14 ideas to tackle everyday anxiety and stress – things to action

Ever think, why do I feel so stressed so often? Ever wonder what you could do, to help yourself be calmer? We’ve come up with a list of ideas that offer you a “selection box” – choose the ones you fancy trying out!

  1. Sleep

Make sure you’re getting the amount you need. Enough sleep can help you feel confident and capable about the tasks in the day ahead. Too little sleep will leave you feeling physically and emotionally low from the minute you get up.

  1. Smile

Everyone needs a break from the seriousness of study now and then. It’s best if you can share a laugh with a friend or course-mate. If no-one’s around, watch a funny YouTube clip – limit yourself to 3 to benefit.

  1. Tidy

Mess in your room leads to stress in your mind. When your room’s tidy, your mind feels calmer. Take 15 minutes at the beginning or end of the day, to put stuff away, giving yourself a calm environment.

working in a tidy living space can make a real difference

  1. Appreciate

Start a journal. In it, at the end of each day, write 3 things that have gone well.

  1. Eat

Avoid sugary and processed foods, which can increase symptoms of anxiety. Try to eat foods like eggs, oily fish, nuts, soya products, fortified milk and wholegrain cereals, that contain omega-3s, Vitamins B and D, especially important in autumn/winter to compensate for less sunshine.

  1. Breathe

Lengthening and strengthening the breath sends signals to your brain that it’s OK to relax. Slow your breathing by counting: in for 7, out for 11.

  1. Meditate

take some time to meditate and relax

If you like the idea of meditating, look it up and give it a go. It’s now understood that meditation can regulate your stress and anxiety levels, and distance yourself from negative thoughts. Give your mind a break and experience the long-term effects.

  1. Unwind

What would you most like to be doing? Playing the guitar? Drawing? Playing football? Cooking? Swimming? Creative writing? Reading? Watching a film? Running? Something completely different?  Give yourself permission to spend at least an hour a week with this as your focus.

  1. Disconnect

Noise and busy-ness easily lead to stress and anxiety. Starting with a length of time that feels manageable, maybe 5 minutes at first, find a slot each day when you turn off all electronics, ask friends not to disturb you, sit comfortably, and switch off from the world.

  1. Worry

Schedule a specific time every day to worry. Before you start this routine, decide what your post-worry activity will be. Make a promise to yourself that, for example, from 6:00 to 7:00 each evening, you’ll worry about everything that’s on your mind at the moment. Set an alarm, and ask a friend to text you when the time’s up.

  1. Plan

This is similar to being tidy. Develop habits that support you in being calm, e.g. pack your bag for the next day, the night before; put your keys in the same place each time you come home; back up the work you’ve done on the laptop before you close it down.

  1. Visualize

Imagine yourself easily managing a challenging situation. Picture yourself coming through it smiling and confident. “Guided visualisation” or “guided imagery” are techniques that can help reduce stress levels.

  1. Smell

This isn’t suggesting you don’t wash! Try buying some calming oils to scent your clothes or room. Basil, anise, and chamomile are great choices; they reduce tension in the body and help increase mental clarity.

  1. Socialise

Take a walk round campus with friends

Being with other people we get on with has a chemical impact on our brains, producing oxytocin, an anxiety-reducing hormone. So when you start feeling stressed or anxious, turn to others for a chat, or a walk round campus.

Some of these might just not feel right for you. Try to select at least 4 that you could build into your usual way of dealing with life.

If your levels of anxiety or stress don’t respond to these ideas soon enough, go and ask for medical or counselling help. Don’t suffer alone.  The University’s Counselling & Wellbeing service is on the first floor of the Carrington building – room 106.


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?”


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
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.


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.

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?


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

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