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: 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:


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.

Giving Presentations

In spite of stress, anxiety, awkwardness …..

Recognise any of these feelings in the lead-up to giving a presentation? Even the most practised performers can experience these emotions. Think of singers like John Lennon, who performed on stage thousands of times, but who was often sick before his live performances.  Adele, and the actor and public speaker, Stephen Fry, both suffer from stage fright. Being in front of an audience is stressful. But the adrenaline of these ‘nerves’ can energise you, too!

check out the study advice guide for hints and tips on presenting in seminars

check out the study advice guide for hints and tips on presenting in seminars

If you haven’t looked at the Reading University Study Advice ‘study guides’ yet, make sure you’re well-prepared academically, by reading them through.  The guides can be downloaded at:

or you can download the full range of Reading University Study guides to your mobile via the Study Advice free study skills e-book.  Just check out the study advice web pages for more information.

How often have you heard, ‘practice makes perfect’?   The main benefit of practice is to develop your familiarity with the task in hand.  As this familiarity increases and the words become almost routine, feelings of anxiety decrease, and so impact your performance less.

practice your presentation in advance so that you feel calm and confident giving it to your class

How about trying these two techniques?

  1. Recite the presentation content from start to finish at least 5 times. By the time you’ve done this, you may be bored – that’s the idea!  Once you know your material so well, you should feel confident in delivering it to others. Try another 5 times, focusing on your voice.  Slowing the speed down makes your presentation easier to understand, and betrays your anxiety less.  This creates a virtuous circle – people can’t hear the anxiety, including you!
  2. Then, find a kind friend or someone you like, to say your presentation in front of. Perhaps you could do the same for them. (If you can’t find anyone willing, at least record yourself, to replicate the effect of someone watching you.) Get the person to sit on a chair facing you, to keep silent, and to give you feedback afterwards about your body-language, eye contact, and clarity of speech. Are there parts you rushed through? Was it loud enough?

Doing this will help you feel less anxious when you get up in public, knowing that you’ve already presented your material to at least one person in a similar set-up.

…… smoothly delivering your presentation in a calm, clear voice.

Keeping Active to Tackle Exam Stress

As you approach the oncoming exam period, it is extremely important to stay active and to not spend all of your time shut away in your room or hunched over books in the library. Keeping our bodies moving at times of anxiety and pressure enables us to cope more readily with the stressors which face us.

Take time to go outside, get some fresh air and keep moving

Take time to go outside, get some fresh air and keep moving

You might not know, but the word Exercise comes from a Latin root meaning “to maintain, to keep, to ward off.”   These words have special meaning for those of us who want our brain to stay healthy and be mentally sharp. We need to keep our bodies moving (especially our legs) or they will literally give out on us when we need them most. If you have been forgetting things or have brain fog it just might be lack physical exercise that is causing the problem.

exercise is good for the body - even just taking a walk across campus

exercise is good for the body – even just taking a walk across campus

We all know that exercise is good for the body, but it’s incredibly good for the brain too. Exercise zaps harmful stress chemicals. It boosts problem-solving, planning and our attention span. Exercise increases the oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by a rise in mental sharpness.

The human brain evolved under conditions of almost constant motion.  From this, we could predict that the optimal environment for processing information would include motion. Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.

Another factor to consider is endorphins, the chemicals released by the pituitary gland in response to stress or pain. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins which tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria. This allows the pleasure associated with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine to be more apparent.

3 female students walking across campus

Exercise is important in boosting your mental well-being too

Not only is exercising in moderation good for your overall health and fitness, but it also boosts your mental well-being. Exercise will help keep you calm during exams. You’ll feel more energised and refreshed, and that will help you perform better in your studies.

You could try this: To Wake up your Brain in the Morning:

As you wake up while you’re still in bed, slowly begin to move your toes – any way that feels good. Wriggle, scrunch, and stretch. Move all your toes up and down several times, or work just your big toes.

Wiggling your toes activates nerves that stimulate your brain and internal organs.  Do this exercise first thing each morning or after sitting for an extended period of time whilst revising. It will help you to wake-up and become alert more quickly. Your whole body may feel pleasantly energized.



Positive self-talk

How do you think about yourself?  Do you sometimes use phrases about yourself that actually describe mental health issues? The urge to use extreme descriptions probably comes from social media, where there’s a tendency to exaggerate, to avoid being ignored.

Maybe it is time to reflect…..

Ask yourself – would you use these terms about yourself in your mind, or in casual conversation?

I had a breakdown.”  Would a better description be that you cried for a while over something upsetting?  There could be a confusion here with the expression, “I broke down in tears”.   That’s a healthy reaction to something sad.   An actual breakdown is much more serious and in some cases it could involve hospitalisation.

I was depressed.”   Perhaps a better way to describe your feeling would be to say that you were understandably sad about something that’d got you down, and then managed to pick yourself up and carry on with normal life fairly soon?  Depression is a medical condition that lasts longer than a few hours – many people who suffer from depression do so for months or years.

I had a panic attack.”   A better way to describe this might be to say you felt stressed about a worrying situation, and wondered how you were going to deal with it?  A panic attack usually leaves someone unable to manage daily life for an extended period.

It’s hard to have a balanced view and feel you’re coping, if you’re using extreme labels for normal reactions to the things life throws at us.

