#GiveYourselfAPec: A Brand New Mental Health Campaign to deal with Academic Stress

Modupe Reis writes about her new mental health campaign, designed to combat exam stress and help us all to take better care of ourselves.

As exams have finally come to an end, I would like to say congratulations to everyone reading this! You made it – bring on the champagne and fireworks.

Now that the ‘worst’ is over, I would like to call everyone to reflect on how the exam and essay season went, even though I’m pretty certain most of you want to completely erase the horror from your minds. Ask yourself the following questions: How did I feel during this time? Did I neglect my wellbeing? Was I constantly stressed? Did my Mental Health suffer under the academic pressure?

Some of those questions are easy to answer – of course I was stressed – but the others might be more difficult to realise about yourself. Mental health is a tricky topic and, in trying to find out how essays and exams have affected me personally as well as other members of RHUL’s community, I wanted to create a brand-new mental health campaign that would cater to that very cause. This campaign is called #GiveYourselfAPEC.

PEC, pronounced ‘peck’, stands for Pre/Post-Exam Care. When you give someone a ‘peck’, it is often a sign of warmth and affection and we should be giving them to ourselves more often – not literally though. This ‘peck’ is more about showing yourself some much-needed genuine self-love and self-care by showing affection to your mental health. It relates to how one might cope with stress and any negative emotions or experiences that tend to crop up during exam and essay season, or even just periods of high stress. This campaign is not just about giving you information to understand these issues, it’s also about showing you how to manage them and create your own personal care plan so you can proactively take care of your wellbeing before, during and after any stressful time in your life.

Most people might recognise that their wellbeing does suffer during periods of intense academic stress—acceptance is a big step! However, it shouldn’t just stop there. Ideally, we should be noticing a problem, seeking help and then finding a solution, whether temporary or permanent. Unfortunately, it is often the case that we fall into patterns of complacency with our problems especially when we’ve dealt with them for so long. I’m sure you can recall a time when you’ve spoken to a friend or acquaintance in the library and they keep complaining about how they can never sleep properly and don’t appear to be taking care of themselves in the proper manner, as they would when they weren’t stressing over a deadline.

I talked to Lucy Simpson, the Vice-Chair of RHUL’s Mental Health Network, as well as Renée Landell, the Student’s Union’s BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) Network representative, about this issue. I asked them specifically what aspects of their personal wellbeing suffer most under academic duress and not so surprisingly, they both mentioned sleep. Renée notes that her “sleep/sense of time and place” are negatively affected. She also added, “I often feel disorientated”. Lucy also said she “notices mood changes when I have severe academic stress/burnout. But I also retrospectively realise that my sleep has been really bad. Lack of sleep has a domino effect on my social life, my ability to keep on top of eating well and looking after myself.”

Renée and Lucy have both given themselves PECs by having plans in place to tackle their academic stress and their issues with mental wellbeing. Renée says that she relies on “meditation and prayer,” which then helps her to complete her tasks to the best standard. Lucy tells me that she “prioritizes sleep, cooks bulk meals and tries to get ahead of deadlines”. She also shares a great piece of advice: “There’s no one big thing to fix all the worries and problems but I have many little coping mechanisms, it’s about finding out which healthy ones are right for you”.

Throughout this campaign, I will be focusing on giving information about sleep to students in order to help them in the future. There will also be sleep diaries available courtesy of Mind, a well-established mental health charity. Sleep is one of the biggest issues students struggle with and it’s such an important aspect of one’s life that is needed for positive mental wellbeing. I will also be giving information on eating well and how that aspects our moods – aptly named ‘food and mood’ – as this is another very important aspect of wellbeing which might deteriorate during exam period. It’s important to not just know how food affects us physiologically, but also how it affects us mentally. I will also be sharing flyers with tips on managing other important aspects of care during exams, such as panic attacks, stress, mindfulness and more. These booklets and flyers will be free and available at the SU.

My aim is that by the end of my #GiveYourselfAPEC campaign, students will be better equipped with personalised coping mechanisms to face their academic stressors and be proactive in caring for their mental wellbeing before it develops into a bigger issue.