Student Services News

News from the Student Services Centre (Carrington Building)

5 questions on… the Library

This week our series of mini-surveys will focus on the Library. You can let us know what you think and help us to improve our services by answering five questions about your experience before the deadline on Friday 22 March. what do you find most useful about the Library services? What could be improved? We’d like you to share your thoughts with us.

Don’t forget – our main undergraduate student surveys are also now live and we’re offering a prize draw to win VIP tickets to RUSU’s Summer Ball: www.reading.ac.uk/ug-surveys

5 questions on… The Academic Tutor System

We’re continuing our series of mini surveys, and this week we’d like to hear your thoughts about the Academic Tutor System. Is there anything you particularly like about it? Or anything you would like to change? Tell us what you think!

Help us to review and improve our services by completing our online survey before end of day on Friday 15 March. 

Don’t forget – our main undergraduate student surveys are also now live and we’re offering a prize draw to win VIP tickets to RUSU’s Summer Ball: www.reading.ac.uk/ug-surveys

Did you know that sport can help improve your mental health?

Third year student Megan, Vice-President of the Sport in Mind society, explains why sport is beneficial for positive mental wellbeing.

For some people university is the best days of their lives, but for others it can be a very stressful time. A recent report by the NUS showed that 78% of students worry about their mental health, but over half of them said that they did not seek help.

Sport is an excellent way to take your mind off of the stress of uni life, make new friends and release endorphins. As well as being great for your physical health too!

A study conducted by Yaffe (1981) investigated the benefits of sport on mental health on male and female participants suffering from depression.  Participants were split into 3 groups: a running group, a group given 10 sessions of psychotherapy, and a group that was offered unlimited psychotherapy. The study concluded that the running group was just as effective in alleviating depressive symptoms as the psychotherapy groups.

From studies like these, we know that sport can improve you mood, reduce stress, improve your self-esteem and prevent the onset of depression. This is at the very heart of what Sport in Mind stands for, what makes them stand out from other mental health charities, and why I’m working with Sport in Mind to raise awareness and help benefit students at Reading.

We’re a friendly group that runs free sport sessions every week on campus, and we’d love you to join in with our sessions. Find out more about the society and the sports sessions we run here.

I look forward to seeing you!

Megan

International students – take part in a feedback session and receive a £10 Amazon voucher!

We are looking for international students whose first language is not English to take part in a feedback session on Wednesday 13 March.

The session will take place in Edith Morley room 230 (Self Access Centre for Language Learning) at 2pm.

You will be asked to look at Big White Wall – an online wellbeing support platform – and fill in a feedback form answering questions about your experience.

As a thank you for taking part in the session, you’ll also receive a £10 Amazon voucher.

If you are free and would like to take part in the feedback session, please email studentcomms@reading.ac.uk

 

Big White Wall – free, online mental health support for Reading students

The theme of this year’s University Mental Health Day is about the power of using your voice and inspiring open and honest conversations about how you’re feeling.

But we also know that some people aren’t ready to use their voice to talk about their mental health yet – and that’s ok.

Opening up and sharing takes a lot of courage, so please know that you have an alternative space to express what you’re going through, without any fear or judgement.

The University has teamed up with online mental health service, Big White Wall, to provide 24/7 community mental health support. You can explore how you’re feeling in an anonymous environment and share how you’re feeling with a supportive online community.

It’s important to know that you’re not alone, and that there are others going through similar experiences.

All University of Reading students can register for free using their University email address. For more information, visit reading.ac.uk/big-white-wall

University Mental Health Day: How YOU can use your voice

As part of the many conversations surrounding mental health, we take time to talk about mental health for students on University Mental Health Day. Every year has a different theme to add a new perspective to the conversation, with this year’s theme being ‘use your voice’.

Although we may think that celebrities, social media influencers, politicians and anyone else who has a platform can have real impact on society when talking about mental health, it’s also important to be aware that you don’t need to have two million followers on Twitter or Instagram to be part of the conversation.

