Head of Student Counselling, Jackie Head, writes about the importance of staying connected during the exam period.
This may seem a strange thing to say when you are focusing on exam preparation and final year deadlines, but one of the best things you could do for your mental health and wellbeing right now, is to spend some relaxed social time with other people.
It’s fair enough at busy times to pull back from all-night clubbing or holidays away in order to prioritise work but many people make the mistake of thinking just working alone, and longer and more intensively, will make them more productive.
In fact this is unlikely to be so, as humans are born to connect and are likely to be diminished if they reduce this down too far.
Instead what we need to aim for is to optimize assessment success in a well-resourced state where we are mentally imbalanced. This is likely to come from:
- Allowing for some planning space and reflective space each day
- Making sure we eat a healthy balanced diet
- Building exercise into our weekly routine (ideally x3 per week when we spend 30 minutes getting sweaty and breathless)
- Giving some clear space before sleep without over stimulating our brains
Of course there are times where all of the above can be solitary activities, and for the introverts out there (who recharge by alone time) this may be the comfortable default.
However, when we are under pressure we can sometimes over use these default settings and find ourselves isolated and cut off from ordinary normal human contact, which we also need to stay healthy.
Even just smiling at someone else on the bus is…enough to help you feel connected.
Research suggests that social isolation is an underpinning factor in the development of anxiety and depression and that social contact can act as a protective factor (decreasing likelihood and reducing symptoms).
So, think for a moment about some alternatives. How about:
- meeting with a friend to plan your revision or working day together
- having a phone call with a family member or friend from back home to talk through your plans
- contacting the study skills service to connect with others (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/study/skills-development/study-skills/)
- coming to the Study Strategy Group in the Student Counselling Service to help you reflect and plan
- teaming up with a house mate to share meal planning and cooking through the assessment season
- sharing a picnic with your course mates out in the fresh air
- putting out a shout on social media to find a running or gym buddy
- planning an after-supper walk with a friend or course mate to chat and unwind from the day
- coming to the Mindfulness practice group or Yoga for stress group in the Student Counselling Service
- Using a relaxation app and getting together with others in your accommodation to listen and practice together (https://www.headspace.com/)
If social interaction is hard for you, then even taking some small steps to increase social contact with others can be helpful: why not go to the staffed check out in the supermarket and say hello, talk about the weather or the contents of your basket, rather than using self-service; have a chat with the librarian when you check out resources; or the admin staff in your academic office or someone in the shared spaces of your accommodation.
Even just smiling at someone else on the bus is likely to give you a smile back, and sometimes this can be enough to help you feel connected.
Why not join the Walk and Talk Group which heads off round the downs on Friday mornings? It is carefully designed to support even the most socially anxious to connect.
And if all of this feels too much to ask (and sometimes it can), why not connect to other humans virtually, though social media and on line support platforms such as Big White Wall or by picking up the phone to Nightline or the Samaritans.
You are not alone, even if sometimes it can feel that way.
The University’s Wellbeing pages are a good starting place for support.
Look out too for the university wide ‘How are you today?’ campaign on the big screens.
Details of all the SCS groups mentioned can be found here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/student-counselling/services-offered/groups/
Thank you to the Student Counselling Service for their contribution.