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Taking Care Of Yourself At University

Going to university is one of those really big life-changing events. It can simultaneously be exciting and unsettling, a dream come true and a really overwhelming time.

For many of us, it’s the first time we’ve lived away from our primary caregivers and had full control over our lives. Others are mid-way through our course, or doing a post-graduate course. Some have lived away for a while, but are returning to studying as a mature student.

The choices are plentiful, the responsibility baton is firmly in our hands, it’s up to us to create healthy boundaries, and we can sometimes feel like a fish out of water; moving from a town where we may have had a friendship circle to a place where we’re meeting new people and making new connections.

Talking – even merely thinking – about the things that make us feel vulnerable can feel a bit icky but we wanted to reassure you, that if you’re feeling out of sorts about this new chapter, you’re absolutely not alone. Most of us feel wobbly when coping with big life changes (even if we’re really good at hiding it!).

Jump to:

I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.”
- Mary Oliver

Preparing To Go and Settling In

When we prepare for university, many of us consider things like how many mugs to bring, how much coffee a person can buy with a student loan, and how many items of fancy dress we need for Fresher’s week. We might also have worries. There are some worried that most people have – going to university is a big thing!

However, if we have a history of poor mental health, then we might have an additional dollop of worry plonked on top. We might have concerns about meeting a new GP, getting hold of our medication, just generally coping with …everything. Preparing for university when we’ve got these concerns can sometimes feel lonely. But we’re not the only student who has worries about their wobbly mental health, it’s often more common than we might think.

Arriving at university can feel like both an ending and a beginning all at once. For many of us, it’s the culmination of years of hard work, revision, essays, UCAS forms, exams, personal statements, volunteering and other extra-curricular activities. We have put the work in, and we’ve finally arrived. Now we just have to figure out how to get to lectures, manage the workload, figure out this adulting malarkey, eek out our student loan, and have some fun along the way.

Planning for university

Going to university can be really exciting. It can provide some amazing opportunities and lifelong friendships. Leaving home and moving to uni can also be really hard; the majority of students will feel anxious about leaving home and finding their way around a new city. We know that it can feel like even more of a challenge when you’re battling an illness such as depression, so, we’ve pulled together a list of things which will hopefully help to smooth this transition a little bit and make things feel slightly easier.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP): Resources to Help You

For some of us, our poor mental health affects us to the point where it is disabling. We may have applied for Disabled Students’ Allowance when preparing for university. But many don’t realise that we may also be eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). It’s always good to get advice from our university’s disability service, but if we do decide to apply for PIP, here are some resources to help you.

We know that it can be hard to accept that depression can be a disability, but sometimes we need to reach out for extra support.

Coping with change

Starting university brings the changes thick and fast. We have so much information to absorb so quickly. So many new things to get used to. Change is a funny thing; it’s inevitable because nothing stays the same forever but it’s also really unsettling and hard to cope with. We may be making different lifestyle choices, asserting our boundaries or replacing old habits, with new ones. Change can be good but the transition can still feel uncomfortable.

Meal planning for those low energy and low headspace times

One aspect of moving away from home is that we have to feed ourselves. Some of us may never have cooked before. Others can cook, but aren’t used to managing shopping lists, sell-by-dates, and juggling cooker space with flatmates. Poor mental health can make managing meals even harder.

Meal planning becomes an acute source of stress and overwhelm for so many of us. It takes energy and cognitive functions which are in limited supply. Food is something that’s necessary for survival and can affect our mood, so we can’t necessarily avoid/shelve it until we feel better. But golly, the elements of it all – the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the eating, the washing up – is a lot to deal with when we’re already dealing with so much.

Depression: Coping with disrupted sleep

Disrupted sleep is a common side effect of poor mental health. It’s also a common side effect of starting university, as we adapt to the new rhythms and sounds of a new place. It can take a few weeks to settle down.

However, if we find that our sleep isn’t settling down, or wonky sleep has lead to wobbly mental health, then we may need a bit of support. There are things we can try to help improve our sleep patterns. However if poor sleep is significantly affecting our lives, it’s something we might choose to speak to our GP about.

What Are Boundaries And Why Are they So Difficult?

Boundaries are inescapable: they’re the physical, mental, digital, emotional, environmental, spiritual and cultural constructs that create a framework which underpins and influences how we behave, our expectations of others, what we take responsibility for, what others take responsibility for, what we let in and what we keep out, and the relationship we have with ourselves and everything around us.

Going to university presents a whole new bunch of boundary possibilities. For some of us, we may never have had chance to make quite so many of our own boundaries before. It can take a fair bit of trial and error to get our boundaries working well for us.

Depression: On feeling like an imposter

There are many situations where we feel like the odd one out when we first arrive in a new place. We might tell ourselves that we’re not clever enough to be studying our subject. Always say the wrong thing when trying to make friends. Or completely misunderstood something when trying out a society the other day.

Chances are, lots of others feel exactly the same way. So much “newness” all at once is hard! It’s even harder if our mental health is wonky.

