Today, Tuesday May 1st, is University Mental Health Day across Australia and New Zealand.
University Mental Health Day aims to raise awareness of the mental health and well-being needs of those who study and work in higher education settings.
A key part of being human is feeling connected to others and your community. Evidence suggests that spending time with your community, friends and family as well as pets can really support your mental health and wellbeing.
For University Mental Health Day, we encourage you to take a moment to identify and acknowledge your community contacts, friends and family. Perhaps, plan to catch up with someone over coffee, sport or taking a walk together.
While many of you may be still on break enjoying the summer (or hiding from the heat), others may be starting to think about Semester 1 or you might even be back at study already. Wherever you may be, you have likely received your grades back from 2017, and might have even reflected on things that went well, and the things that didn’t.
One of the most common barriers to academic success and wellbeing that we see in students at Counselling, is Perfectionism.
“How can this be a barrier? Wouldn’t perfectionism make your work BETTER?” I hear you collectively ask.
Perfectionism, can be defined as striving to meet unreasonably high or inflexible standards, judging your self-worth (how you feel about yourself) based on your ability to achieve these standards, and continuing to strive for the standards despite experiencing negative consequences.
Sometimes, people are able to meet their high standards, however this comes at a cost to their relationship, feeling highly anxious, problems with sleep or neglecting their physical health or friendships. For others, the pressure to perform well can be debilitating, and can lead to avoidance and procrastination, and at times failing to submit work or complete courses.
For more information on what Perfectionism is, and how it can be problematic, check out my earlier blog post which explores this in more detail.
If you already know that Perfectionism is a problem for you and you want to learn more, we will be running a series of four workshops on Overcoming Perfectionism in March 2018.
Sessions will focus on strategies to shift from problematic perfectionism to healthy striving, including how to manage self-criticism and procrastination.
The workshops will be held over four weekly sessions, from 3-4.30pm on Wednesdays, commencing Wed 7th March 2018 at Callaghan campus.
Places are limited. To register your place, complete the online registration form or email onlinecounselling at newcastle.edu.au for more information.
As we come toward the end of Semester 2, many of you will have already finished or be nearly done with your exams and placements. Time to enjoy some well deserved rest and relaxation over the summer break! Or you might like to check out the Navigator blog for some ideas on wrapping up 2017!
As there is less demand for the Skype Drop In service during the break, there will be some adjustments to the Skype Drop In sessions during this time.
There will be no Skype Drop In session on 2.30-3.30pm Thursday 23rd November due to staff training. However, the evening session at 8-9pm Thursday 23rd November will still be running as usual.
Thursday 23rd of November will be the last of the evening sessions (8-9pm Tues and Thurs). These will resume in Semester 1, 2018.
Day time Skype Drop In sessions will continue to run until Friday 15th December 2017.
Have you heard about Mindfulness ? If not where have you been hiding, it’s all the rage and all the cool kids are doing it !
Mindfulness is a concept that the West has borrowed principally from Buddhist meditation practices, and has been popularised over the past 40 years in the west. One of the leading pioneers of mindfulness is Dr Jon Kabat Zinn, who applied the concept of mindfulness to combating stress and anxiety.
He created an eight week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Management (MBSR). Another similar course is called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. These programs have been researched scientifically and found to be very effective in helping to reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and even chronic pain.
So what exactly is Mindfulness. Well in a nut shell, mindfulness is method of distancing ourselves from unhelpful thoughts and emotions. Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as “Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment , non-judgmentally”
There is a great TED Talk about Mindfulness here too
How can this help with anxiety ?
Well, the cause of anxiety are our thoughts. Now sometimes our anxiety is useful, and we as humans evolved to have anxiety to keep us safe from harm. However, sometimes our mind can indulge in worry too much and trigger our fight or flight response prematurely. This is akin to the smoke detector being activated in your kitchen by slightly burning some toast.
By learning to adopt a perspective of mindfulness to our thoughts and emotions, we can gradually become less reactive to them, so that we recognise that the issue is just burned toast, and not a real fire.
