Dealing with Anxiety, Stress and Depression

Being a student at Uni is exciting! However, tons of reading, exams, essay deadlines and possibly adjusting to life in a different culture can be extremely stressful for some students. Stress is a normal part of life, but if stress becomes overwhelming, it is important to realize that help is available from your university as well as other sources. Be sure to contact your university counseling service as soon as you arrive at Uni if you think that you might experience a problem. They will be able to assist you. Additionally, psychotherapists, experts in helping people develop skills to cope with anxiety and depression, can be helpful. It is likely that your university counseling service will be able to provide guidance for finding a psychotherapist if needed.

If you find that you don’t need the assistance of the counseling office or a psychotherapist, but want to learn how to manage stress on your own, then mindfulness training and relaxation training can be beneficial options. One of the goals of both psychotherapy and mindfulness training is to help you become less distracted and less affected by negative thoughts associated with anxiety or depression that arise in the mind. Some of these thoughts may sound familiar: “I can’t take this,” “I’m a failure,” “It’s a catastrophe.” Although these thoughts may not disappear, mindfulness training can help one to focus on the present and not allow the negative thoughts to take over and fuel anxiety, stress and depression. For more information on mindfulness, visit the NHS website and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

Relaxation training involves muscle relaxation and deep breathing. It may also include visualization – the forming mental images, usually of a calming place. Learn more about relaxation techniques from the NHS website.

In addition to the resources above, there are four very important things that everyone needs to nurture positive mental and physical wellbeing. They are exercise, healthy diet, adequate sleep, and establishing supportive relationships. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s internal opiods, which trigger a more positive mood and also diminish pain. Endorphins are the body’s natural stress reliever.

Additionally a healthy diet can contribute to a positive mood. For example, those who are dieting are often tempted to excessively reduce their intake of carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates provide the body with needed energy. Fatigue can result if not enough carbs are ingested. Additionally, legumes, fish, nuts, dark colored fruits and green leafy vegetables are rich in nutrients and provide health benefits. Before embarking on any diet or exercise program, be sure to discuss the particulars along with your health history and any concerns with your GP.

Getting adequate sleep is more important than you may think. The student experience often includes late nights.  However, it is important to exercise caution, as sleep contributes to overall mental and physical wellbeing. Lack of sleep can stimulate feelings of depression and stress so do try to organize your time so that you get adequate amounts of sleep. Another benefit of exercise is that it promotes a more restful sleep but do not exercise too close to bedtime as it may be difficult to wind down. To learn more about the importance of sleep, visit the NHS website.

Another important factor in dealing with depression, stress and anxiety is to surround yourself with supportive people with whom you can share your feelings. A good talk and a laugh with a friend can go a long way towards relieving stress.

Looking for more resources on anxiety, stress and depression? Visit the MoodGym for a variety of resources and interactive activities. Also see the Mental Health Foundation and the NHS Mental Health Helplines. If you are a student at the University of Oxford, visit their Supportive Resources page.

Sweat to Success

We all know that physical activity is good for us but do we really understand the impact it can have on our learning and education. In a world where academic success and achievement is the goal of so many, how do we have the time to balance study, work and exercise.

At a time when many students around the world are beginning their studies at university, college or school, it is important that we try and engage ourselves in some form of exercise or physical activity. However, with competing demands on our time how do we know what is the best balance for achieving our personal and academic goals.

Well, according to the The World Health Organisation (WHO) it recommends that people between the ages of 18 and 64 years participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the course of a week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity. It is suggested that aerobic activity is performed in bouts of at least of 10 minutes.  

Research has found that participation in aerobic exercise (activity that causes you to sweat and increase your heart rate and breath faster such as running, walking, swimming, cycling etc.) can improve memory, attention and the ability to multi-task. So how does exercise and physical activity impact on our ability to learn?

In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, scientists found that aerobic exercise improved the size of the hypocampus compared to participants who were involved in resistance training. If we look at the areas of the brain involved in learning and memory the hypocampus plays an important role in long term memory formation and the ability to recall facts.

So, as you start your academic / school year, look around and see if there are any practical ways to increase your physical activity. For example, walk or cycle to your class, join a sports club or gym, or go for a jog with a friend.

More widely, other general health benefits of exercising and physical activity will include:

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk of type two diabetes
  • Improved mental health and mood
  • Increased bone density
  • General weight management

It is always important to consult your doctor before commencing physical activity.