Feeling like an imposter is something that those with depression are familiar with. Everyone seems cleverer, stronger, more beautiful, more deserving, more organised, more rational, more talented, more…everything good.

Depression: Making time for everything that's important to us

Life has a habit of pulling us in all sorts of different directions. It can sometimes feel like everybody wants a piece of us, and we have no time to offer. It can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming. At times, it can leave us feeling like we have nothing left to give.

Depression: When money worries add to the strain we already feel

Starting university might be the first time we’ve ever had to budget. If we’re returning to university after a period of work, then we might suddenly be coping with a big loss of income. Worries about money can add to our mental strain.

Talking about money can feel embarrassing and if we’re struggling with our finances, we may feel ashamed. Added to the shame that we may already experience with having mental ill health, it’s a heavy burden to carry.

25 money-saving hacks

Living with poor mental health can be expensive. Not only can it impact our ability to work, and, consequently, our income, but we might also have to pay for things like prescriptions, taxis (because we can’t cope with public transport), and pre-packaged food (because we don’t have the energy to cook). Money worries can negatively impact our mental health. While we might not be able to focus on having a pot of savings, there are still things we can do to save on our costs.

When everything's going well... except our mental health

A few weeks in, we might feel like we’re starting to get in the swing of things. When people people ask us how we’re settling in, we can honestly say that we’re doing okay. But something still isn’t right. There’s still that niggle of “not okay”.

Sometimes everything in our life is going well… except our mental health. It can stir up all sorts of emotions and thoughts. We might not understand it. Perhaps we feel guilty, hopeless, frustrated, and deeply ashamed. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Poor mental health, and mental illness, can happen to anyone at any time.

Download: Reminders for when you're feeling overwhelmed

This tear sheet includes nine reminders for when overwhelm starts to build.

We all feel overwhelmed sometimes, especially in a new place with new people and new challenges. Reminders can help to ground us. We might like to pop this sheet on our wall, perhaps in a place that can cause overwhelm (like above our desk). Alternatively, we could cut out the reminders and put them in places we see all the time. Maybe our diary or the back of our phone case.

"In other words, if you can let go of passion, and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion."
- Elizabeth Gilbert

Studying

Moving from school or college to university launches into a whole new way of learning. Gone are the days of school-issued planners, parents evenings, and teachers chasing us up when we forget our homework. Entering university puts more responsibility on us to manage our own learning.

This can sound scary. But it’s also an amazing opportunity. An opportunity to try out different ways of doing things and figure out what works for us. Do we process by writing, audio, or talking things over? Do we work best in big blocks of time, or smaller chunks? Are we someone who relies on a tight deadline to motivate us?

It’s important to remember that people are there to support us. We might have to initiate that help more than we would have done in school, but it is there for us to access (and accessing it is 100% okay). Living with poor mental health can make studying much harder. It can affect our memory, concentration, energy levels, decision-making, motivation, and so much more. If we’re struggling, it’s not because we’re lazy. Please don’t struggle in silence. Utilise tutors, disabled students’ allowance, supervisors, disability services, student support, library support, maths centre support, seminar leads, student union support, and any other support that might be helpful. It wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a need for it.

Getting Going When We Have No Motivation To Do So

Depression can be a motivation-sucker and a half. When we want to do something, finding the motivation to do so can be hard enough.  But when we don’t even have the motivation to find our motivation, it becomes extremely difficult.

What is executive functioning and how could depression affect it?

Executive functioning is a term that many of us won’t have heard before. It encompasses a range of things that affect our everyday lives; depression or no depression. Things like working memory, flexible thinking, self-control, attention, organisation, and planning, starting tasks and staying focussed, managing our emotions, keeping track of what we’re doing, managing our time, and multitasking.

Depression: Dealing with overwhelmedness

Depression and feeling overwhelmed go hand-in-hand. Depression in itself is overwhelming because it affects every aspect of your life. It causes us to question our own abilities, skills, relationships and worth.

Overwhelmedness is stifling and can stop us from taking any action at all. We fear failure, we fear rejection and we quite frankly, we don’t always have the energy to get going. We can find ourselves in a vicious circle – no faith in our abilities and no energy can exacerbate guilt and shame.

On the other hand, you may never feel good enough and so push yourself to achieve. Saying yes to all demands placed on you until you have nothing left to give. To others. To yourself. You realise you’re running on empty, yet you just. Can’t. Stop.

7 steps for dealing with overwhelming paperwork

There are few things more horrendous than complicated, overwhelming paperwork.

A perfectly well person will still regard it with an eye-roll and a curse word, and couldn’t be less enthused about having to spend time extracting details, working out jargon and signing this-box-but-not-that-box. For someone who’s depressed, these tasks seem insurmountable. For someone who’s anxious, the worry of making a mistake somewhere can be nauseating. Unfortunately, us mentally poorly folk don’t get let off of this crummy paperwork business.