I’m normally a happy, bubbly person.  Being ‘down’ just isn’t me.”   It may be better to think whether this really is the case?   Perhaps feeling upset (one of the range of normal emotions) is something you find hard to tolerate?  We all prefer being happy, but being human means feeling all sorts of different things from time to time. Now and then we all experience sadness, disappointment, anger, loneliness, grief, and other so-called ‘negative’ emotions.  How would we appreciate happiness, if we never felt anything else?

A different approach to your self-talk could be to focus on your feelings in a mindful way.   To find out more about Mindfulness, have a look at our leaflet:

There are ‘Life Tools‘ talks on Mindfulness each term, which can help you accept your current emotion and recognise that it’ll pass – important for your wellbeing.

Look After your Mates

Today is University Mental Health Day…not a lot of people know that… It’s also National Salt Awareness Week, FairTrade Fortnight and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
So much to be aware of, so little time……
However, if there is one thing that you do today, let it be having a bit of extra time and space for your friends.   A recent N.U.S survey revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly not only that rates of stress, depression and anxiety are increasing for students, but also that students are most likely to talk to their friends before family or professionals.
Student Minds has put together a campaign called ‘Look After Your Mates’ designed to help people support their friends more effectively, and also feel less overwhelmed themselves. So what simple steps can you take to help your friends?

• Make time for them;
• Try not to be a ‘fixer’ of their problems, but offer them time and a friendly, non-judgemental listening ear;
• Encourage them in their endeavours;
• Find out who might be able to help, if you feel that professional help might be more appropriate.

look after your mates

Eat well to ‘Boost your Brainpower’

At this time of year when you are studying hard, your good intentions to eat healthily can often slide way down your list of priorities. It’s all too easy to get into the habit of drinking coffee or high sugar drinks and ordering take-away pizza, because you don’t want to waste time on food preparation. However research shows that good regular nutrition is all part of a successful study plan because it enables you to perform at your best.

try to eat a piece of fruit every day to boost your brain power

try to eat a piece of fruit every day to boost your brain power

We’ve all heard about the benefits of starting the day with a good nutritious breakfast, however this is very often the meal that is skipped due to time constraints. It is so vital to start the day with some protein, calcium, fibre, fruit or vegetables, which might sound difficult, but is actually very easy. For example, a bowl of cereal with milk and a piece of fruit would do the trick or a piece of toast with peanut butter and a banana. Alternatively if you are short on time, try a cereal bar, a glass of milk and an apple or whiz up a smoothie in a blender (see recipe below), these can be eaten ‘on the go’ and are full of nutrients to kick start your body and mind.

It is also worth knowing that certain foods are ‘Stress-busters’ and can help to boost your resilience. These include: Zinc which is found in lean meat, eggs, yoghurt, cheese, whole wheat, popcorn, nuts and seeds; Vitamin C which is found in all fruit and vegetables; B Vitamins found in Whole-grains, Marmite, yoghurt, beans and avocado; and Magnesium found in dark leafy vegetables, grapefruit, sweetcorn, nuts and seeds, raisins, carrots and tomatoes.

dark green veg such as spinach and kale are full of  magnesium and vitamin C

dark green veg such as Swiss chard, spinach and kale are full of magnesium and vitamin C

By incorporating these nutritious foods into your diet, you will be not only feel more energetic and able to focus, but will be boosting your brain power and mental health.

So, why not challenge yourself to make eating more healthily part of your study plan for 2016, if you start now you will give yourself the best chance to feel motivated and energised for the rest of this academic year and for the upcoming exams in the summer… Go on it’s worth a try!


Breakfast Smoothie

Serves 1

1 banana – cut into 4 pieces

Frozen berries – 1 handful

Pineapple (tinned) – 2 dessert spoonsful

Water – 1 small cup

Plain Yoghurt – 2 dessert spoonsful


Put all of the above and blitz till smooth, then drink and enjoy!

Making time to talk

Did you know that up to one in four of us might experience some form of mental health difficulty in our lifetime? Yet, whilst we happily regale others with details of our colds, allergies, bowel movements or physical aches and pains, many of us are reluctant to even hint at any mental health difficulty.

Hopefully things are starting to shift, and we can all start to feel more comfortable about admitting to lecturers that we experience anxiety when delivering presentations, or sharing with employers that we find the winters particularly difficult because of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  However, it is an undeniable reality that there is still stigma around mental health problems.

Whilst not suggesting that we all suddenly don personal billboards stating we have depression/anxiety/bi-polar disorder etc, there are small steps that we can all take to start making it easier to have a conversation about our collective mental health.  If you think about it, one in four people means that three in four people know someone with a mental health problem.  That’s someone in your lecture hall, someone in your house, someone you work with….someone in your family.

So what can you do to start this conversation?

  • Ask someone how they (really) are…and wait to hear the answer;
  • If you notice someone is less upbeat than usual, suggest doing something together;
  • Ping someone you care about a text to show you’re thinking of them;
  • Make someone a cuppa;
  • Do the washing up / tidying / shopping, without being asked, to show that you care.

time to change

Time to Talk Day is Thursday 4th February 2016 – do one small thing; make a difference.

bird graphic for tweets#smallthings