At this time of term most are busy managing a demanding workload. It is a good time to remind ourselves of the benefit of looking after ourselves so that we can do well and keep well.
This week is University Mental Health day (4.3.21), and the university has organised activities to celebrate this event. The purpose is to raise awareness of the challenges of mental health problems, increase our understanding, and remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining healthy habits to feel well and do well. You can also check Student Services blog for links to resources.
Taking time to breathe and be present: It is normal to feel tense when under pressure, so to manage challenges effectively it is helpful to take time to pause, and be present.
Breathing mindfully enables us to regulate our body as the breathing taps into our body’s natural calming response. It gives us time to step back and observe our thoughts, without judgment so that we can understand what are the triggers that caused our reactions. (Gilbert & Choden, 2010).
Managing worry thoughts: When we are worried and stressed, it can be difficult to get out of this cycle of negative thoughts. It can increase the sense of restlessness and apprehension, reducing our creativity and limit our capacity to explore alternative options. It is helpful to write down our thoughts, as this action helps us to clarify how we are thinking and feeling. It helps to slow down the process to allow time to reflect on what is happening.
Develop a growth mindset: We can do this by challenging fixed ideas about our capabilities, such as thinking that we are not good at a particular subject. We then can redirect our views to reminding ourselves that our brains are continually being shaped by what we learn and by our experiences. It is good news as it means that we can learn and develop skills at any age and that with practise, we can grow and become more confident (Dweck, 2010).
Practising self-compassion: When we adopt an understanding view of ourselves and others and accept our vulnerability as part of the human condition, we are more able to recognise that we can make mistakes.
We can view these as part of the learning process so that we can correct errors to improve our work. It helps to acknowledge our feelings to reduce distress (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).
By being kind and patient with ourselves does not mean that we are selfish or lazy. On the contrary, it is essential for our wellbeing. When we treat ourselves like we treat our best friends, and we focus on our values (Henderson, 2010)
Manage time by creating a structure: Developing a structure for our day helps to manage our energy level so that we can focus on our tasks. Identifying our priorities helps us to organise what we focus on first and have a plan for when we do other tasks in order of importance. Having a structure also allows us to manage distractions as we are aware of our various tasks, which we have allocated time when we will do them, enabling us to keep present and focus on the task.
Creating a sleep routine: Sleep is essential to our body and mind. It sets us up for the day. Our body responds to cues in the environment, so creating a nighttime routine will help us sleep.
For example, dimming the lights at least an hour before bedtime, getting into pyjamas, turning all electronic devices off at least an hour before going to bed. Also, doing some relaxation like reading a book, doing breathing exercises, or listening to calming music.
Exercise helps us learn better: Exercise is the single most powerful tool we have available to maintain our cognitive functions and manage our mood (Ratey, 2008). Exercise supports and strengthens our cardiovascular system, and what is good for the heart is good for the mind. Going for a walk and doing some stretching exercises will help to maintain our flexibility and posture. The general recommendation is about 30 minutes a day, five times a week of moderate exercise, including aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities (White & Wojcicki, 2010).
Eating well: Good nutrition provides us with energy, and it contributes to keeping a healthy microbiota in our gut, strengthening our immune system.
A diet that contains mainly processed foods such as cakes, burgers, fries, and sugary drinks leads to a gut with low biodiversity in the microbiota, leading to experiencing tiredness, low mood, and reduced motivation. Health professionals recommend a Mediterranean diet – vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and proteins such as fish and lean meats. (Sonnenburg & Sonneburg, 2016)
Connect with others: We can talk with a trusted family member or friend. They can act as sounding boards and can provide a different perspective. Sometimes, we may be feeling lonely and we tend to isolate ourselves because it is hard to explain to others how we are feeling. One way of dealing with this feeling is to view it just like when we are hungry, we know that our body needs some food, so we get something to eat. When we are feeling lonely, we can do the same – acknowledge the feeling as our body telling us that what we need is connection.
Identify some activities that can be shared with others (going for a walk, having a coffee, preparing a meal, joining in an activity).
Seek support: We all can benefit from an external perspective when things are complicated, and we want to find a way to resolve a situation.
For information on resources available at the university click here.
Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and compassion to transform our lives. Great Britain: Robinson
Henderson, L. (2010) The compassionate-mind guide to building social confidence. California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Hillman, C.H. et al (2008) “Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects of brain and cognition”. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Volume 9. pp.58-65.
Jackson, E. (2013) “Stress relief: the role of exercise in stress management.” Health and Fitness Journal. American College of Sports Medicine. May/June 2013, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp14-19.
Medina, J. (2008) Brain Rules: 12 Principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. Seattle: Pear Press.
Ratey, J. & Hagerman, E. (2010) Spark. How exercise will improve the performance of your brain. London: Quercus.
Sonnenburg, J. & Sonneburgh, E. (2015) Gut Reactions. How Health insides can improve your weight, mood and well-being. London: Penguin Random House.
White, S.M, & Wojcicki, T.R. (2010) “Staying mentally sharp through physical activity.” American College of Sports Medicine. September, p.4-5