We have a plan though. We’ve got seven steps to get you through that overwhelmingly large pile of documents. It probably won’t be pleasant, but it will be manageable. Open up all the post you’ve been scared to open. Sort your junk mail from your Must Do This mail. Start to get your inbox back down to a reasonable number of emails. Embrace its scariness for a minute, then roll up your sleeves…

HOW TO TACKLE AN OVERWHELMING TO-DO LIST

A long to-do list can evoke anxious feelings. It doesn’t seem fair really. You make a great decision, which is to clear your head a little by jotting everyday tasks onto paper, then it feels like it’s haunting you. It’s an endless cycle of adding yet another thing to the long list, getting scared of the rate it’s growing at so we stop paying attention to it, then letting a mental list of to-dos build up until they become overwhelming. The whole thing continuous in a vicious circle until we’re scared and ashamed of how little it feels like we’ve accomplished. Just because we wrote it down.

The fact is, life can be so busy and depression can be so draining, that when we do gather up a little energy to get something done we will need that list there. We know as well as anyone what a bad episode can do to our short-term memory, as well as the damage holding all these pressures can do to a poorly mind.

We’ve come to the conclusion that whilst important, a to-do list alone isn’t enough to beat the overwhelm that comes with it. What we need is a plan of action.

Things to try when depression affects your memory and concentration

Depression can also really limit our concentration and memory. It can be frustrating and disorientating (and sometimes a bit embarrassing too) – we walk into a room and can’t remember why, we leave our keys in the door, we feel like we never get anything done because we can’t remember what it is we were supposed to do. We can’t remember what was said in the lecture we just left, or what our seminar tutor asked us to do for tomorrow. It can feel like we’re wading through treacle, our brains just don’t work as quickly and efficiently as they once did. And boy, do we notice it.

Depression: On making mistakes

Making mistakes is part of life. Unfortunately, when we have depression, the negative feelings that can come with making mistakes often get amplified. It can send us into a negative spiral and make us think and believe horrible things about ourselves.

Perfectionism and depression

Many of us have problems with perfectionism. Depression can make it worse.

Our depression constantly tells us that we aren’t good enough: that we should be trying harder, doing better. It tells us that we have to be perfect in every part of our lives – and when we’re not, we’re failing. It can be paralysing to the point where we struggle to get any of our assignments done for fear of them not being ‘perfect’.

Depression: We're not being lazy

Appearances can be deceptive, especially for those of us who are living with depression. Which is why the ‘lazy’ label can feel like a particularly cruel one. And it’s not just other people who might think we’re being lazy either – it’s often a term we use to beat ourselves up with too; for not doing more, being more.

Depression, anxiety, and memory loss

Memory loss is a symptom of anxiety and depression that we don’t always hear about. Despite this, it can cause significant distress and have a huge impact on our lives. Understanding the link between our mental health and our memory can help us to create strategies that work for us, and to be more compassionate towards ourselves (because this memory loss is not our fault).

11 Ways to reduce stress

Life can be stressful. Sometimes we feel so stressed that we can’t work out what to do to reduce our stress because our brain is too full to think. At times like these, it can be helpful to have a list of ideas to fall back on.

15 ways to switch off

In an increasingly ‘immediate’ society, it can be more and more difficult to switch off. Our phones are forever pinging, notifications on our laptop pop up all of the time, we’re contactable every which way, and there’s a sense that our to-do list is never-ending. We can experience total information overload and might struggle to wind down. So here are 15 ideas of things that could help us to switch off.

Taking care of yourself this exam season

Exam season is always high-pressured; it’s am amalgamation of all of the things we’ve learned and the expectation that we’ll perform at our best. When we add depression to the mix, with its energy-sapping, memory-reducing, concentration-lapsing, and motivation-sucking ways, then it’s easy to see how exam season can become a source of substantial worry, anxiety and stress.

A letter to those expecting exam results

Dear Exam-Result-Expecter,

We know how difficult results day can be. We know how many sleepless nights it can cause. We want you to know that you are not alone in feeling this way – most people your age will be feeling similar things, and many of us who got our results a long time ago still feel anxious and get the occasional results day dream at this time of year!

Download: An utterly useful self-care planner

When we’re getting to grips with balancing our study time with everything else, it’s easy for self-care to get forgotten. But it’s so important – it helps us to have the energy to do all the things we want to do! Scheduling it into our lives, can help us to prioritise it.

"Make sure in your busy life of "To Do Lists" that you make time to have fun!”
- Jennifer Gamboa

Socialising

Socialising can be a big part of university life. Most people who have been to university will have at least a handful of stories to tell!

Many of us are excited at the prospect of new friends, nights out, nights in, volunteering opportunities, and society-joining. This excitement can come with a buzz of anxiety, though. Socialising, making new friends, and maintaining existing relationships can be really hard. Wobbly mental health can add an additional layer of challenge. Some of us might not have socialised much for a few years.

