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Student Minds Cambridge campaigns for better mental health provision and understanding at university.

 

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© 2017, Student Minds Cambridge.

Student Minds is registered with Companies House, 07493445
Student Minds is a Charity registered in England and Wales, 1142783

Self-Care

Self-care is an essential survival skill. Self-care refers to activities and practices we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress, and to maintain and enhance both our short-term and long-term health and well-being.

 

It can be difficult to know where to start with self-care. So we’ve created this guide to give you some things to think about. It’s by no means exhaustive, and shouldn't be treated as 'do's or don'ts.' The best advice we can give regarding self-care is that developing your awareness of the things that improve your own mood and wellbeing can really help in both good and tough times. We hope some of the tips included here are helpful.

It can be difficult having a healthy social life while at Cambridge. On the one hand, most of us live in college, which means we’re constantly surrounded by people. But, on the other, a lot of people find it difficult to justify going out for coffee with a friend when they have lots of deadlines coming up.

 

However, it’s really important that you do put aside time to spend with friends. Friends help you feel connected, and are often our most useful source of support. Whether it’s taking a 15 minute break and calling a friend or loved one for a chat, or having dinner with a friend or partner, it’s important to be connected to those around you. If you feel like you’d like to get to know more people, try joining a club or society. Cambridge is full of societies, there’s something for everyone, and it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

Make time for your social life:

Feeling connected

'Disconnect'

Another good idea is to leave your phone alone for a couple of hours. Sometimes being so 'connected' can actually prevent you from connecting with people around you. 

 

Therapeutic activities

Another aspect of self-care is making time for therapeutic activities. They can help you relax and recharge your batteries, and are usually a good chance to have some ‘me time.' Examples of therapeutic activities include:

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a term that you may have heard of before. One definition is that it is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, while not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While we all have the ability to be mindful, it’s also a skill we can develop further, helping us feel centred and calm. Mindfulness can be cultivated through formal meditation or through meditative practices.

 

Some tips for practising mindfulness:

  • Set aside time for mindfulness. It’s good to try to do it once a day, not as an obligation but as a healthy habit. Often it’s helpful to do it at the same time every day so it becomes a routine.

  • Observe the present as it is. You’re not trying to block out the world, just to observe it and accept it.

  • Let judgements pass. When you observe a judgement, acknowledge it and let it roll on by rather than holding onto it.

  • Be kind to your wandering mind. If your mind wanders, don’t judge or criticise yourself, just gently bring yourself back.

Relaxation

Relaxation is vitally important for recharging your batteries, both mentally and physically. It can be as simple as taking a nice, long shower, listening to music, or doing some relaxing physical activity such as yoga or stretching. The important thing is for you to find something for yourself which you enjoy.

 

Some ideas for relaxing activities:

  • Pampering yourself

  • Reading (non-academic!)

  • Watching your favourite show

  • Have a hot drink

  • Listen to music

  • Give yourself a hand or foot massage

  • Write your thoughts down

 

To calm down:

  • Take some deep breaths

  • Try specific techniques of relaxation - find out more here >

  • Count backwards

  • Close your eyes

Connect to nature

Often it can help to feel more connected to the environment. Cambridge has some beautiful views, and it can sometimes feel more like a town than a city. Try exploring your college’s gardens, or walk over to Granchester Tea Rooms for some peaceful refreshment in the orchard, or visit the Botanic gardens, which is free for Cambridge University Students. There are also loads of parks in and around the city centre, such as Christs’ pieces, Jesus Green, Parkers Piece, Llamas land, the Backs, and Midsummer Common (which often has cows on it!) Sometimes it’s good just to get some fresh air, and to go out for a walk to clear your head.

 

Or, you could buy yourself some flowers, or indoor plants, to make your living space more green!

 

Physical well being and environment

Look after your physical well being

Maintain healthy eating patterns - try to eat nutritious meals regularly, snacking when you feel hungry and eating until you’re satisfied.

Get enough sleep - try to regulate your sleeping pattern. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try disconnecting from phones and laptops 1 hour before bed, having a cup of herbal tea, or doing some meditation.

 

Move about - try to maintain a physically active lifestyle, even if that's just walking or cycling around town, as any form of exercise will benefit your physical and mental health. If you're stuck in your room up against deadlines, do take regular breaks to move about and stretch. Often, this activity will help the mind to focus better, and even help to make essay-writing a little less stressful.

 

Avoid substances - using drugs, cigarettes or alcohol to ‘self-medicate’ can be counter-productive. While it may seem like it helps at the time, there are studies which prove alcohol, drugs and smoking have a detrimental affect on your mental wellbeing, often actually increasing anxiety rather than relieving it. Make sure, if you are using these substances, that it is done in moderation. And bear in mind that even caffeine has been linked with anxiety and sleeping problems, so do consider decaf alternatives for at least some of your drinks!

Look after your living environment

Having a tidy room can really help with your mental wellbeing. Simple things like making your bed in the morning, folding your clothes, or just washing up that stack of mugs you've been avoiding can make all the difference. 

 

Make the space your own: put up pictures of friends and family, get some funky mugs and stock up on your favourite treats. It can be difficult living in student accommodation, but adding your own decorations - even if its just your favourite cushion from home - will make you feel more comfortable. Your room shouldn't just be about work, it should also be your space for relaxation and unwinding from your day.

 
 

Useful tools

Sometimes self-care can be aided by apps, books or websites. Here's a selection of some you might find useful!

Apps for meditation and mindfulness
  • Stop breathe think - a great, easy to use free app particularly good for beginners. Find out more here >

  • Pacifica - combining Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness, this app is one of the most popular for self-care. It features tools to understand and manage your feelings on a day-to-day basis. Find out more here > 

  • Headspace - one of the top-rated apps for meditation, this (paid) app features hundreds of short, guided meditations to fit into a busy day. Find out more here >

  • Calm - another top-rated beautiful guided meditation (paid) app, featuring calming nature sounds. Find out more here > 

Websites/other online tools
  • You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care Guide - an interactive flow chart for people who struggle with self-care. It's designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn't require much judgment. Go to the website >

  • Stress Analyst - a site designed to help talk you down from a stressful experience. Go to the website >

  • Rainymood - many people find listening to rain sounds helps them focus and relax. Go to the website >

  • Self-care twitter bot - Follow these twitter bots for daily self-care reminders: @selfcare_bot @tinycarebot

Books on mindfulness/meditation
  • Mindfulness colouring books - many people find it helpful to use colouring books to set aside some time for mindfulness in a creative way. 

  • Self-care journal - Many people find it helpful to keep a journal to help them keep track of their self-care, and develop healthy habits.

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