Thursday, 22 January 2015

How you can get support at university

- Becky McCerery

University is a place of new experiences, new people and new priorities! It’s no surprise then to find a large majority of students experience stress, mental distress and sometimes even isolation during this big period of change. There are, thankfully, many ways your university can support you if you have had difficulties concerning your mental health. Not only can they provide preventatives so your risk of struggling in the future is greatly reduced, but they can also make sure the impact of stress from exams is cushioned by a support network and fun releases. Here are some ways to make sure university is a supportive environment for you:



  • Keep your university in the loop – If you start struggling, whether that be with mental health difficulties or exam stress, your university needs to know! They can help and support you whilst making sure you stay on top of your work and assignments. If you have struggled with mental health in the past (even if you feel you are coping when you first start the semester) applying for DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), putting your name down for guided self-help group classes or even just letting your lecturers know that you have experienced mental health difficulties and distress previously will be of a huge benefit to you. Unless they're in the loop, your university won’t be able to give you leniency on deadlines, support you through stressful times and let you access mental health support on campus. All of this will make your journey through university much smoother.


  • Join a club or a society – Make university life fun and enjoyable by joining a society to meet like minded people; it'll help you build a strong support network. In addition, joining a sports team will up your activity levels and give a healthy stress release, which will make the stressful times more manageable! Making the most of your time at university is vitally important. While generally the main reason you’re at university is to bag that degree and pave your way into a dream job, there’s thousands of opportunities while you're there to make friends and explore new interests.


  • Consult your GP – It’s vitally important that one of the first things you do when you move away from home for university is register with a local GP. If you’ve had mental health difficulties in the past, book an appointment at the beginning of your semester to let them know about your past - it'll make accessing any professional help through the NHS easier and more efficient. Your GP can recommend any group therapies or charities local to you in your new city, or get you in touch with mental health services to support you for as long as you need.


  • Stress and Time Management – I’m a huge advocate for perfecting stress and time management skills! They will be invaluable throughout your life, but they are of particular importance at university. Your institute should let you know of deadlines in advance, and with the correct time and stress management techniques (you’ll find what works best for you) these deadlines should be attainable. Even so, an unforeseen incident may occur that affects your ability to meet these deadlines whilst producing work to the best of your ability. If this is the case, your institute will be able to extend deadlines, give authorised absences and even cater your exams towards your new needs.

A lot of people see their university as a source of stress and worry. They feel bogged down by deadlines and revision and can feel isolated and sometimes hopeless as things to start piling up. But by being aware of what your particular institute could do for you as well as implementing any preventative measures to make your time studying a little more plain sailing, you can really make the difference between looking back on your time at university and thinking: “That was so stressful and difficult - I’m so glad it’s over” or thinking: “Wow, that was hard work - but what an incredible ride!”

Thursday, 8 January 2015

What is the best way to create a new year’s resolution?

- Grace Anderson, Student Minds Blogger

As the New Year dawns upon us many of you are probably brain storming New Year’s resolutions for 2015, perhaps to resolve bad habits such as giving up smoking, drinking or eating junk food. Or perhaps some of you have more than one resolution and instead have a whole list of things that you would like to change - if you’re anything like me this is 100% true!

However, psychological research has suggested that trying hard not to do something, ironically leads you to perform more of these negative habits. I can see that puzzled look on your face, so why is this?

This effect has been referred to by psychologists as ironic mental control. The ironic part is that by trying not to do or think of things or the desires for something, this seems to actually bring them on more strongly. Therefore, the problem is that when you are trying hard not to do something and are trying to supress desires, you tend to go overthink and do even more than you would otherwise do. The brain is a very weird and complex thing hey! But in a funny way this does make complete sense and explains why again and again and again we frequently make New Year’s resolutions every year and then break them, within a very short period of time.

Thus, Dan Wegner (who studies in the field of ironic mental control) has argued that the only way in which New Year’s resolutions should be made is to keep them positive and constructive. Perhaps try getting more fit or try that hobby or club you always wanted to do. This is because negative resolutions have been found in psychological research to be hard to control due to them requiring constant effort and many invasive distractions. Therefore, do something new this year, create a positive resolution as this should be easier to control.

So rather than making the New Year’s resolutions to not do something this year, instead determine to be more positive and do something!

One way in which these do’s can be achieved is by finding a ‘buddy’; someone who also has similar positive resolutions and then you can bounce off each other and help with motivation when it’s lacking.

Most of all, don’t be too hard on yourself and set unrealistic goals that you won’t be able to achieve. Start small and you may achieve a bigger goal.

Here’s to 2015 and I wish you all a Happy New Year :)

Monday, 5 January 2015

How I overcame my depression

About this time last year, I was depressed and had recurring suicidal thoughts. I had a difficult time finishing my degree and felt like failure. Today I am full of energy, mainly because I read the works of Aaron Beck and Martin Seligman on depression and happiness, after which my depression disappeared entirely and my level of happiness increased 60%. Beck popularized the ABCDE model that I use every time I face a setback. Seligman provided a series of strategies to do every day to become happier.

Aaron Beck and the ABCDE model to counter sadness

Beck found that we react more to the stories we tell ourselves after an even that to the adversity itself. An Adversity (A) has the Consequence (C) of a sad feeling. Between the Adversity (A) and the Consequence (C), Beck found the Belief (B) to be hugely important. With the same adversity, different beliefs lead to different consequences. Beliefs are a set of thoughts so automatic that we hardly recognize them. Unlike the adversity, which is set in stone, the belief is something we can Dispute (D). The best way to do so is to prove that it is factually incorrect and offer hard evidence against it. This Disputation may lead us to feel Energized (E).

Here is an example of the ABCDE model:

- Adversity: I got a bad mark in a test

- Belief: I am a bad student, will probably fail the exam, and have little value

- Consequence: I feel sad

- Disputation: let's look at the facts: I got into Cambridge, got good marks in the other tests, and have an internship for the summer

- Energization: I do have value after all

Martin Seligman and the daily practice of happiness

Unlike most psychology research in the 1980s, which studied mental illnesses, Seligman decided to study happiness. Similar to Beck, he found that two important characteristics of beliefs: whether we see things as permanent versus temporary, or pervasive versus specific. For example, if you get a good mark in a test, you may think that you were "lucky in this course" (temporary and specific), or that you are a "good student in any field" (permanent and pervasive). Optimism and hope consists of interpreting bad events as specific and temporary, while seeing good events as permanent and pervasive

Seligman also recommends these exercises to increase your level of happiness:

(1) what-went-well today (or three-blessings): every evening before sleep, I sit down and look for three things that went well during my day and why. I try to find permanent and pervasive aspects of those three good things. (Seligman warns that "it may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.")

(2) gratitude letter: every so often, I find someone I never properly thanked, such as my mother, a close friend, or a mentor, and I write a gratitude letter. I reflect on what they mean to me and why I am grateful. Then I contact that person, ask for a face-to-face meeting, take out the letter, and read it slowly.

(3) signature strengths survey: I took the Values In Action survey and found 5 signature strengths among 24 universal qualities (judgment, discipline, spirituality, etc.). I grin every time I see the result from the survey, try to use them often in my day-to-day, and feel invigorated when I do so, thinking "try and stop me now!". (Go to Seligman's page at the University of Pennsylvania, click "Questionnaires > VIA Survey of Character Strengths", create an account, and answer the questions for about 10 minutes.)

To learn more about both of these models, I recommend reading:

Martin Seligman, "Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment"

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