There’s no set mould when it comes to socialising. We can do it in a way that suits us. We don’t have to engage in things that we’d prefer to avoid. Many of us worry about ‘losing’ friendships from back home, too, but there are so many ways to stay in touch these days. It is difficult to balance socialising with other items on our to do list, and the challenges our mental health throws our way, but it’s not impossible – it can just take some trial and error.

Re-learning how to socialise when we're out of practice

When we’ve been living with depression for a while, it’s all too easy to become isolated. Often people will try to stay in touch with us, but we might push them away and stop going to social events until it can reach the point where we barely see anyone outside of our house. People might not reach-in as we’d hope and it can impact our pre-existing relationships. Eventually, we might want to start socialising again, but when we haven’t socialised for a while we can feel a bit ‘out of practice’ and completely outside of our comfort zones.

When loneliness and social anxiety are at odds with one another

When we are living with social anxiety, it makes socialising really difficult. We might find ourselves feeling very isolated and lonely. Loneliness is damaging to our overall health. Feeling connected and having a sense of belonging are needs we all have. When we have social anxiety and feel lonely, the two can feel at odds with one another with conflicting needs and feelings.

DEPRESSION: SURVIVING SOCIALISING

When we have depression, socialising can be tricky. We can become very isolated very quickly: we might not have ventured out for quite a while, so leaving our bedroom or house can be incredibly overwhelming.

We know how incredibly hard it can be to muster the energy to leave the house and see people, and that socialising – even with people we know well – can feel really scary.

Being aware of how alcohol can affect our mood

Alcohol is quite an embedded part of our culture, here in the UK. For some of us, it can be a social thing to do; we might meet up with friends in bars or pubs, go on nights out and party until dawn, or have frequent dinner parties with no shortage of wine. Others might have a glass of wine with their tea each night, a can or two whilst watching the football, or a nice cool beverage whenever the sun shows itself.

Whether alcohol is something we’ve grown up with, something we’ve discovered later on in life, something we have every day, something we only touch occasionally, or something we watch others drink but don’t have personally, it’s worth knowing how it can affect our mood.

Depression: Activities that can help us feel less alone

When we have depression, we can often feel horribly alone – even in a room of our favourite people. It can feel as though we’re apart from the rest of the world. We don’t have much energy. We don’t know what to say to people. We don’t feel how we used to feel.

When we feel lonely and isolated, our perspective of ourselves tends to be the only one we hear and it’s usually an unkind one. That makes reaching out, to foster connections, even more difficult because we have to overcome our feelings of unworthiness and low self-confidence. We’ve put together a list of things we hope will help, some easier than others.

Depression: How poor mental health can test friendships

In the midst of a depression fog, friendships can become hard and complicated. They morph into an unrecognisable version of you and those closest to you – a plateau of hot coals, haunted by how things used to be, exacerbated by heart-wrenching change that none of you quite understand. It’s an awful feeling. It’s also quite normal.

QUESTIONS OUR FRIENDS MIGHT ASK ABOUT DEPRESSION AND HOW TO ANSWER THEM

Talking about depression with our friends can be difficult. Though we know they have our best interests in heart, their knowledge and understanding about depression might be limited. They also may have questions they want to ask us which – when we’re in the thick of our illness – we might not feel equipped to answer.

Feeling prepared can make us feel more confident, so in this blog we share some questions friends may ask us about depression – and answers we might want to offer.

Depression: Why we push people away

When we have depression, we oftentimes find ourselves withdrawing from our loved ones and sometimes, pushing people away. We don’t always know why, and it’s not always a conscious thing either, it’s confusing, painful and unsettling.

It can be confusing for those around us, too, because if we don’t know why we’re pushing them away, they won’t know why either.

Download: Reframing my anxious thoughts

Anxiety can be such a tricky one to cope with. When we meet new people, it can send our anxiety levels skyrocketing. We worry about everything.

Our thoughts can sometimes spiral so quickly that we can’t keep up. The more anxious we are, the more physical symptoms we get. The more physical symptoms we get, the harder it can be to wind our anxiety back down again. Reframing our anxious thoughts can help us to think about them differently. Work through this download to reframe anxious thoughts one at a time.

“You have earned breaks without having to earn them to begin with.”
- Jan Lenarz

You Always Matter

Naturally, there’s a focus on achievement, on studying, on meeting deadlines and on handing in coursework and in making new friends but the most important and most valuable things are you, and your health.

Finding the balance can be tricky and it’s a life-long lesson; as we change and evolve, so do our needs. Being mindful of those and making sure we prioritise those, that is where the hard work lies. Our health impacts all of who we are and of what we do. Just like a well-serviced and maintained car can travel far and carry a heavy load, we’re the same. When we invest in ourselves in a similar way, it helps us to manage all of the balls we need to juggle.

Self-care underpins our emotional, mental, physical and social needs. It’s keeping an eye on where we are right now, where we want to be and marrying up the two with what we have; energy, motivation, spoons, time, health. It’s the framework for the decisions we make and it’s also a preventative measure for ill health.

