Thursday 30 November 2023

Student mental health – the issues students face

Going to university or college can be exciting and fun - with new people, a new course and often a new location with a new place to live. That's a lot of new things and because of the large amount of change, going away to study can also bring about feelings of anxiety and stress. 

Indeed a study carried out during the covid pandemic found that students were more likely than the general population to report higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of happiness. 

Some reasons why students struggle

Students are often away from home and therefore away from their emotional support network of family and friends. They may be required to work in a way they are not used to with more autonomy and greater pressure to meet deadlines and achieve good results. Add to this the financial worries that many students have and you can see why students may struggle with their mental health.

Seeking help - some issues

Universities and colleges often have a wellbeing service and this can be a great place to go for free help. However not all mental health provision is equal and educational institutions differ greatly in the quality and amount of support they can offer students. 

A study carried out this year by Tab (a student news site) and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (a suicide prevention charity) found that out of 4,000 students surveyed, a large proportion reported living with some form of mental health issue and more than half had not wanted to seek help from their university. They also found that 65% of the students who had sought help from their education institution, were not happy with the help they received. 

It's worth remembering that our students are alone in a strange location with new routines, new friends, and a new focus. They are perhaps having to acquire new life skills such as cooking, managing their own financial affairs, organising themselves, etc. 

It's perhaps not surprising that anxiety has been highlighted by the Tab/CALM survey results as being the most common mental health issue faced by students, and stress and loneliness are also common issues. It's clear that students need a good quality mental health service to support their needs during this time of great upheaval. 

Additional issues faced by those studying abroad

Those who study abroad may face additional challenges such as being in a new culture with new ways of doing things, not feeling able to express themselves fully, additional academic pressure, and family and friends being further away and less able to offer emotional support.

Parents of students

Parents of students may feel concerned for the wellbeing of their grown up child. It can be hard to see them move away and struggle, especially when you know that they are having to make new friends and may feel more alone than usual. It can be reassuring to see your young person during the holidays but it can also throw up feelings of worry and fear for their wellbeing. 

Resources and help

  • Download our free booklets and workbooks on a range of mental wellbeing topics. 
  • Find out more about our therapy, coaching and wellbeing services for students. We are located in several popular university cities including Newcastle, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow

The Healing Power of Laughter

Laughter is a universal language that has the power to bring people together, to ease tension and to heal. When we laugh, we experience a release of tension, an uplifted mood and a carefree moment that allows us to momentarily forget our worries. It is no wonder that laughter has long been recognised for its immense impact on our mental wellbeing.

The science behind laughter

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins in our brain, which are known as 'feel-good' hormones. These endorphins promote a sense of happiness and contentment, reducing stress levels and enhancing our overall wellbeing. Not only does laughter stimulate the brain's reward system, but it also releases tension, stimulates blood circulation and boosts our immune system.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine states that “Laughter has been shown to exert stress-reducing effects by suppressing the bioactivities of epinephrine, cortisol, and 3,4-dihydrophenylacetic acid (a major dopamine catabolite). Reduced neurotransmitter activities, including norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are linked to depression, and laughter is shown to enhance dopamine and serotonin activities.”

Some health benefits of laughter

Stress reduction

Laughter acts as a natural stress reliever, offering momentary respite from our daily anxieties. Studies have shown that laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, while increasing the production of antibodies that strengthen our immune system. By reducing stress, laughter can have a positive effect on our mental and physical health.

Enhanced mood

Laughter has the power to improve our mood, even in the most challenging of circumstances. It helps to shift our perspective, enabling us to find humour and positivity in difficult situations. Through laughter, we can find joy in the everyday moments, creating a more optimistic outlook on life.

Increased resilience

Life is filled with ups and downs, and developing emotional resilience is vital for maintaining mental wellbeing. Laughing in the face of adversity allows us to put things into perspective and to bounce back from setbacks more easily. By embracing the healing power of laughter, we can build emotional strength and overcome life's challenges with more ease.

Strengthened connections

Laughter is contagious and has the ability to connect people on a deeper level. Sharing a laugh with others promotes social bonding and empathy and strengthens relationships. It breaks down walls, facilitates open communication and creates a sense of belonging. In times of stress or loneliness, the healing power of laughter can bridge gaps and bring people closer together.

Applying laughter in daily life

Seek out humour

Make it a habit to surround yourself with things that make you laugh. Watch funny movies or sitcoms, read humorous books or engage in activities that bring you joy. Find humour and laughter in the small moments of life, as well as in challenging situations.

Connect with others

Engage in social activities that encourage laughter and light-hearted interactions. Spend time with friends and loved ones who have a positive outlook and a good sense of humour. Laughter is infectious, so being around those who make you laugh can significantly enhance your mental wellbeing.