It’s just as important to talk to your friends, family, flatmates, course friends, or even those in your sports team or society. After all, we all have mental health and everyone’s experiences will be different which is why the support networks around us are so important and labelled support networks for a reason! So, make sure you make time to talk about things you may not do normally. It can be as simple as checking your friends are okay to getting coffee and having a chat – it doesn’t have to be an in-depth conversation about the complexities of mental health!

Another thing is to make sure you listen to this advice and apply it to yourself. It’s very easy to concentrate on other people and support them instead of realising where your own mental health is at. If you feel that your mental health is starting to decline, then make sure you talk to someone, you’ve got to use your voice and let people know that you’re not okay. We can all shape the conversation around student mental health, and remember, it’s always the right time to talk.

Dan Bentley,
RUSU Welfare Officer

Beating depression

We all have days when our mood is low, and we feel sad or miserable. Usually these feelings pass in due course. However, if the feelings are persistent and interfering with your daily life, it could mean that you are experiencing depression. For University Mental Health Day, student Elliot shares his story.

I used to be depressed. For 15 years, I struggled with something I didn’t comprehend, knowing only that I’d sometimes wake up so despondent, it was like a stomach-curdling pain. At worst, I was so dulled that day-to-day activity was dream-like, and I was alternating between extreme oversleep and days-long insomnia.The impact was gradual, but huge. Grades plummeted, socialising became an unconquerable pressure, and sports began feeling like a pointless drag. I began withdrawing, and was in a constantly alternating state of apathy or resignation at what seemed like a listless reality I couldn’t escape – and a nervous, directionless anger at what I felt my life had become, and the circumstances I believed responsible.

Somehow, I got to university (riding off past records of previously excellent grades). It became quickly – and painfully – obvious how ill-prepared I was, both emotionally and socially. Self-isolation, lack of interest, and lack of participation had left me on the outskirts of the university experience, and ever-present apathy made coping with university-level study nearly impossible.

These days, I’m no longer depressed – I want to talk about how.

Wanting change

I didn’t have an epiphany – but I do remember thinking this wasn’t what I wanted, or the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted instead – just not THIS.

I started seeing a counsellor – which while helpful in the short-term, wasn’t quite enough. So I sat down and Googled ‘how to overcome depression’. A particular writer spoke of similar experiences, and in particular, a critical realisation: after waiting years for circumstances to change so his attitude could improve, he thought he’d try changing his attitude first, then seeing if his circumstances changed as a result.

He also acknowledged my reaction to reading that – it sounded like the trite, feel-good mantras on social-media image macros.

Then again nothing had helped in over 10 years, so what did I have to lose? And in the end, this was the key for me – but first I had to understand what depression is, as well as why it happens.

What is this?

Eventually, I had three ways to define depression (one of which is completely anecdotal):

  • A clinical diagnosis

A significant period of low mood, accompanied by low self-esteem, general loss of interest, a sense of pain, and sometimes, false beliefs or even hallucination. Because of its generality, it affects every element of your life, including work/study, and relationships. It also has major health implications, since it can be connected to existing health problems.

  • A state of mind

Anecdotally – I also knew it to be a sort of weird place where completely obsessing over my problems was the norm; rather than putting efforts into an actual solution.

  • A neurochemical mechanism

When you think, neurons form connections in your brain. The more you use this pathway (i.e. think this thought) the clearer the pathway gets, and the more likely this pathway gets used in future. It’s the same mechanism that allows revision and memorisation to work – the more your brain follows certain patterns, the easier it’ll be to reproduce them in future.

So depression is you getting trapped in negative thought patterns – which are just overused neuronal (i.e. mental) pathways, which in turn distracts from actually working out and implementing solutions to problems.

This is what gave me the key to a step-by-step process that allowed me to leave depression behind:

How to conquer depression

  • Stop negative thoughts

True or not, negative thoughts (about yourself, others, your abilities, others’ abilities, etc.) make you feel terrible. They pull you down until those negative thoughts are your normal, and you need to be able to push them out completely. Early on, I had to mentally yell ‘STOP’ anytime I caught myself having negative thoughts about myself, others, or life, which was often.

