Rachel Draper, second year psychology student & Wellbeing Champion, blogs on being flexible when managing your wellbeing…
When I decided I wanted to write some blogs as part of my wellbeing champion role, this isn’t quite what I imagined my first blog would look like. As I’m sure many of you can relate to; university can be pretty stressful! On my course at the moment, we have academic deadlines coming thick and fast. Plus, for many of us, the added pressure of deciding on and applying for placement years – which means getting our CVs looking professional and competing against students from other universities for placement year opportunities. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m finding it a little daunting!
So with deadlines fast approaching, pressure mounting and my new Wellbeing role and training in mind here’s what I did next…
‘I set out to explore ways of managing my stress levels’
I started by looking at the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ campaign (if you haven’t heard of it, Mind have some information on it here). What I like about this campaign is that it’s really simple; a quick and easy place to start for anyone looking to improve their wellbeing or manage stress. Plus, it’s based on research, which is a must for a science student like myself!
‘An area for me that could definitely use some work is the ‘be active’
After a little reading, I decided that an area for me that could definitely use some work is the ‘be active’ section. Before I came to uni I used to walk to and from work every day (3.4 miles per day – I just checked), go horse riding twice a week and walk everywhere I went. However, since moving to Cardiff I live a lot closer to everything I need, so it’s harder to build walking into my daily routine. And horse riding is a really expensive hobby that’s hard to justify now I’m no longer working full time. So my daily activity levels have nose-dived somewhat – especially at times when I’m stressing over my assignment deadlines. I wonder if you can relate?
‘I always struggle with continuing to find the motivation’
On deciding I was going to try to exercise more, I went out for a couple of morning jogs. I surprised myself by how far I could jog without needing to stop to catch my breath after not having jogged for months, and felt pretty good about myself afterwards. However, I know I always struggle with continuing to find the motivation to go jogging; when it’s 7am and Cathays is experiencing that wonderful Welsh drizzle, it’s just not that appealing right? So I had a think about other ways I could be more active. A couple of my friends have recently started going to Zumba classes and were wanting to take up yoga; I’ve never done either but thought going to exercise classes with friends might be a good way to keep myself motivated.
‘Being flexible in managing stress is really important; not everything will work for everyone’
Whilst I stand by this being a good idea, it didn’t turn out quite as I expected! I had the idea that going to yoga would induce a deep sense of calm and wash away all the stresses associated with university. However, the actual experience was a little different. Being a total yoga novice in a class full of people who were more experienced meant I felt a bit out of my depth and couldn’t always twist my body into the right positions. I left the class feeling deflated and a little demoralised – definitely not the picture of Zen I had envisaged when I decided to go to the class! As I walked home with one of the friends I’d gone to the class with, my friend picked up on my subdued manner and invited me to hers for a cup of tea. We had a natter about our yoga experience, about the stresses of university and about the stresses of life in general. And then my friend’s boyfriend made us dinner and we all sat in a room filled with fairy lights, incense and blankets and watched cheesy TV programmes. As it goes, what helped my stress levels was a completely impromptu evening spent with friends. Conversely, what I set out to do to improve my wellbeing didn’t work for me on this occasion. I think being flexible in managing stress is really important; not everything will work for everyone, and perhaps part of finding greater wellbeing is about finding what works for us as individuals. That said, I haven’t written yoga off just yet and may well try a few more classes before I decide it’s definitely not for me!
‘With the best intentions in the world, my plans to improve my wellbeing hadn’t quite gone to plan’
A few evenings later I attended a Zumba class. I’d anticipated that we’d be taught the dance steps slowly and then put everything together. But as it turned out, everyone else in the class already knew the dances moves and I was left desperately trying to figure out what on earth was going on! I stuck at it for a while, but, not being the most spatially aware person ever to have lived, I really struggled, until eventually my brain (already stressed out by fast approaching academic deadlines) hit the “I just can’t…!” point and I made a slightly embarrassing bolt for the door. Again, with the best intentions in the world, my plans to improve my wellbeing hadn’t quite gone to plan. Again, I found myself feeling demoralised, and again I sought comfort from a friend, this time ringing my best friend at home to bemoan my lack of coordination and unsuitability for Zumba! Having recovered from my initial embarrassment of hastily exiting a Zumba class, I think this also relates to the importance of flexibility in managing stress. For me, trying to copy dance moves from someone who knows what they’re doing, in a room full of people who also know what they’re doing, exacerbated rather than alleviated my stress levels. However, I think if I could find a Zumba class for absolute beginners, where the teaching was a little more explicit, I might really enjoy the experience.
‘Being more active has been shown again and again to be associated with positive health outcomes‘
I want to emphasise that I’m NOT saying I think exercise is bad! Physical activity has been shown again and again to be associated with positive health outcomes in a range of different domains. But I think my experiences this week have emphasised to me that improving wellbeing can be a very personal thing; just because an activity really helps the person standing next to me doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for me! There are a huge range of sports clubs and societies within the university (see here) and Cardiff is full of open green spaces (see here) – sometimes managing stress is about discovering what works for you. And never underestimate the power of a friendly ear and a cup of tea!
So what do you find most helpful for managing your wellbeing?
Rachel, Wellbeing Champion, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Team
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