Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Editors Try: Various ways to keep your mental health in check

Claudia Hall

Owen and I are both masters’ students who work five jobs between us, play hockey (myself being VP), write for the Orbital and somehow manage to maintain our social lives and a relationship. To say we’re constantly stressed would be a massive understatement. 

Unsurprisingly I am prone to the odd breakdown, this usually involves lots of crying, refusing to eat and worrying my mum and Owen senseless. The last one was after working 30 out of 32 days. I was overworked, tired and in a very bad place mentally. After phoning my mum, I knew that I had to come up with better coping mechanisms. It was not healthy to disappear into myself or want to run away from everything. I realised that I had to learn to take time for myself before the point my mental health started to spiral. So started my journey of prioritising my mental health. 

Exercise has always played a big part in my life, a constant I fall back and rely on to help me relax and work through any problems in my life. Therefore, going on walks seemed like a great solution. Surrounded by so many great parks with beautiful scenery and maintained footpaths, the fresh air and the endless trails never get boring. It is easy to feel trapped at such a small campus, so exploring the surrounding wildlife is a peaceful respite from the chaotic, often claustrophobic, walls of Holloway. 

Coming from a long line of avid bakers, this next challenge was something I was very keen on. Baking everything from bread and homemade pizzas to five-tier cakes, cookies and brownies, we tried it all. Challenging yourself in a non-academic way with a delicious reward at the end is incredibly satisfying. I now have a cupboard in my house full of baking ingredients and I recommend everyone fall in love with baking something once in their lives and if nothing else, it is an excellent outlet to angrily bash biscuits into crumbs for a cheesecake.

Sleep is something I have always struggled with. At night I can find my mind racing and thoughts going to my ever-expanding ‘to do list’. A friend suggested to me ‘Headspace’, an app that promotes meditation, better sleep, stress relief and mindfulness. It is easy to access via a Spotify account and the helpful playlists and guided talks, offer a wide range of tips and tricks to create perfect sleeping conditions, manage thoughts and feelings and offer detailed exercises to strengthen your mental and physical wellbeing. This app felt like watching a David Attenborough documentary on repeat, something I also would recommend – it was soothing and peaceful. I sometimes find these self-help guides to feel pretentious and off-putting. However, this was the opposite. The tips were useful and easy to follow. I don’t know how well it helps me sleep but it certainly forces me to have ten peaceful minutes to myself, worry free. 

Downtime is something I have learnt to embrace. I still struggle with feeling like I should be productive, but I have become better at checking myself. Whether that be painting, colouring, bath-bomb making or Netflix watching, I remind myself that it’s ok to take some time for yourself, you don’t have to constantly be chasing the next assignment or shift. A favourite of mine is having a bath (if you have one), a glass (or bottle) of wine and a facemask. Phone-free moments are also a blessing. Owen and I started having a no technology approach to our dinners and drinks evenings, it forces us to switch off, spend some time together and really talk to one another about anything and everything. Most people are good at talking, but not at listening. See how much better you get to know a person and how relaxed you feel having no distractions. 

Finally, I cannot emphasise enough how much journaling has helped me. I never thought I’d be that person who felt comfortable enough and passionate enough to write my feelings down. I naively thought I never needed to see my thoughts and feelings reflected back at me, how wrong I was. My journal contains my fears, sadness, anger and hurt, but it also contains my hopes, dreams, love and happiness. It’s a way for me to safely and confidently express my innermost thoughts, free of embarrassment or worry. It will never judge me and never tell another soul. Having grown up with a very toxic view of myself, exasperated by people in my life who were meant to love me unconditionally; I still greatly struggle today and probably always will. However, journaling has given me a positive way to channel those thoughts and that hurt, and I will forever be grateful. 

That is not to say that I will no longer get bad days or not struggle. I will always have many spinning plates in my life, but I am learning to slow down rather than crash headfirst. I don’t have it all figured out and I probably never will, but for once I don’t feel guilty for not being perfect, not doing things right and for struggling. I am not only learning to ask for help but also learning to take care of myself. I am learning to prioritise my mental health, especially as we enter another lockdown and for this one I’m furloughed. Going from 100 to 0 is going to be tricky for many of us, but take this month to really check in with yourself and your loved ones.