Depression: Why self-care matters

When we’re at university, making time for self-care amongst all of our other commitments can be really tricky. When we’re depressed, it can be even more difficult to squidge self-care into our day because it’s often difficult to care about anything – least of all ourselves.

However, self-care is one of the key tools for maintaining good physical and mental health. It’s also in our armoury for combating depression. So it’s important we make it a priority.

About self-care

We’re always harping on about self-care. We understand how important it is, but also how bloomin’ tricky it can be.

We may feel resistance around practising self-care.  We’ve spent so long telling ourselves we’re unworthy, that showing ourselves kindness feels extremely discomforting.

On this page we share information and resources to help you on your self-care journey. We hope it inspires you to make positive change.  Because – whatever your head may say – you *are* worthy, and you do deserve better.

When self-kindness isn't as easy as it sounds

We’re encouraged to be kind to ourselves, but self-kindness isn’t always easy. Especially, if it’s the polar opposite of how we usually think and act. When our self-worth is low, which is really common when we are unwell with depression, then it’s hard to feel worthy of kindness – from anyone.

The way we treat ourselves can often be poles apart from the way we interact with our loved ones. And that’s the bit that’s hard to unpin.

11 ways we can practice self-kindness

We often talk about ‘being kind to ourselves’; but when depression has us in its grasp, it can feel hard to like ourselves enough to carry out basic self-care, never mind to show ourselves kindness. It’s even harder to practice self-kindness when we can’t think where we could start or when it feels like an alien habit, so here are a few ideas to get us going.

Self-talk: Why the words we use do matter

We all have an internal dialogue – whether we’re aware of it or not. Some of us may be conscious of it as a constant stream. For others, it might seem less often and more ‘remember to put the bins out’ and ‘oh you dingo, why did you drop the toast on the floor?’. Our self-talk matter because it affects our emotions, mood, and ultimately our actions.

9 No-nonsense self-care ideas

Self-care is essential for our well-being, yet typically it’s something that can be difficult to prioritise. We might not believe we’re worthy of self-care (we are!) or we might not know where to begin (we created our free self-care starter kit to help with that).

There’s also a misconception that self-care isn’t for everyone.  Self-care often comes with connotations of being very girly and fluffy, but it doesn’t have to be all sparkly bath bombs and wool-based creations.

Self-care for when we're empty and have nothing left to give

When we feel empty and as though we have nothing left to give, self-care is critical. It’s also when it feels most impossible – the very time we have no headspace even to consider what might help us to feel better. We’ve been left with a foggy head, heavy heart and weary limbs and, to make matters worse, it feels as though the world is ganging up on us, wanting more, and more, and more.

Self-care for busy people

When we’re busy, self-care can be one of the first things to drop off the end of the ‘to-do’ list. It’s very easy to think it’s not important and that there are other things we need to do first.

However, self-care is important. Without it, we burn out quickly. We can’t give our all to our families, friendships and occupations if we have nothing left to give. Self-care gives us time to regroup and recharge.

Being mindful of our digital boundaries

These days, we’re contactable in more ways, and in more instant ways, than ever. The amount of ‘buzz’ we receive from the digital world can, at times, become overwhelming. It can exacerbate our anxiety and leave us feeling drained. Setting digital boundaries can help us to manage the way we interact with the digital world, which can ultimately help us to manage our mental health.

Depression: Getting our smartphones to work for us

There is no doubt that the way we use our smartphones can have a positive, or negative, effect on our wellbeing.

At times we might worry that we’re spending too much time connected to our devices. We’re definitely not alone in worrying about our phone habits; smartphones are a right old contentious issue these days, especially when it comes to their effect on our mental health.

Curating a positive online space

Many of us spend multiple hours a day in online spaces that we’ve created. We use them to work, stay in contact with people, and laugh at hilarious videos of squirrels.

Sometimes, the online world can be a positive space; it lifts us up. But sometimes it’s not-so-positive, and can drag us down. It’s up to us to make our online space a place that we enjoy.

Download: Self-care starter kit

This free Self-Care Starter Kit that we’ve put together will help you get your self-care mojo back. It includes the following:

1. What is self-care? And why is it so important?
2. 5 instant self-care things which can be done from your bed
3. Self-care alphabet – breaking it down into teensy tiny bites
4. Looking after yourself on a budget
5. Caring for yourself from the inside out
6. Self-care worksheet – to help you discover what self-care looks like for YOU

"Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.”
- Jenny Lawson

MENTAL HEALTH

We all have mental health, we just find ourselves in different places on the vast spectrum between feeling on top of the world, or really unwell, at different times in our lives.

We can have poor mental health without being mentally unwell. Nobody feels great all the time. We all feel anxious at times, have naff days, and go through patches of struggling to sleep. For some of us, our mental health can continue to deteriorate until we reach the point where we’re mentally unwell and need more support. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of if that’s us – lots of others struggle, too, and it isn’t our fault.