  • Replace negative with constructive and future-focused

Not ‘happy’ thoughts – self-affirmations are nice, but aren’t a long-term solution. I think a more productive focus is the things you’re doing to improve yourself, your career, or a skill you want. Are you making music? Working out regularly? Studying a subject you’re crazy about? Learning a new hobby? Anytime you start thinking negatively, instead force yourself to think about the progress you’re making, how desirable the end-result will look, and how much you want what it is you’re working on.

This ‘crowds out’ the negative thoughts, meaning they stop making you feel as bad, and can’t come back since you’re instead focusing on the things you’re doing to improve yourself (bonus – the more you think about these – and feel good about them – the more progress you’ll want to make).

The kicker, of course, is that you need to be doing something to improve yourself. I’d highly recommend something physically challenging but really most things are fair game as long as you’re interested in it and getting better at it either because you like it, or you want to make long-term improvements to yourself (for me – I was working out a lot and learning about cooking).

  • Force it

Something that an initial writer I stumbled across warned of – which I knew to be true – was that these mental changes would have to be forced. It doesn’t feel natural – which makes sense, when you think that you’re having to force your brain out of a heavily ingrained neuron-pathway.

Early on was difficult – and I failed many attempts to improve myself.

Don’t get down on yourself. It’s ok. It’s like learning anything new. Just take it easy, and do it for a bit longer next time. And then again for the next time. And again. After a while – this is something you won’t even have to think about, but getting there is a process.

My experience of long-term care, and medication

The process I’ve outlined above is what I credit with getting me out of negative thought patterns that plagued my depression. That being said, I found that this wasn’t a complete fix.

Depression had become a fixture of my life. While the process always got me out initially (and still does), I found that certain things would trigger it again. In particular, being in a position where I wasn’t moving forward, or when I felt like I had no options. Thus, I had to learn to always be improving myself in ways I cared about, and always creating options if I felt trapped.  And for some people – this is enough. Stay vigilant about your thoughts, stay constructive, and always be progressing in something (be it hobbies, career, relationships, or some other long-term plan).

But EVEN then, I found on occasion, debilitating bouts came back. Far less frequently than before – but still, they returned, even when I had no REASON for it. At this point, when all other options have been exhausted medication became something I decided to finally explore.

Do your research, speak to your GP. The first week had frightening side-effects. I waited a long time to use it, and only as a last resort. They are in no way a quick-fix (or even a first-hand fix), but I can say that they seem to have been the final piece in the puzzle of permanently managing the more unpredictable surges, but only after I had my mental resistance and awareness sorted.

Moving forward

Not everyone makes the changes. I’ve known plenty (including family and friends) who waited their entire lives for change, not being able to escape damaging thought cycles and depression. But depending on ‘getting things’ or changes in circumstances to make you happy, or fix depression will always fail – no matter how much you get, it’ll never be enough to make you happy.

It comes down to you. No one saves you – not ‘things’, not family, friends, lovers, mentors, or heroes – because this battle is inside your own head. You are very simply the only one who can change how you see life, and the world.

And that’s good. Because the truth is, and always was, that breaking the back of depression is a power in your own hands, and in your own head. Your fate, your future, and your direction are entirely yours to decide.

So. If you haven’t already – here’s hoping that you grab the reins and start steering.

 

5 questions on… Your experience of catering on campus

Our new series of mini surveys will ask you five questions on different aspects of your experience at the University of Reading.

This week, we’d like to hear your thoughts about catering on campus and our different cafes and bars. Is there anything you particularly like or dislike about them? This is your chance to tell us! Help us to improve our services by completing the survey before the end of Friday 8 March.

Don’t forget – our main undergraduate student surveys are also now live and we’re offering a prize draw to win VIP tickets to RUSU’s Summer Ball: www.reading.ac.uk/ug-surveys

My experience of yoga with Sport in Mind

Third year student Gemma tells us about her experience of doing a free yoga session with Sport in Mind.

