3 VIPs, one very important message!

Last week Reading University, along with many other universities around the country, marked University Mental Health Day.  Here at Reading, we welcomed three VIP guests to our Whiteknights campus.  Our 3 guests were very different from the normal ‘academic’ visitors but their individual contributions to student life are every bit as important as any visiting academic.

The first guest – and the one whose name that many of you will already be familiar with – was former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion and ‘national treasure’ Mr Frank Bruno MBE.

After participating in a mass Super Circuits event at the university’s SportsPark, Frank then spoke to a packed lecture theatre about the importance of facing up to and speaking out about mental health issues.  Frank’s own battle with mental health problems has been well documented and largely played out in the full glare of the national media, so it is a mark of the man that he is now devoting his energies to stamping out the stigma associated with mental health problems such as bi-polar disorder – from which he suffers.  Answering questions on his boxing career, mental health issues and his own ‘Frank Bruno Foundation’ this charismatic speaker entertained the audience with his amusing anecdotes and heartfelt plea to talk openly and without stigma about mental illness.

Sitting among the audience were two other equally important guests – whose names you probably haven’t heard of – but whose personal contribution to providing mental health support for students is exceptional.

Evan and Carol Grant lost their 21 year old son, Cameron, who unexpectedly took his life after a lonely 7 year battle with depression. Cameron didn’t seek help and no one – including his family and his friends at his Uni – knew that he was suffering from depression.  Cameron’s parents have established the ‘Cameron Grant Memorial Trust’, producing ‘Cameron’s Coasters’, customised drinks mats which they send to universities, local pubs and sports clubs, and other communities to encourage people to get help. The aim is that by putting relevant helpline numbers on coasters, they might catch someone who is vulnerable and reduce the chances of this happening again.   Reading is among the many universities who have benefitted from these free coasters which have been provided to all student rooms in Halls of Residence and are available from Student Wellbeing.

Evan and Carol Grant with Frank Bruno MBE

It was a real privilege to have welcomed three such outstanding campaigners to our campus who are working in their different ways towards the same aim:  to ensure that mental health problems are talked about openly and without fear and to ensure that students know that support is available when things get tough.

 

 

 

To see Frank’s hints for students: https://youtu.be/7Cr5U55hllQ

To watch the video of his Q & A session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kn8qzqKzeg

Cameron Grant memorial trust website:  http://www.camgrant.org.uk facebook.com/CamMemorial

Do you know what is happening in March?

‘Exercise not only changes your body, it changes your mind, your attitude and your mood’.

Oft quoted (but never with a source!) this phrase sums up the ethos of University Mental Health Day which falls next week on Thursday 2nd March.  The links between mind and body have been known for generations, but all too often we forget about how important it is to keep active when stress levels rise, and deadlines creep ever closer.  It can feel much easier to hunker down with supplies of Red Bull, chocolate and takeaways to get through the piles of work, rather than to waste/spend time going for a run, an exercise class, or even just a walk around the lake.  However, the benefits of physical activity for keeping adrenaline and cortisol levels in check definitely makes up for the loss of thirty minutes study-time – and let’s face it, most of us probably spend that much time on social media every day!

If you would like some inspiration on how to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine, or even be convinced about the mind-body links and the way that exercise can also promote mental well-being, keep your eye out for all of the activities that Student Wellbeing, the SportsPark and RUSU are organising over the first week of March.  This link is a great first port of call: http://student.reading.ac.uk/essentials/_support-and-wellbeing/worldmentalhealthday.aspx

Over the next week, if you do anything active, why not take a photo and upload it to the University’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages using the hashtag #UoRGetActive – there is a £50 Blackwells voucher for 1st prize, as well as a month’s free membership at the SportsPark and 2 x £20 Unique Fruits vouchers which can be spent at the weekly fruit and vegetable market in ThreeSixty.  (T&C apply).

As part of our awareness raising campaign, we are also really thrilled to be able to host “knockout” guest speaker and sporting legend Frank Bruno MBE on Wednesday 1 March.  Frank Bruno will be here to talk about his own well-documented struggle with mental illness and how sport has helped him through difficult times.

If you would like to meet Frank in person, get a cheeky Selfie with him, or build up a sweat for a good cause in our charity SuperCircuits, put WEDNESDAY 1st March in your diary.  Frank will be leading Super Circuits at the SportsPark from 1-2pm, and then will be heading on over to the Van Emden Lecture theatre in HUMSS from 2-3pm to engage in a lively discussion hosted by two Film & Theatre students, with an opportunity for questions from the floor.  Both events do need registering for, so please either visit the SportsPark website: https://www.sport.reading.ac.uk/  or follow the links on the Essentials pages.

Photo Copyright Getty Images

“Know what I mean, ‘Arry?”

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.

 

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.