Getting started with Mindfulness
There are lots of apps around to learn mindfulness, such as Smiling Mind, however in my experience it is establishing a regular mindfulness practice that is the tricky bit. However there is a 4 week online course available for FREE from Monash University, called Mindfulness for Wellbeing & Peak Performance. I will be doing this course over the next 4 weeks, and writing some posts about my experience, and I’d like to invite you to join me, and share your experiences.
Another option is to learn a couple of mindfulness techniques from singer-songwriter, Jewel ……. right here …. right now.
When I first opened the website I was met with today’s date. 10th October. 10/10. For me this made me question what does it mean to feel 10/10? Is that even a possibility? Is striving for 10/10 something that should be our goal in life?
There are A LOT of myths around happiness and how if we could just be happy everything would be perfect. Well, that’s not the case. Even if things are going ‘perfectly’ we may not feel happy all the time. That’s because as humans our natural state is to feel a whole range of emotions and if we only try and feel one emotion, such as happiness, then we are actually putting a lot of pressure (and sometimes judgement) on ourselves for feeling anything other than happy. Russ Harris writes about this in his book “The Happiness Trap” (available from the UON library in electronic and hard copy) and the video below shares some of the benefits of NOT falling into the happiness trap!
Besides helping our own mental health, we also need to be mindful that falling for the happiness trap can lead to us judging others around us who may be struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Thus increasing the stigma associated with this issue. How many times have you seen a meme about how exercise and fresh air is a natural anti-depressant? Or one of my favourites of what if we treated physical health issues like mental health issues?
As the World Mental Health Day website outlines we need to be aware that “stigma around mental illness due to misunderstanding or prejudice remains an issue in Australia, delaying or preventing people from wanting or feeling able to seek help, and impacting adversely on their lives” and that it is part of everyone’s responsibility to be aware of the damage that can be done by these misconceptions and misunderstandings. You might be surprised to learn that 1 out of 5 Australians are affected by mental health. And according to recent findings this number is believed to be 1 in 4 in the Australian tertiary student population.
So what can you do today?
Perhaps have a check in on your own mental health. Do you feel 10/10. Is that OK? It may be that you want to challenge yourself to accept that you are allowed to be feeling 7/10 or it may be a reminder to practice some self care. But if you’re feeling lower is it time to have a chat with someone?
Could you check in on someone else? A couple of weeks ago was RUOK Day which was a good reminder that we need to all keep an eye on each other and be comfortable asking are you OK?
This leads to the next thing you might want to consider today and that is how you can help promote the mental health and wellbeing in your community. One idea might be something small and simple like challenging stereotypes around mental health, perhaps by sharing a cartoon like this one on social media.. You never know who will see it and what it may mean to someone in your life.
As we come towards the second half of semester, some of you may be feeling a bit stressed or looking for some strategies to help you manage anxiety or improve your wellbeing.
An easy way to learn some new skills and strategies is to complete an online treatment or training program. There are a range of free programs that have been developed to help with a different issues – some are more general such as ‘coping with stress’ or ‘intro to mindfulness’, where others are designed to target specific problems such as OCD or Social Anxiety.Many of the courses have online questionnaires, recovery stories, videos, worksheets, and additional resources.
Some of the advantages of online programs are:
they can be completed any time of the day or night
they are free or low cost
there are no waiting periods
you don’t have to travel anywhere
you can do them in your pyjamas
Sometimes one of the downsides can be that it is hard to get the motivation to complete the course. One way to deal with this is to link up with a counsellor who can check in with you on a regular basis about your progress and how you are going applying the skills. Alternatively, you could complete a course such as mindfulness or managing stress with a friend.
Below are some of the online wellbeing programs offered free or at a low cost:
eCLiPSE (UON) – a portal for UON students offing access to four separate programs designed to support people considering reducing their substance use (including smoking) and improving mental health. Programs are free and range from 4 weeks to 10 weeks. Support is available from UON Counsellors to complete these programs.
Coping with Stress (This Way Up) – a free four lesson program using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to manage stress effectively.
Managing Insomnia (This Way Up) – a free four lesson program which is designed to teach Cognitive Behavioural Therapy skills to manage insomnia.