Embrace laughter therapy

Laughter therapy uses laughter exercises and techniques to induce laughter. It is designed to activate the body's natural relaxation response, boost mood and promote wellbeing. Consider incorporating laughter therapy into your wellness routine.

Monday 20 November 2023

Ways to Cope with Social Anxiety

In today's fast-paced and interconnected world, social anxiety has become increasingly prevalent. People with social anxiety experience intense fear and discomfort in social situations, making everyday interactions a significant challenge.

Social anxiety can be crippling, affecting various aspects of our lives. Thankfully, there are numerous strategies that we can employ to cope effectively and improve our overall wellbeing. By incorporating mindfulness practices, challenging negative thoughts, engaging in gradual exposure, adopting a healthy lifestyle or seeking professional support, we can manage social anxiety symptoms and lead a more fulfilling life.

1. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques have proven effective in managing social anxiety. Mindfulness involves redirecting one's attention to the present moment, allowing us to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment. By cultivating mindfulness, we can gain insight into our anxiety triggers and learn to respond in a more adaptive manner.

A study conducted by Hofmann et al. found that individuals who engaged in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction programme experienced significant reductions in social anxiety symptoms.

For more about Mindfulness download our free booklet 'Your Guide to Mindfulness' >

2. Challenge negative thoughts

Social anxiety is often characterised by negative self-beliefs and distorted thoughts about our social performance. To overcome this, we must try to challenge and replace these negative thoughts with more realistic and positive ones. Engaging in cognitive restructuring exercises, such as identifying evidence that supports or disproves anxious thoughts, can help us break free from the cycle of negativity.

3. Gradual exposure

Gradual exposure is an evidence-based technique used to help confront and overcome social fears. By systematically exposing ourselves to anxiety-inducing situations, starting with those of lower intensity, we can gradually build confidence and tolerance. Consistent exposure to anxiety-provoking scenarios helps desensitise and rewire the brain, reducing social anxiety symptoms over time.

4. Self-care and healthy lifestyle habits

Taking care of both physical and emotional wellbeing is essential in managing social anxiety. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet and getting enough restful sleep can significantly impact mood and reduce anxiety symptoms. Incorporating stress reduction techniques into daily routines, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation or yoga, also promotes relaxation and helps regulate anxiety levels.

5. Seek support

Seeking support from professionals, such as therapists or counsellors specialising in anxiety disorders, can be immensely beneficial for anyone with social anxiety. These experts can provide guidance, tools and techniques tailored to specific needs. Additionally, support groups or online communities can provide a sense of belonging and a place for sharing experiences in a supportive and empathic environment.

Remember, it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself when overcoming social anxiety. Implementing these strategies consistently can empower us to overcome our fears and enhance our overall wellbeing.

Further information

For more about social anxiety, read our free booklet: 'Understanding and Managing Social Anxiety: a Workbook and Guide' >

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Why Regret Can Prevent Us From Moving Forward

Regret is a complex emotion that we all experience at some point in our lives. It arises when we feel remorse or sorrow over past actions or decisions. However, dwelling on regret can hinder our ability to move forward and our overall sense of wellbeing and personal growth. 

The paralysing effect of regret

The Guardian spoke to cognitive behaviour therapist, Windy Dryden, who says that “when we are trapped in this cycle of regret, characterised by rigidity and inflexibility, we only seem able to blame ourselves for what has happened, rather than seeing our behaviour in a wider context and understanding why we took the path we did based on the information we had at the time. Under these conditions, regret will become toxic.”

The weight of the past

Regret has the power to hold us captive in the past. When we become consumed by thoughts of what could have been, we lose sight of the present moment and our potential for progress. Constantly replaying past mistakes or choices prevents us from embracing new opportunities and may lead to chronic dissatisfaction and feelings of stagnation.

Learning from regret

While it is natural to contemplate past decisions, dwelling on regret without learning from it can be detrimental. Each misstep or wrong turn serves as an opportunity for personal growth and valuable life lessons. Regretful experiences can teach us about our values and priorities and help us refine our decision-making processes. Acknowledging the lessons imparted by regret can enable us to use them as stepping stones toward mental wellbeing.

Regret as a tool for self-reflection

Regret can serve as a powerful catalyst for self-reflection. By critically examining the choices and actions that led to regret, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our desires. This introspection allows us to uncover our core values and develop a clearer sense of direction. Confronting regret can ultimately point us towards the path that aligns with our personal goals and aspirations.

The paralysing nature of regret

While some introspection is beneficial, excessive rumination on past mistakes breeds inaction and self-doubt. The paralysing nature of regret can lead to a fear of making new choices or taking risks for fear of repeating past errors. This cycle of inaction perpetuates regret, trapping us in a vicious circle that hinders personal growth and wellbeing.