When we’re mentally unwell, life is a struggle. As with any other illness, a mental illness can limit our capabilities and have a ripple effect into every aspect of our lives; our sense of self, our studies, our work, how we physically and mentally feel, and our relationships with others. But things can get better.

Mental health is a sliding scale

When we hear the term ‘mental health‘, our minds often go straight to thinking about mental illness and if we’ve never experienced mental ill health, we don’t think the conversation applies to us. But it does, we all have mental health. The term ‘mental health’ encompasses a broader spectrum of experiences than mental illness. We can have good, as well as poor, mental health, and also be somewhere in between – our mental health is interchangeable, mental health is a sliding scale.

Understanding the difference between depression and sadness

The question: ‘do I have depression or am I sad?’, is a common one. It can be difficult to work out whether we’re experiencing sadness – a human emotion, or depression – a medical condition. Asking ‘Dr Google’ can leave us feeling even more confused, especially as sadness is something those with depression do experience. The terms ‘blues’ and ‘depressed’ are sometimes bandied about in a flippant way too, which just adds to the confusion we may feel.

The difference between burnout and depression

‘Burnout’ is a term that people are becoming increasingly aware of. Many of the symptoms of burnout can be similar to those of depression and vice versa. Some people experience one but not the other, some find that one leads to the other and others experience both at the same time. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two.

The difference between nervousness and anxiety

Sometimes it can be hard to work out whether we’re experiencing nervousness or anxiety. Nervousness is a human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Anxiety can be a diagnosable medical condition. We often turn to Google in a bid to work out what we’re living with, but that can leave us feeling even more confused because there can be so many different pieces of information flying about and because we often experience nervousness as part of anxiety.

The difference between depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety are sometimes confused. While they are different medical conditions, they share similarities. The symptoms, causes and treatments of depression and anxiety can overlap. It’s also not unusual for people to suffer from both depression and anxiety.
 
In this post we look at the difference between depression and anxiety – and the similarities.

Depression: Coping with the urge to run away

When we have depression, we sometimes feel like we want to run away from everything. Life can feel overwhelming and claustrophobic. Leaving it all behind and starting from scratch can seem very appealing.

But running away from everything isn’t usually an option – or the answer. In this post we share some ideas on how to manage the feelings of wanting to run away, without actually doing so.

Grappling with identity when diagnosed with depression

Many things impact and shape our identity throughout life. Depression is one of those things. When diagnosed with depression, our sense of self and how we slot into the world can feel unsteady and the way others relate to us might change.

Coping with the frustration of mental illness

Mental illness can be incredibly frustrating – impacting all areas of our lives and making it harder to do things that we want or have previously been able to do.

Piecing life back together after a period of depression

Piecing life back together following a period of depression isn’t always straightforward. There are lots of things to consider and think about. It’s often something we have to work really hard at.

What we want you to know about self-damaging behaviours

When we’re trying to cope with the stresses and strains of life, there may be times when we turn to self-damaging behaviours. The use of these behaviours is often highly stigmatised and this stigma can be worsened by a lack of understanding.

Depression: Why surviving deserves more credit than we give it

When we talk to family, read the papers, and scroll through social media; we often find ourselves feeling inadequate. The entire world seems to be achieving in one way or another. Whether it be a new job or promotion. Tiny babies, or photos of grandchildren’s graduations. Smiling faces sharing travels, or photos of certificates. It could be something else entirely. Whatever it is, it can be really hard to not let all of this carefully curated ‘success’ affect how we feel about ourselves.

Download: Depression symptom and mood tracker

This is a useful tool to track depression and symptoms and mood to give an overview of where we’re at and where we’ve been. The foggy head that comes with depression, can make it difficult to remember dates and how long we may, or may not, have been experiencing a symptom or a low mood. Tracking the symptoms and our mood is important information for ourselves and our GPs and support workers.

“I found that with depression one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it… I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.'”
- The Rock

When we need a little more support

Nobody has their shizz together all of the time, despite appearances to the contrary. We all need a helping hand, a leg-up, a shoulder to cry on and someone to lean on at differing times throughout our lives. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it doesn’t mean you’re a ‘snowflake’ or that you’re lacking in any way.  You matter and you are worthy and deserving of support.

It can be hard to know how to ask for help, which words we should use, or who we should go to. Sometimes we worry about whether we’re “bad enough” to ask for help (spoiler alert: there’s no such thing – if we need support, we need support). The more supported we feel, the better (even when we’re ‘well’). Recovery is a team job, not ours and ours alone.

As well as the wonderful organisations we’ve listed in the ‘get support‘ section of our website, your university will have a student support team, a wellbeing team, disability team, and don’t forget your GP too. Please reach out for help if things are feeling wonky, it can make all of the difference. The quicker we feel supported, understood and heard, the quicker we can build a support system to help us get back on our feet.

What is a blanket fort support system?

A blanket fort can be a place of safety and sanctuary, providing us with some much-needed comfort, a safe space – somewhere we can retreat to weather the storms.

