mention your energy levels.  You don’t need to constantly go out to make new friends, many of the best nights in are spontaneous; sharing a cuppa and chat, binge watching a box-set, skyping an old friend.  Or why not arrange a bring-and-share flat meal, try out a new exercise class, have a board-game challenge, or have a pamper party?

Student Minds are running a campaign to encourage people,  to post pictures on Facebook or Twitter of them enjoying a great night in and reclaiming social media.  Why not take part?

Picture

Cultivating Positivity for the new academic year

Here we are, a new term, a fresh start. So how can we make the most of this opportunity, to feel fit, happy, healthy and productive for this academic year?students at a cafe

Cultivating a Feel-good Mindset

Everything we think, say and do creates a feedback loop of positivity or negativity in our lives. Try using positive language when you speak to others and even with the thoughts in your head. Feel thankful for the smallest of lovely things, a funny message from a friend, the ducks swimming on the lake, if we notice the good things along the way we can add to our list of ‘Gratitudes’ for the day, increasing positivity.

feel thankful for the smallest of lovely things...... the ducks swimming on the lake

feel thankful for the smallest of lovely things…… the ducks swimming on the lake

Positive Action

Any small action can make a difference. Ask for help, seek wise advice, do 20 minutes of your academic work, or 20 minutes of exercise. Focus on what you can do today and let go of things you can’t fix. All these actions will help to reduce stress.

Avoid ‘The Voice of Futility’

We all have a critic in our head that can sabotage our peace of mind and even our motivation to do things. Remind yourself that this is just a negative thought, it’s not a fact. Notice any small good thing as evidence against it. Whether you’ve managed to speak to a new potential friend, gone for a walk in the fresh air, or spent half an hour in the Library starting that new assignment, these are reasons to celebrate how you’re proactively contributing to the positivity in your life.

Creativity: your BFF

If you’re faced with an issue or a problem that’s difficult to resolve, try using your creativity to come up with a different way of finding a solution. Draw a mind-map or write a pros and cons list, distract yourself with a creative activity like drawing, photography or music for a short time, then return to the issue with a clear and open mind.

Mind your body

Your physical health is vital – so take some exercise that you enjoy

Your physical health is vital in your quest to feel positive and happy in your life. So brush up on your cooking skills and try some delicious, healthy, balanced meals. Drink plenty of water. Take some exercise that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, a team sport or a dance class. A good night’s sleep can be a challenge at Uni, but a healthy routine is the foundation of your mental and physical health.

The tools work if we use them, so have a go and enjoy your year.

I’m Going to Uni !!!

3 female students walking across campus

new friendships and experiences are all part of Uni life

So, after many months of thinking about what you might be studying and which University you might go to, the time finally came to pack your suitcases –  and now you’ve arrived at Reading University. You’ll have come with books, a laptop and the phone number of everyone you know and you are looking forward to taking home a hard earned degree plus a few new friendships and experiences.

Like many other new students, you may be wondering about the prospect of meeting new people and of being able to adjust to living away from home and managing all the day to day responsibilities this entails. It is to be expected that your emotions may be mixed in the early weeks. Living away from home for the first time is one of the biggest transitions anyone will make in their life and so there are lots of ways the University can support you to enhance the experience and welcome you.

girls rugby

why not try joining a new society or group? rugby is just one of many you can join

Perhaps you may want to join one of the many societies that will be starting up again in September? With over 150 societies to choose from such as Board Riders, Chess or Debating to Photography, Real Ale and Rugby why don’t you sign up for something that grabs your interest as it’s a great way of meeting like minded people in your first year. For more information check out the University website here:  http://www.reading.ac.uk/ready-to-study/student-life.aspx and don’t forget to go along to the Societies fair and Sports Fair organised by RUSU in Welcome Week or try out a taster session for the society or sport – to see what it’s all about.

Of course you can also organise social events yourself;  maybe now is a good time to approach other new students and ask if they would like to do something together. Have you noticed others who seem to enjoy the same things as you? Perhaps watching films, liking similar types of music   or going running?

look out for people who like the same type of music

look out for people who like the same type of music

Someone has to be the first person to ask … why not take the opportunity and see what happens next?

Making new friends who you can share the experiences of University life with is one way of working things out if something difficult comes up, but there may also be occasions when you want to talk to someone in a professional role here.  The Counselling & Wellbeing service is open each week day from 9.00am until 5.00pm on the first floor of the Carrington Building.

The Student Helpdesk is on the ground floor in the Carrington building

Counselling & Wellbeing are on the first floor of the Carrington building

Students come to talk about a whole range of things such as missing home and family,  conflicts with other students, relationships issues and academic worries. If you feel you would like confidential support then please contact us either by calling, emailing or dropping in personally.

Tel 0118 378 4216

E mail: counselling@reading.ac.uk

 

Growing up in two different cultures

It can feel strange when you’re one person outside the family house, and another at home. You want to show respect to your parents and elders, as you’ve been brought up to do, but you love the freedom possible away from them, too.  Negotiating the line between the two can sometimes be disorientating.

Are you wondering about your identity?  And where do you belong?

The nice answer to this could be that you span both cultures. You’re the human equivalent of a bridge,

Think of yourself as a bridge between two cultures

Think of yourself as a bridge between two cultures

in a way that others born into only one culture could never achieve. From this angle, being bi-cultural allows you many positives: to appreciate both kinds of music, food, ways of thinking, clothing, family relationships….

international students

Could you join or start a University Society to get people together?

A drawback could be always feeling a little different, in each culture, as you have the advantage/disadvantage of understanding both perspectives.  Meeting up with others in the same position – born into a family with a distinct cultural identity and living in Britain – can be reassuring, as everyone’s dealing with similar issues. Are there any support groups on-line for people of your ethnic background? Could you join or start a University Society to get people together to discuss this situation?

If there are issues around culture that you can’t see how to resolve, think about coming in to the Counselling & Wellbeing service to make an appointment.   The reception for Counselling & Wellbeing is in the Carrington Building, first floor, room 106 and you can register any weekday between 10 – 4.   You can talk things through confidentially with us.

What is your Ikigai?

The Summer months are here, and for some of you that means graduation, celebrations and the prospect of finding work. Some people may know exactly what they want to do for their next stage of life, while others have not yet decided.

Beginning your working life can be liberating, you become more independent and feel fully a part of the adult world. You may make new and wonderful friends, discover skills you never knew you had and be inspired to try different aspects of working life or even travel abroad. The opportunities are many and varied. And of course, vitally – you can earn your own money!

But what makes us happy in our work? Fortunately nowadays we are no longer trapped in the position of having to stay in one job for the rest of our lives. What you do over the next few years, may be entirely different to where you might be in 10 or 20 years’ time. We can gain skills and experience wherever we are and transfer them to other positions. So variety might be the spice of life for you, or perhaps you prefer a steadier and more secure path?

The Japanese have a word to encompass how we can find happiness in our work, it’s “Ikigai,” essentially it means ‘a reason to get up in the morning’.

Ikigai 1 (1) resized

The diagram shows us through interconnecting circles how we can achieve Ikigai, right in the centre, through finding meaning and purpose in what we do in everyday life. It is possible to feel purposeful in any role we may take on, we just have to be aware and notice it.

It may not be easy to hit upon one job that can provide us with all the Ikigai criteria, but it is possible to choose one form of work that offers us a couple of them, whilst another or even a hobby provides us with the rest. The key is to find balance and fulfilment for a healthy, mindful and creative life.

So when you say your good-byes to the University of Reading, there may be normal jitters about the unknown challenges ahead, and hopefully there will also be exhilaration for the opportunities and experiences you may seize along your way.