Being a student…
‘Moving to university is such a difficult time for young people. There are so many changes and new things to get used to. Increased independence and busy social lives coupled with having to manage your own finances, possibly for the first time, can be very stressful. Moving from a school where you were maybe one of the top in your class, to be surrounded by people who were all top of their class is a very daunting experience. It is easy to become overwhelmed by university life and quickly fall behind with your university work. I found that I would lose touch with academic work and fall behind which had a negative impact on my wellbeing as I was very aware that I was not keeping up with my work.
Luckily, I had a really understanding and approachable GP who put me in touch with services in the local area. However, I was on a waiting list for CBT for about 6 months and in this time I found it very difficult being on medication without additional support. I also found it difficult to get appointments with my psychiatrist, and on one occasion I had to wait over a year. I felt very disconnected during this time which didn’t help my mental state.
I have found that implementing a routine into my life helped massively. Getting out of bed at the same time every day, meeting a friend in the library, making a packed lunch, and doing some exercise after finishing work became my way of coping with my increasing work load. Incorporating wellness into this routine has been key. Whether it’s meditating before bed, going for a run, doing yoga or cooking a meal for the house, ensuring I have healthy and enjoyable activities to look forward to each day has really helped keep my stress levels under control.
I think that universities should include mental health awareness right from the beginning of Fresher’s Week. Whether this be by offering mindfulness classes, free yoga sessions, or social running groups, it is vital that these opportunities are accessible and well-advertised. If young people feel able to talk about their mental health, either with their peers or through university services, it will help them find the support they need much earlier and prevent their health deteriorating and affecting their academic work.’
Exercise and Running
‘Finding motivation to exercise while juggling the many faucets of student life is tough. Add to this a battle with severe anxiety and depression and it seems almost unachievable. At the beginning of my third year of university I found myself in this position. Having recently come off medication I was struggling to keep up with the demands of student life, constantly battling the effects of my mental illness alongside the increased stress that final year brought.
I had known about the positive impact exercise and mindfulness can have on mental health for some time but, so far, I’d only managed to regularly maintain a few minutes of mindfulness before I went to bed. This was until I had a conversation with a friend about the benefits of running and we decided to become running partners. I can’t explain how much easier it is to get out of the house on a dark winters evening if you have someone to meet and run with!
I felt the benefits almost instantaneously. I found that running just two or three times a week lifted my mood more than I had remembered feeling in years. The social aspect of running was also important to me. My running partner was sometimes the only person I saw when I was having a bad day and dragging myself out of bed so I didn’t let her down became key to kickstarting my motivation.
Once my body had got over the initial shock of running and became resilient to the stress, I managed to start implementing a more mindful approach to running. This is when I really started to notice the benefits for my mental health. While running my mind became clearer and I was free from the anxious thoughts and rumination that usually plagued my internal monologue. And I found that these effects carried on long after I’d finished running, helping to reduce my anxiety for the rest of the day.
I had been struggling with concentration while studying through my first two years at university, but through running and mindfulness I noticed a significant improvement in my attention span. Running also provided a massive boost to my self-confidence. Every time I ran a little further or pushed through to the end when I felt like quitting I felt a massive sense of achievement. I applied this newly strengthened self-belief to my essay writing a found that I was able to overturn my negative thinking, giving a positive boost to my academic work.
I think that combining mindfulness with running through TRiM is such a brilliant way to help students overcome the stresses that university brings. Whatever your ability – whether you can’t fathom running more than 10 steps or you’ve been running for years – you’ll be welcome at TRiM. There’s no better motivation to get you out running than to have a supportive group of people around you.
If I could offer one piece of advice from what I’ve learned it’s that it’s never too late to make positive impact on your mental health. A small change in your lifestyle like going for a run or attending a TRiM session can really turn your day around. If you manage to regularly include it in your routine maybe you’ll notice some of the positive changes I did. Despite maintaining throughout my teenage years that I was not a born runner, running and mindfulness have helped me make it through my final year at university and enabled me to achieve things I never thought I would. Why not give it a go, dust off your trainers, and see what you can achieve.’
Nicola Gardner, graduated with a first class honours degree, BA International Relations, University of Birmingham 2015-2018