Thinking about the support we have in terms of a blanket fort can be really helpful. It can help us to put together a support system so comforting, so strong, and so reassuring,  that it can rival even the most epic of blanket forts.

What I mean when I say I don't know how I am

“How are you?” is a question many of us are familiar with. It’s probably the question we get asked more often than any other. Many of us automatically respond with ‘fine thanks, you?’, because that’s the response we’ve learned to give. It’s the response we heard the adults around us trot out each time they were asked how they were; they probably learned it from the adults around them.

People are becoming increasingly aware of this. Various campaigns encourage us to ‘ask twice‘ or to ask ‘how are you, really?’.

The problem is, we don’t always have an answer. We don’t always know how we are.

Mental illness: Communicating when we don't have the words

When we’re struggling with our mental health, there’s often a message to communicate. To talk about it. But when we’re struggling to find the words we need to describe our thoughts and feelings, talking feels immensely difficult.

DEPRESSION: HOW AND WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP

Depression can be a very lonely and isolating illness. Getting support from others can help keep us going.

However, it can be hard to know when to reach out for help, and how to go about asking for it. In this post we offer some advice about reaching out.

Depression: Why we find it hard to ask for help

When we have depression, it can be hard to ask for help. Being open and honest about our illness can feel difficult. We don’t know what to say. We don’t know how people will react. We may feel guilty, or ashamed, or worry about being a burden. We might believe depression is something we should be deal with it alone.

Reaching out is difficult for many people with depression.  If we’re struggling to ask for help, we’re certainly not alone.

Depression: When it's time to ask for more help

When we have depression, there are times when we need more help. Sometimes we already have some support. Sometimes we don’t have any support at all. But whatever the starting point; the more supported we feel, the more manageable depression feels.

Talking about our mental health isn't always easy

We often see messages encouraging us to talk about our mental health, to tell others how we’re feeling. Well-meaning messages often suggest that we reach out for help and list phone numbers that we can ring if we’re struggling.

These messages are all fantastic in principle. The problem is that sometimes, no matter how much we want to, talking about our mental health can feel really difficult. Whichever stage we’re at in our mental health journey – whether it’s the first time we’re speaking openly about our feelings or we’ve been talking about them for years, there are times when the words just won’t come out.

Mental illness: Preparing for your first appointment

If we’re worried about our mental health, it’s often helpful to speak to a healthcare professional. But booking and attending an appointment can be a real challenge. The closer the appointment gets, the more intense our anxiety around it can become. Preparing for it can help us to feel more in control, and to reduce our anxiety to a more manageable level.

Depression: A doctor's role

Depression can come out of nowhere and knock you to your knees. It can also develop gradually over time. So slowly, that those around you may notice something is up before you do. It can affect every aspect of our lives. Those who have never experienced depression often underestimate how debilitating depression is.

As if depression isn’t enough to deal with, the stigma of mental ill health means that we quite often feel ashamed, guilty and frightened too. The stigma prevents so many people from reaching out for the help and support they so desperately need and deserve.

A strong support system is an important part of recovery. Your doctor can play a key role in that support system.

Questions people have when starting therapy

When we first start thinking about accessing therapy, questions can whizz around our brain and keep us up at night. It can be hard to know where to put them. We might not be sure how to ask and sometimes might not even be sure quite what it is we’re asking.

We’ve collected a bumper list of questions that we might have when starting therapy. Though we aim to answer each as generally as we can, it’s important to check with individual therapists, centres, and services for more specific, personal advice.

Anxiety treatment: A guide to different options

Whether we’ve recently been diagnosed or have been living with it for many years; anxiety treatment options can be confusing.

Treatments are often described using words or acronyms that we’ve never come across before, so we don’t know what they mean. Perhaps we’ve in therapy for a while but want to know what else we could try. Maybe we think we’ve tried every anxiety treatment going, and we’re wondering where to turn next.

Different therapies work for different people. Sometimes we need to try several different things, or a combination of things, to find something that works for us. By understanding our options, we can feel empowered to ask for what we need.

Depression: A guide to different treatment options

Unfortunately there is no ‘catch all’ cure for depression, but there are a range of treatment options available to us. Different treatments will prove helpful to different people – depending on the nature of our depression, the severity of our illness, and also our personal circumstances.

In this post, we give a very brief introduction to the most common treatments available. All have their own pros and cons which we should research before embarking on a course of treatment; and of course, all decisions about treatment should be made in consultation with a medical professional.

Mental illness: Coping with bad reactions from others

Having a mental illness can be tough enough, but when we’re brave enough to tell people and they have a bad reaction to it, that only serves to validate those horrible thoughts of being a burden, worthless and helpless. In addition to the shame we might already feel, we now feel silly for reaching out and are tempted to clam up.

How to let people know we're having suicidal thoughts

If we’re feeling suicidal then telling someone can help. Unfortunately, talking about how we feel isn’t always very easy. Finding the words can be hard, particularly when we need to talk about something as difficult as suicide. We might also experience a lot of anxiety and fear around telling someone how we feel.