Intro to Mindfulness (This Way Up) – a four lesson program designed for people interested in learning about mindfulness and meditation
Mindspot courses – a range of free programs on different topics, including wellbeing, mood, OCD, PTSD, Indigenous Wellbeing and Chronic Pain.
For other program and online resources, please see here.
If you are a current UON student and think you would like some professional support while completing any of the programs, we would be happy to provide support via emails, phone or skype. Just send us an email to onlinecounselling at uon.edu.au
The phrase “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy” was recorded as early as 1659 according to Wikipedia, which demonstrates that there has been a strong understanding of the need for work / life balance for almost 500 years.
So when mid-semester break arrives it is really important to not only catch up on overdue projects and assignments, but also to catch up on overdue sleep, exercise and social connections.
Studies in the science of resilience show that if we live in what scientists call an “enriched environment” i.e fun, stimulating, with good nutrition, exercise and company, that we become much more resilient to stress.
Let’s face it, we know that the pressure of study, assignments and exams will be increasing in second half of the semester, so ensuring a good balance of activity, rest and relationships during the semester break makes sense.
Make the most of the final week of the break by making looking after your wellbeing a priority.
App Review : Prana Breath
Learning to breathe effectively can dramatically increase your ability to manage stress and perform under pressure, and now you don’t have to even attend that Yoga class to get some breath training.
Prana breath guides you visually to control the ratio of inhalation to exhalation, which is a simple way of activating the para-sympathetic nervous system, which helps us to calm down and relax.
The makers claim the following benefits, and as a Psychologist and Yoga Teacher I am in agreement, but only if you practice regularly.
+ Improves brain activity: memory, attention, concentration + Decreases colds’, migraine and asthma attacks’ frequency + Improves the quality of sleep + Develops resistance to stress, and physical endurance
Start training now, and you will reap the benefits come exam time !
PranaBreath is available on Android, and a similar app Universal Breathing – Pranayama Lite is available for Iphone
It’s a very sad fact that on average 8 people take their own life each day in Australia, and for each death, 30 others attempt suicide.
RUOK is a campaign to address the main risk factors of suicide: Isolation and feeling like a burden to those around them. The aim is to increase our awareness of when our friends, family, co-workers or class mates are struggling, and perhaps becoming more withdrawn than normal. It can feel uncomfortable for us to reach out, but RUOK helps by giving us simple action plan to follow.
1. Ask RUOK ?
2. Listen without judgement
3. Encourage action e.g. seeing a GP or counsellor.
4. Check in. Follow up at regular intervals to stay connected, and encourage further action.
NUPSA and the student services team was out and about on campus today spreading the message of RUOK, initiating converstaions by handing out free fortune cookies to fortunate students.
Just because today is RUOK, does not mean we can’t can’t practice reaching out and asking RUOK throughout the year, today is just a reminder of how important a single conversation could be. By reaching out you will increase your own self confidence and self esteem, and feel more connected.
We now even have a special bench outside Student Central to remind us to ask too.
It is common for people to perceive that Psychology is all about mental illness, but this is far from the truth. The field of Clinical Psychology actually started to grow after World war I & II, when many soldiers returned from the war with shell shock ( known at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD nowadays), but there is also a branch of Psychology which focuses on making us better and happier humans. This branch is termed Positive Psychology, and its goal is to help promote “flourishing”.
Flourishing has 3 core features which include; positive emotions, engagement & interest, meaning & purpose
Other features of flourishing include; self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination and positive relationships.
I’m sure we’d all like a little more flourishing in our lives, and Positive Psychologists have been busy devising practical ways for us to do just that.
One of my favourite Positive Psychology based practices is called 3 Good Things.
3 Good Things : Instructions
Time required = 5-10 minutes/day for at least one week.
Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “weather was warm and sunny ”) or relatively large (e.g., “I got an HD”). To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.
As you write, follow these instructions:
Give the event a title (e.g., “received compliment on a project”)
Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.
Try the 3 Good Things Challenge.
Commit to doing the 3 Good Things exercise for a week and see what difference it makes to your mood and outlook on life.