Kim Moore. Senior Lecturer in Mental Health.

Life is full of ups and downs so there will be many eventful days in your life, some will be good and leave you feeling on top of the world, but others can make you feel bad.  While many of us enjoy good mental health, there are times when life’s ups and downs can affect our mental health.  Not all stressful events can be avoided, and everyone will have times when they feel they are not coping, that they are hanging on by a thread.  Most of us will have a range of strategies we use to make ourselves feel better, and we all manage our stress in different ways.

Life as a student can be like being on an emotional roller coaster ride, one day your ok and the next you are stressing about the next exam or in the depths of despair because you haven’t passed your assignment. It can be hard to see your way out and you may feel overwhelmed by your emotions.  More often than not talking about how you feel can make you feel better – so talking to others can be one of the best things you can do.

Here some tips for coping with life’s stressors:

It really is good to talk….

There may be times when you feel you can talk about how you feel with your friends and family, sometimes they are the people who know you well and they may have an idea that something is bothering you but don’t want to raise it…. So take the initiative and let them know what is going on, they are going to want the best for you, and even if there is no immediate solution, just getting your worries off your chest helps.

There may be some things you don’t want you family to know just yet, that’s ok.  There are many other people you can discuss this with anonymously and confidentially- you may have heard about national mental health services, but did you know there are online communities of support in the UK like ‘elefriends’ or the big white wall  where members provide mutual support to each other.  Want to know more, check out the mental health apps on NHS choices like the mood app or the Happy place app from the University of Bristol.

Keeping yourself healthy

A good diet, regular exercise and sleep can influence your ability to cope with life’s events; and your choice of snacks can often reflect your mood.  Having a bad day? We are more likely to snack on chocolate or having a glass of wine to make ourselves feel better or as a reward, yet there is growing exploration of the relationship good nutrition has with positive mental health and wellbeing (Sarris et al, 2015; Gregorie, 2015). Having a balanced diet filled with the essential vitamins can improve your mood, while the effects of poor nutritional diet were highlighted by the 2004 documentary ‘Super size me’.  But life is about a balance so while it is important to eat well, the odd treat is fine as well.

What about alcohol and caffeine?

You know the bad press about alcohol, too much will affect your thoughts and behaviour, but there are many different factors that will affect this.  If you want to know more about the effects of alcohol on your mood, visit the Drinkaware web page and check out how your use of alcohol may be affecting you.

One of my greatest weaknesses (after chocolate) is coffee.  Yes I probably do drink too much and I am aware that not only does ‘wake me up’ in the mornings – it can also make me anxious, stressed and strangely enough exhausted.  Caffeine does impact on your ability to cope, but if you are relying on caffeine (including high energy drinks) to get through your day, you may want to consider whether your caffeine use is healthy or harmful to your physical and mental wellbeing.  Check out your caffeine intake by using the caffeine calculator check, but remember, if you are using large amounts of caffeine it is important that you don’t suddenly stop – it’s better to cut down slowly.

Get in some regular exercise

We have all heard the message about regular exercise, but if you are like me, the thought of going to a gym and sweating over a stationary bike fills you with dread, then these alternative solutions could be for you.  Dancing in your living room costs you nothing and bopping along to your favourite songs can not only lift your mood it will also improve your physical health.  If you want company try a dance class – there are many different dance styles that suit all tastes.

But if dancing is not for you, why not sing along with your favourite tunes?  Like dancing, singing is not only good for your mental and physical health and if you sing in a choir you may also get the additional benefits of the singing community and social friendships.  Singing helps you with breathing control, and singing can help you to master controlled breathing techniques which can come in useful if you are panicking just before your exam.

Sleep vs burning the midnight candle

Good sleep routines are important for your mental health, being tired all the time takes up energy and not only do you feel sleep deprived you can feel exhausted, this can leave you more vulnerable to feeling situations more intensely, often making us feel stressed and anxious, feeling  exhausted and not having the resources to cope with strong emotions.

To help develop good sleeping patterns the National Sleep Foundation recommends a regular bedtime routine including developing relaxation techniques to develop calmness that aids in falling to sleep.  But simple thinks like keeping your electronic gadgets to a minimum in the bedroom is also one of top tips, so sleeping with your phone nearby to catch the texting and instagram messages might be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep and affecting your ability to cope with life’s events.

For students, think about whether you take your laptop to bed with the last minute exam revision or assignment that is due by 12 – having distractions like this will mess with good sleeping patterns and can negatively affect your performance.

Do something you enjoy or try something new

It is important to have a work/ study life balance, for some of us (myself included) this often requires a bit of planning, but regular breaks are important for good mental health.  I am sure that like me, when I am not doing things that I enjoy I get a wee bit grumpy – so taking a break and doing something different helps to maintain a good balance.  If you can’t think of activities you might like to do, why not check out the Birmingham Mail’s top activities and days out.

And finally my last tip for good mental health is to give to others.  Being there for someone else, or being a volunteer for a charity has significant benefits for your mental health.  Not only do you get to meet diverse and interesting people, you get a real sense of self worth from something as simple as giving your time and presence for someone else.  The feeling of belonging and being important to someone is something truly special.

For some of us, our mental health can become more difficult to manage, so if you do feel that you are not able to cope with your thoughts or feelings, don’t wait to talk to someone or get some help and support.  You can always talk to your GP, or ASK student services for help and advice on additional support.   Birmingham has a range of mental health services that are available to help and support you with any mental health issues, so don’t be afraid to call them.

 Local mental health support services

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust

  • Out of hours contact number;   0121 301 0000

Dudley and Walsall Partnership NHS Trust

  • Out of hours contact Dudley      01384 325 333
  • Out of hours contact Walsall 01922 607 777

MIND Birmingham

  • 0121 608 8001 for general information
  • MIND info line 0300 123 393 for general information and advice

Forward thinking Birmingham (Child and adolescent services)

  • Access centre 0300 300 0099 (24 hour contact number)

National Emergency support

  • NHS 111; dial 111 (24 hour contact number)
  • Samaritans Freephone 116 123 (24 hour contact number)
  • Saneline Freephone 0300 304 7000 (6pm – 11pm every day)

 

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