Wellbeing & Support

Creating together

The shorter days, chilly weather and January deadlines (alongside living through a pandemic) surely haven’t made it easy to feel positive recently. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects 10% of the population (huffpost) and almost one in five adults (19.2%) were experiencing some form of depression during 2020 (ONS), so it’s now more important than ever to protect your mental health and happiness.

 

A proactive, self-compassionate and practical approach is the best way to make sure you maintain mental wellness during this cold, Covid ridden time. Whilst we can’t always control our emotions or avoid getting a bit down, there are a number of helpful habits and simple steps you can take to boost your mindset and stay mentally healthy this winter. Here’s 5…

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Stay socially connected

The old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ really does hold some truth. Whilst we may be limited to the number of face-to-face conversations we can have, that doesn’t mean you need to keep your thoughts/feelings to yourself or lose contact with people you care about. From Facetime to Snapchat, there are endless ways to reach out to and check up on your peers.

Even a simple text message to a friend, asking them how they’ve been or if they’re coping OK could make a big difference to both of you. Not only will you be reminding your pal that you’re thinking about them but you’ll be giving yourself the chance to express how you’re feeling in a conversation with someone you trust.

The winter weather and lack of sunlight can make it very easy to hide away inside in your room without really seeing anyone or experiencing much interaction, but this is far from ideal when it comes to your mental wellbeing. Next time you’re popping to the shops for some groceries or crossing the street, try giving a socially distanced smile to a stranger or wishing the person behind the counter a good day. What may seem like tiny/insignificant exchanges can add up to help combat any feelings of isolation or loneliness.

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Make time to move

During a season where our energy is naturally lower and the urge to hibernate is particularly strong, exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do… but humans aren’t designs to be sedentary creatures and even a little daily movement can do wonders for your mentality.

I wrote a full blog post for the MIND charity about the advantages of exercise here, but to summarise: whether it’s a brisk walk outside, a home yoga workout or a zoom HIIT session with your pre-lockdown gym buddy, moving your body has proven long and short term psychological and emotional benefits.

Scheduling a specific part of your day to dedicate to exercising in a way you enjoy, that makes you feel good can prevent that dreaded lethargic feeling that comes from a day of being glued to your desk from the minute you wake up. Treat your movement like a meeting or lecture so you’re not tempted to ‘forget’ and prioritise it as an act of self-care which will have guaranteed positive effects on your productivity, mood and energy levels (not to mention your physical health and physique!).

 

Seek out student support services

It’s important to remember that no problem is ‘too small’ or ‘minor’ to deserve support. If you feel your mental health starting to suffer this winter and aren’t sure where to go or who to speak to, I encourage you to have a look at the wide range of resources on offer at NUBS.

From weekly ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ emails and drop-in sessions with the business school wellbeing advisor to long-term student support plans and online wellbeing workshops, there is something to suit everyone depending on their issue and/or schedule.

Perhaps there’s a particular piece of work that’s making you anxious or a family affair you’d like some objective advice on, Student Services can provide mental health support which is anonymous, understanding and flexible to your needs. It’s all completely free and accessible virtually, so why not take action and explore your options?

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Nail your night-time routine

In his book, neuroscientist Matthew Walker claims that ‘a good nights shuteye can make us cleverer, more attractive, slimmer, happier, healthier AND ward off cancer’. Whilst that’s a rather ambitious statement, there’s no denying that when you’re experiencing low mood or psychological stress, sleep quality is often one of the underlying reasons.

Having good ‘sleep hygiene’ and creating the habit of ‘winding down’ before bed with a set of calming, ritualistic practices can set you up for a better sleep and prepare you for a positive, productive following day. As a student it’s easy to forget the importance of catching enough Zzzs, but with no nightclubs or parties to go to at the moment, this is an ideal time to improve your night-time routine.

Try turning your phone off half an hour earlier, brewing yourself a (non-caffeinated) hot drink and aim to get into bed at roughly the same time each night. This will allow your body to establish a good circadian rhythm (sleeping pattern) and regulate hormones like serotonin effectively, to boost your chances of sleeping soundly. Armed with the energy of a decent night’s rest, you’ll feel able to take on the challenges of the current circumstances and be less susceptible to the mood-compromising effects of these short winter days.

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Get grateful

With summer holidays a seemingly out-of-reach ambition and the uncertainty of the world sending most of us a little mad, there’s no surprise that it can be difficult to remember the positives or be thankful for everything you perhaps take for granted. However, gratitude is a really great way to maintain a healthy/optimistic attitude and research has shown that students who are higher in gratitude are less stressed, less depressed and had higher perceived social support (positivepsychology.com).

The easiest way to get grateful is to sit down at the end of each day or week to reflect on anything and everything that’s made you smile, feel good or reminded you of something happy. It can be as seemingly small as your first cup of coffee in the morning or a funny meme on Instagram – if you’re thankful for it write it down. You should find that the more you practice gratitude, the easiest it is to identify and be thankful for all the blessings in your life.

‘Counting your blessings’ in this way should make you realise that, even when your mental health isn’t in the best place, there are always silver linings to every situation, and we all have reasons to be thankful. So what are you grateful for today?

 

Further resources for mental health support & advice:

 

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.niwe.org.uk/

https://www.talktofrank.com/

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services

https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/?filter-keyword=&filter-category=mental-health

https://www.studentspace.org.uk/

https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/

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