Sport in Mind is a local mental health charity that uses sport as a way to combat anxiety and stress for students. Every Monday 10:30 – 11:30 there’s free yoga sessions at Sportspark and anyone who is feeling stressed, anxious or struggling in some way, or who wants to do something positive for your mental health can come along. It’s really easy to join the session – just go to SportsPark reception and tell them you’re with Sport in Mind.

I have only ever done Yoga in the comfort of my own home following Youtube tutorials so I was a bit nervous of the prospect of doing it in front of others as a beginner. However, the class was very relaxed and perfect for beginners as it was a small class and the instructor was there to give guidance.

We did poses that I had tried before such as downward facing dog, but also some that I hadn’t tried such as Warrior 2, Trikonasana and Utkatasana. At the end we also did a breathing exercise called ‘alternate nostril breathing’ which sounds strange but it is used in yoga and meditation to focus and calm the mind, and restore balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain. I went with my housemates and we all found it very relaxing.

Yoga can be hugely beneficial for the body as well as the mind – here’s why:

Body

Yoga focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing. Moving and stretching in new ways will help you to become more flexible and release tight areas. At university we seem to spend a lot of our time hunched over computer screens and on our phones, so it can be a great way to release some of the tension in the neck and back that this causes.

Yoga also helps to build strength in your muscles as you are taught to hold positions over the course of several breaths. Holding these positions also help you to improve balance and build core strength. Focusing our attention on breathing and teaching how to take deeper breaths can help clear the nasal passages, and even calm the nervous system which has both physical and mental benefits.

Mind

As soon as you start breathing deeply and become more aware of your breathing, you calm your nervous system and slow down the fight or flight mode that we often don’t realise we are in. This helps to reduce stress and anxiety. A gentle practice of yoga also releases a chemical called Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain which suppresses the neural activity that leads to anxiety.

Yoga also helps with posture and bad posture adds to backache, headaches which can stimulate or add to depression. Yoga is learning to relax and calm your mind and body; doing this on a Monday morning is a great way to help you reset your mind for the week ahead.

If you’re interested in trying yoga to help you de-stress and feel less anxious, I’d really recommend coming along to a Sport in Mind session. You can go every week, or you can just go when you feel you need it – there’s no judgement or expectations.

Improving student mental health with Sport in Mind

Sport in Mind is a charity that believes that sport can help people experiencing mental health difficulties. The charity runs a variety of sport sessions on a weekly basis around Reading and the Berkshire area. The charity aims to simply help and support as many people as possible through their free sessions.

Mental health at university is a serious and very important topic, and Sport in Mind recognised that students could really benefit from their sport sessions. Along with other students, I volunteered to work with Sport in Mind to set it up as a voluntary RUSU society so that all students could access free sport sessions on campus.

The goals and passion behind the society is to help any student experiencing mental health issues and to raise awareness of mental health. We really believe that sport is an excellent way to take your mind off of the stresses of university life, make new friends and release endorphins that trigger positive feelings. Yoga, tennis and badminton sessions are run weekly and are led by sport coach professionals.

Below are some quotes from volunteers and students that have attended Sport in Mind sessions:

“Sport in Mind is a great charity to be involved in and I’m very excited to be part of an organisation raising awareness of the importance of sport for wellbeing and improved mental health and my experience so far has been very enjoyable. I can’t wait for the activities and events that we will plan in the future and to further get people involved in a great organisation.”

“I believe sport in mind is a great charity which focuses on a very current issue – mental health. It’s a unique and great idea which doesn’t only promote a healthy mind, but a healthy body also.”

 Our sessions are open to all students at the University and completely free. Please do come along to a session if you’re experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, or if you’d like to try sport to help boost your mood and promote positive mental wellbeing.

If you want to know more, you can contact us at: rusportinmind@gmail.com

Leyla, President of the Sport in Mind society

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