“Always remember you matter, you're important and you are loved, and you bring to this world things no one else can.”
- Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

When life throws lemons

Recovery isn’t linear. Sometimes, we reach out for support, and do all we can do to help ourselves, but stuff still gets worse. Sometimes, we’ve been fine for a while, and all of a sudden we’re not. Sometimes, we’re just about managing to pick ourselves up and then something else comes and knocks us down.

We all need different things. We all need different levels and types of support. Sometimes, we need a little extra support for a while. Sometimes, we need to take a break from studying for a while. Sometimes, we need to change our medication. Every single one of us needs a different combination of things to not just survive, but thrive.

And that’s okay! It really is. Life would be very boring if we were all the same.

 

Depression: How to cope when things go wrong

Things going wrong are a normal – somewhat frustrating – part of life. They can set us back, but most of the time we can figure out a way to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep going. However, when we’re experiencing depression, even seemingly minor, inconsequential things going wrong can have a huge effect on how we feel we might be able to cope.

Depression: How to recognise a downward spiral and what to do about it

A downward spiral is when we can feel ourselves slipping into a lower mood and our mental health feels as though it’s declining. They can be hard to handle because we might not really understand why things are sliding again. The nature of mental illness is that it drains our cognitive functions and the downward spiral comes with a sense of hopelessness, frustration, and oftentimes, anger.

Mental health recovery is never linear

When things go awry, we like to know what to do and how to do it, so that it can be sorted out – it’s a totally natural response. With some illnesses, the treatment is simple and we are able to move on. Unfortunately, mental ill health isn’t so straightforward, and to make it even more frustrating, recovery is hardly ever linear either – we don’t experience feeling better in a nice, neat, straight line.

To the person who feels alone in this

There are times when no matter how many people we have around us, we feel alone – even in a room of our most favourite people. Depression weighs us down and anxiety clutches our chest.

Depression: Living with dark thoughts and urges

When we have depression, we often have to cope with dark thoughts and scary urges. These thoughts can seem to come on with no warning. They can feel completely overwhelming. Living alongside them is exhausting and at times very scary.

Because people rarely talk about dark thoughts and urges, it can feel as though we’re the only ones in the world to struggle with them. But we are not alone. Stigma might keep us quiet, but we are definitely not the only ones to have ever felt like this.

Depression: When we have thoughts of ending it all

Depression can come with a whole host of horrible symptoms – some of which are extremely distressing.

Sometimes, we can be plagued by intrusive thoughts that don’t reflect how we actually feel. Our depression might tells us we want to end our lives, when in reality we very much want to keep on living – but we want the pain to go away. The marked difference between these thoughts (that we seemingly hold in our heads at the same time) is confusing. The constant conflict in our heads is exhausting.

A letter to you, for when life feels pointless

Dear You,

We know that life feels pointless right now. We understand how monotonous everything can become. What it’s like to feel totally and utterly worn down by trying to stay afloat. It can grind us down until we have no energy left at all. Until we begin to wonder what the point of it all really is…

Coping with crisis

Depression is an insidious illness. At its very worst, it can take lives. Every year, more than 800,000 people of all ages and walks of life die by suicide. Up to 25 times as many people make suicide attempts, and countless more experience suicidal thoughts. Depression is very often a factor in these cases. For those of us experiencing thoughts of suicide, we’re not always sure what to do, or where to go, for help.

In this resource page we hope to build awareness and understanding about what it can be like to live with suicidal feelings. We also provide resources and information that may help in crisis situations.

Download: Crisis Plan

Although we’d much prefer a world where no-one had to suffer with suicidal thoughts and urges, the fact remains it’s something that many of us may have to deal with in some way or the other in our lifetimes.

It’s wise then to prepare for crisis situations, by getting clear on how you can keep yourself safe when times get tough.

Taking time to complete a Crisis Plan when you’re feeling well can make things easier for you – and the people who support you – when you’re feeling not-so-good.

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains.”
- Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

University can be an incredible, wonderful, terrifying, scary, life-changing, exciting, nerve-wracking, lonely, enriching experience. Sometimes all in the same week! Studying in a new place with new people and new opportunities can be amazing.

But there are also bumps in the road for many of us. We will have times when things feel bleak. When we feel intensely alone, lose our sense of who we are, and don’t know where to turn.

However hopeless we feel, hope always exists, we just might not be able to see it.
Things can always get better, we just might not believe it.
There is always someone who cares, even if we can’t currently feel it.

We all need more support, sometimes, and that’s absolutely okay.
We are never as alone as we think we are.

Sending oodles of kind thoughts your way,
The Blurt Team x

P.S. We send kind words by email every week and we think you’d like it. Pop your name and email here and look forward to it plopping in your inbox each week.

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Please be aware that you may be liable for additional costs of handling or taxation of goods now that Blurt (UK based) are no longer part of the EU.

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