Letting go of regret

To move forward and cultivate a sense of wellbeing, it is essential to shed the weight of regret. Accepting that mistakes are inherent in life allows us to embrace forgiveness, both for ourselves and others. By forgiving ourselves, we release the negative emotions surrounding our regrets and free ourselves to pursue new opportunities and future endeavours.

Embracing resilience and adaptability

Shifting our mindset to one of resilience and adaptability is key in overcoming regret. Rather than dwelling on the past, we can focus on cultivating positive changes in the present. Embracing our ability to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to new circumstances empowers us to move forward with confidence and resilience.

Friday 3 November 2023

Welcome Hygge into Your World

Imagine yourself sat beside a log-burning fire on a cold night, cuddling your dog, wearing your favourite pair of fluffy socks, and wrapped in a blanket, while drinking a warm beverage. This image captures what is implied by the Danish concept of 'Hygge'.

What is Hygge?

Hygge is a defining characteristic of Danish culture, developed to combat the difficult feelings and decline of wellbeing commonly experienced through the long, dark winter months. Pronounced as “h-oo-g-a,” this Danish concept, when translated reads as 'coziness' and is defined as the coziness that facilitates a person to feel comfortable, content and promotes good wellbeing.

The framework of hygge requires allocating time away from your fast-paced life to be in a positive, present environment which encourages relaxation and the enjoyment of more peaceful pleasures in life. The essential components of this framework are togetherness, presence, relaxation, comfort, and indulgence. The details of where, when or what that looks like, are entirely individual to you. The objective is to create an experience of warmth, comfort, and contentment; you choose how to achieve this. 

Hygge is an effective way of increasing happiness and general wellbeing that is available to everyone and can be achieved within a small financial budget. In fact, the practice of Hygge reflects the understanding that wealth and wellbeing are not definitively dependent on the other. 

The practice of Hygge provides a way of enhancing personal potential, improving emotional and physical wellbeing as well as creating a happier society. Some examples of the ways Hygge can be beneficial are listed below. There are many, many more!

  • Reduces loneliness and strengthens relationships 
  • Increases happiness and self-esteem 
  • Increases resilience 
  • Reduces depression / anxiety 
  • Contributes to a greater quality of life 
  • Reduces stress levels 
  • Encourages relaxation and improved sleep
  • Reduces risk of poor coping strategies (e.g. excessive drinking, etc) 
  • A positive coping-strategy for seasonal-affective disorders 

Practise Hygge all year round

Importantly, it doesn’t have to be cold, dark night with a blanket of snow hiding the path from those wrapped up warm while wandering the streets. Hygge isn’t limited to the winter months. It can be practised all year round, in a variety of settings. Below is a list of suggestions as to how you can welcome Hygge into your life.

Some tips for practising Hygge

1. Establish your safe space to optimise your experience of Hygge. Settling into an environment that complements your approach to achieving relaxation and presence is essential. In creating this space, consider your five senses:

Sight: the lighting: soft, dull sources of light are preferable to strong, harsh lights when your intention is to indulge in comfort and relaxation.

Smell: consider using scented candles, fresh flowers, or your favourite scent to enhance your comfort in the space.

Hearing: select a gentle playlist, a good audiobook or just enjoy the peace and quiet.

Taste: Treat yourself to a beverage (hot or cold) and your favourite comfort snacks to indulge in.

Touch: select different textures that please you – a soft pillow, a heavy blanket, or wear your favourite comfy clothes.

2. Do it together. Hygge is an action that can be done independently or with others – it is entirely up to you! Typically, humans are social beings, and therefore there are many benefits to a shared approach. Inviting others to practise Hygge with you can benefit the relationships you share and enhance your reflective experiences, through conversations like, “Do you remember that time when …?” Often these chats end in laughter and increased gratitude, both are captured in the aims of Hygge.

3. Eat and drink. Enjoying a hot drink provides you with inner warmth that can enhance your ability to relax. Drink it at a slow pace, allowing yourself the opportunity to savour the flavour and sensation. Along with a supply of your favourite comfort foods, you are optimising your Hygge experience. Treat yourself!

4. Log-off, switch-off and unplug. Taking a break from social media, or that dreaded inbox full of emails, provides you the space to be present and focus on your personal desires and pleasures, without the pressures or judgements of social comparison. Instead, you can occupy your time with some journalling, read a book, or simply reflect on the quieter pleasures in your life.

5. Engage with nature. Decorate your safe space with houseplants, seashells, or other pieces of nature, or alternatively head out to the hills or by a river, lake or the sea. The sounds, smells and positivity of nature can provide you with a Hygge experience where you can savour the simple moments and appreciate the little things around you. As well as promoting exercise and physical wellbeing, this is a great way to take time out of your busy routine to escape to nature, where we are more inclined to be present and stress-free.

