Apologies for the ghostly silence on this blog! I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed with uni since the end of last semester and over the Christmas holiday with deadlines looming. I’ve struggled with stress since my last few years at school, and I think the increased pressure of second year, combined with the novelty of living in a new place (away from my boyfriend and family) starting to wear off, AND starting to feel a bit lost about my future post-uni has all coincided to make me feel pretty overwhelmed with life in general. But, thanks to my incredible boyfriend (don’t want to come across smug but he genuinely deserves the biggest shoutout, I don’t know what I would do without you Mikes) and family and friends, I feel like I am coming out the other side of a pretty rubbish time.
I’ve learned a lot over the last few months about what I need to be doing to help me function best and just be happy day-to-day really, and I’m definitely still struggling some days with coping, but hopefully those days will become less and less with the changes I’m trying to make. At first this was just going to be a little insert into another blog post, but once I gave it a little thought and started writing I kind of realised it deserves its own post. Firstly, because it’s actually super helpful to reflect on things, and I find writing really helps with this – but also because I know I’m not the only one in this situation, and I figured if it can even help just one person who reads it to start feeling like themselves again it is worth it.
Obviously I am by no means qualified in any of this stuff, but I feel like my 19 years of life so far have thrown a fair few challenges at me – fairly traumatic loss and subsequent grief, a chronic mobility issue which a few years back meant I couldn’t really function day to day – so perhaps sharing a few things I’ve learnt myself and from others along the way isn’t a bad idea.
The following tips are all kind of interrelated, but you could do any one or number of them, and obviously some things work for some people and not others – these are just the things I’m realising work for me and I hope they might be able to help you.
Firstly, I can’t express enough how important it is to TALK TO PEOPLE about how you’re feeling. I’m extremely lucky to have the family and friends that I do in my life, and I know this isn’t the case for everyone and this honestly breaks my heart. If you’re at uni and don’t have a family member or friend you feel you can confide in, then check out support networks like Nightline. There is also a whole load of helplines and listening services listed on Mind’s website that could be of use. Honestly having someone to talk to – whether that’s someone you’re close to or a person trained to help and support you – makes the world of difference.
I’ve found one of the biggest things that’s helped me recently is ROUTINE – and being able to create a routine for yourself on days when you have no commitments whatsoever. A particularly low point of my first week back at uni was Wednesday – the day where I have no lectures or seminars and on this particular Wednesday I also had no plans in particular, apart from a quick look round some shops with my flatmate for a birthday present for our other flatmate. My first instinct on writing about that Wednesday was to say it doesn’t take a genius to work out that my Wednesdays, with no lectures and no seminars, also have no routine. But this is being way too harsh on myself: something I really need to work on and feel I will probably be working on for the rest of my life – however dramatic that sounds it’s kind of true and, I have a hunch, not just for me. Having said that, in a way, on a Wednesday (and even on weekend days where I have no real plans) I need to be a little bit hard on myself in a very particular way.
While all I wanted to do on Wednesday morning was get back into bed, and put off all the things I had to do and think about that day, in future I am making every effort to almost not give myself that choice (for example by booking a gym class with a friend, or having all my running stuff out ready to go for a run) because in that state of mind I’m not necessarily able to make a decision that will benefit me most. And, more importantly, from experience I KNOW that if I get back into bed having already disturbed my sleep, I’ll start to feel useless, and that then has an impact on my whole day, and I’ve already missed the sleep so I’ll also be grouchy and unproductive. If I really need a lie in, I will let myself do that, and try my hardest not to feel guilty about it, recognise that, staying up late the night before, for example, was a choice that I made, and I likely had a really good time as a result, and it’s okay to adjust my routine for things like that, but still set up a plan for the rest of the day, factoring in, for example, that lie in that I probably deserve.
I feel like you can spend loads of money on planners that are supposed to change your life, but at the end of the day the notes app on your phone probably do just as good a job and you then have one less thing to carry around. Having said that, I do really like the look of Sighh’s new collection of stationary – being designed by former student Polly, it really seems to have nailed what’s important in terms of planning your day to get work done but also keep your sanity – I might well be investing sometime soon.
A key part of my routine is scheduling in EXERCISE, especially friends, EVEN WHEN YOU REALLY DON’T FEEL LIKE IT (within reason obviously!). If you’re anything like me you might think twice about bailing on a friend, whereas if you just tell yourself you’re going to go to the gym you’re just gonna press snooze, in particular if you’re not in the best place and are struggling for motivation.
Until my last year of school I kind of despised (or maybe more feared) exercise, until I started going to a spin class twice a week as a release/ escape from work and found it changed my weeks around. I felt I actually had more energy when I got home from an intense spin class than when I left the house for it, and seeing progression in my fitness (and that crazy post-spin endorphin release) boosted my mood so much that I actually looked forward to gym days so much and they began to happen more and more often, and are now a permanent part of my week. Find what works for you – whether that’s a fun class, or even just getting outside and active in whichever way you can, it will make all the difference.
Finally, KNOW THAT THESE CIRCUMSTANCES AND FEELINGS WILL PASS – Venetia Falconer (presenter, podcaster, sustainability QUEEN) has some amazing tips (many of which I’ve subconsciously adopted into my own life and hence am passing on here as advice so hopefully she doesn’t mind too much) on what to do when you feel a dark spell coming/realise you’re in one (because I find sometimes you don’t recognise it’s happening until you’re in it). I’ll be honest, I find it so incredibly hard to motivate myself when I’m in a dark place – sometimes I’m so low I can’t even be bothered to watch TV, but trying to tell myself how I’ll feel better if I start doing something – anything – is something I’m working on.
I like to think of it as riding the storm – trying to make yourself feel safe in the meantime, finding things to keep you distracted from the clutter in your mind if you can, and telling yourself you need to do the things that make you happy even if you don’t necessarily feel like it at the time because you will feel better in the long run. I guess I may have been influenced by the Melissa Hemsley episode of (one of my favourite podcasts) Talking Tastebuds (particularly the end of the episode around 51:35 onwards where she talks about her list of things that make her happy, because you often can’t remember those things when you’re at your lowest).
Moving forward, I’m trying to make time for the things that make me happy – seeing friends and family, baking and cooking, exercise and, increasingly, getting out and being around nature. My boyfriend helped me to realise that making more time for these things and other little side projects will help me to not let my uni work and the day-to-day consume me like it has been, and there is so much sense in that.
A huge part of this – and in fact what motivates me to keep going with this blog, even if just for myself, are the guys at Vevolution. I had the pleasure of attending another one of their amazing events (which was completely FREE!!) and the sense of community they have managed to create at their events is honestly so awe-inspiring. Would honestly suggest checking them out if you’re at all curious about veganism and conscious living, what they are doing is incredible. Another thing I would seriously recommend is to anyone cultivating your instagram – if the people you are following aren’t inspiring and serious about the things that you are serious about then question why you are consuming their content and consider unfollowing them if you can’t give yourself a satisfactory answer. I might actually do a blog post in the future about my favourite people on instagram if that is something people are interested in – I feel like I follow a few real gems.