Hi, my name’s Rick and I work at Students’ Health two days a week, delivering cognitive-behavioural based talking therapies to students struggling with difficulties such as anxiety and depression.
As the dreaded exams loom, the people I see often find that their problems become more difficult to cope with. This is because, frankly, there are various aspects of studying at a University that are psychologically downright unhealthy:
The perfectionism, the isolated nature of the work, the unrealistic amounts of work expected, the competitive nature of the whole thing, the lack of instant reward for the hours and hours of hard slog put in, the uncertainty about what the future holds beyond University… etc etc etc
I still vividly remember my own struggles with all this; and anyone who was in the vicinity of the Psychology department at Exeter University in 1989 will maybe recall my own less-than-ideal attempts to cope with it.
The good news is that 23 years later, I’m full of good ideas about how to deal with the stress of University work, most of which I’ve learned fairly recently from working here with you.
Here are 5 top tips for psychological wellbeing at this difficult time:
1. Use a diary/ schedule to plan your work and your revision
By planning work you can break it down into manageable chunks and hopefully find it less overwhelming. Try not to plan unrealistic amounts; 5-6 hours a day is realistic for most people. Plan breaks and relaxing/ fun activities as well and try to start as early as you can: If you’ve already done 3 hours work by lunchtime, you’re less likely to get stressed as the day wears on.
Above all, see what works for you.
2. Try not to compare yourself with other people
There are always going to be people who seem to get up at 6.00am and spend their whole day in the library, working for 14 hours without a break. Do not compare yourself with these people and on no account try to compete with them. Work at a pace that suits you, and try not to pick up on other people’s stress.
3. Try to avoid falling into spirals of negative thinking
There are various unhelpful styles of thinking people can fall into when under pressure. These include predicting the future, catastrophising, and black and white thinking, among others. There’s a link to 12 of these and what to do about them attached below.
4. When work stress and anxiety do start to get on top of you, take a look at what you do in response to this
Do you dive under the duvet? Go to the pub? Switch on daytime TV? Phone a friend? Go for a brisk walk around the block? Surf the internet? Go to the gym? Jump up and down and scream?
Try writing down what you do, and try to notice what’s helpful and what isn’t, in terms of keeping you calm and allowing you to complete what you need to complete.
5. Remember that the whole thing is time-limited: It will not last for ever and you can only do what you can do in the time you’ve got
Soon it will all be over…
If you are struggling with anxiety and/ or depression and would like help and support, you can contact Rightsteps Bristol on 0117 9431111 and self refer. It is a free service. Alternately you can e-mail me at