Friday 27 October 2023

Understanding And Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the clocks in the UK go back this weekend, we're taking a look at Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and why the reduced light matters to our mental health. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that people experience in relation to a specific season and time of the year. SAD is not a standalone condition: the DSM-5, the manual of mental disorders, classifies it as a specifier for major depressive disorder (MDD). In fact, the symptoms of SAD are similar to those of Major Depressive Disorder, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, loss of interest, changes in appetite and weight.

SAD is most commonly experienced during the winter months, as shorter days and a reduced amount of sunlight hours are thought to be associated with changes in brain chemicals, leading to the experience of depressive symptoms. For example, the production of vitamin D, which is crucial for mental wellbeing, requires exposure to UV light, which is limited during the winter. Similarly, shorter days can have an impact on our circadian rhythm, our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle system. As this is the body’s way of regulating and managing our functions and processes, changes to this rhythm might also lead to experiences of poor mental health. Nonetheless, SAD symptoms can also arise during the warmer seasons. These might include increased anxiety and discomfort in relation to higher temperatures and longer days.

Do you experience SAD?

Do you find yourself:
  • being less motivated,
  • losing interest in daily activities,
  • feeling more tired than usual when the winter months are about to begin? 

Although these sensations can be natural and are part of the human experience, they might also be related to SAD.

According to a recent NHS survey, SAD affects almost 2 million people in the United Kingdom. In Northen Europe, the estimated number of people experiencing SAD is 12 million. Countries such as Sweden, Finland and Norway are thought to be the most affected due to the very limited amount of sunlight during the winter. In these countries, 6.5% of residents have been diagnosed with a severe form of SAD, with women being significantly more affected than men.

What you can do if you are experiencing SAD

If you think you might be suffering from SAD, it is important to seek adequate support. Although the cause of SAD is unclear, it can still be helpful to talk to your GP or to a mental health professional, as they can suggest resources and tips to manage your symptoms. Additionally, there are some general guidelines that people who experience SAD might find helpful to make their experience more manageable.

1. Try to get as much sunlight as possible
Make the most of the daylight hours. Even if the weather is cloudy, stepping outside and getting some fresh air can be beneficial.

2. Exercise
Exercising regularly is a well-known ally in the maintenance of our overall health. You can also try to exercise outside if the weather allows you to.

3. Create a routine
Mental health issues can severely impact our daily lives. To account for this, try and keep a routine, featuring habits of self-care and time with others.

4. Consider seeking help
As a mental health issue, SAD can also be treated with anti-depressants which may help you manage feelings of sadness and improve your day to day life.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Learning How to Embrace the Ageing Process

As we journey through life, one thing remains constant: the inevitability of ageing. Yet, in a society that glorifies youth and perpetuates the idea of eternal youthfulness, it can be challenging to embrace the ageing process.

Growing older comes with both mental and physical issues and our health can be affected by many factors. In a study published on Frontiers it states that “multiple social, psychological and biological factors are determinant of mental health, as well as life stressors. Among these, the lack of independence, limited mobility, chronic diseases, pain, frailty or other mental and physical problems, require long-term care.”

However, with the right mindset, a shift in perspective and a healthy lifestyle we can slow down the ageing process and maintain optimal wellbeing.

Ways to embrace the ageing process

1. Acceptance

The first step towards embracing the ageing process is acceptance. Ageing is a natural part of life, and it offers us a multitude of experiences and wisdom that can only be gained with time. Instead of resisting the passage of years, we must learn to accept it gracefully. By accepting the reality of growing older, we can free ourselves from the shackles of societal pressures and expectations.

2. Self-care and wellness

Embracing the ageing process goes hand in hand with self-care and wellness. Take the time to nurture your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Engage in regular exercise, practise mindfulness and prioritise a healthy diet. By taking care of ourselves, we can enhance our overall wellbeing and approach ageing with a more positive mindset.

3. Reflection and awareness

Ageing provides us with an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. With each passing year, we accumulate experiences, failures and successes. Take time to reflect on these moments and learn from them. Embrace the lessons that life has taught you and let them shape you into a wiser and more compassionate individual.

4. Embracing change

Change is an integral part of the ageing process, and it is crucial to embrace it rather than fear it. Embracing change allows us to adapt and grow, fostering personal development and resilience. Whether it's changes in appearance, relationships or lifestyle, approach them with an open mind. Embrace the transformations and make the most of the opportunities they bring.

5. Wisdom and experience

One of the most valuable aspects of ageing is the wisdom and experience we acquire. Our years provide us with a unique perspective that can only be gained through time. Embrace this wisdom and share it with others. Take pride in your experiences and use them to inspire and help those around you.

Ageing is not something to be feared or avoided. Rather, it is a journey that allows us to grow, learn and discover the true essence of life. By accepting the ageing process and embracing the changes that accompany it, we can lead fulfilling lives filled with wisdom, grace and positivity.