Getting Active Again

So I am now “one of those people”I have started Couch to 5K ( a 9 week running programme) This won’t sound that remarkable to most people. A lot of people have exercise integrated into their lives, but it has taken me a long time to get back into it.

Spoiler: this post does not contain any before and after pictures, neither does it contain any inspirational quotes.

Why have I bothered?

I used to run when I was at School – always long distance. People thought I was mad for liking cross country but it was something I could do relatively well; running for my district and my county sometimes. But I didn’t keep the exercise up while I was at uni which was an error. I forgot the positive feeling of running and when I discovered my body wasn’t as healthy as I thought it was  in my early twenties I had kind of resigned myself, rather sadly, to never putting my trainers on again. I did yoga and the like but I didn’t really see myself as the regular gym going type.

I envied my friends who seemed to always be out on their bikes, or doing marathons and other amazing things, tracking their exercise and living by their fitbits but was never compelled to try and follow suit – seeing this level of activity as unattainable now my body decided it wanted to act as though I was an old lady. To this day, whenever I find my body struggling to do basic things I refer to it as being my old lady body or OLB for short.

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Healthy body, healthy mind?

In addition to my physical health, the prospect of going to the gym, running in public and the associated little/no make up look that often goes with it was also daunting for my mental health as well! I did try the gym for a while pre-instagram boom and anxiety had me in a state where I was convinced as soon as I left the gym people were laughing at me for even trying. I told myself that if I couldn’t do a ‘reasonable’ stint at the gym (what does that even mean?) It wasn’t worth going at all.

But here I am, almost on week 3 of ‘couch to 5K’. Going to the gym every other day, I have even having managed going running in public more than once. Week 1 I felt constantly shattered,  asking myself when I would feel like #thisgirlcan  and “I don’t sweat, I glow”. I wondered where the boundless energy associated with being healthy, could be located. But I have pushed through and I now think that doing something is better than doing nothing.

We live amidst an instagram frenzy with almost everyone on there and tons of lifestyle and fitness posts. I already notice a difference in gym goers. The guys are more muscly and the girls are leaner-more power to them but that is kind of intimidating as I kill myself on a treadmill.

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I get the impression that there is increasing pressure on young people to look good or to be living life in a certain way. I used to think the pressure was mainly on women but now I can see guys are expected to look a certain way as well. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone who aspires to look like the instagram posts we see and is battling inner demons like the ones I have described above. I’m surprised at myself and am apprehensive that I will hit a wall sometime soon, but I’m no longer making excuses.

This post isn’t meant as a brag, I’m just happy my body is currently letting me get out of bed and more. I’m feeling a tad more positive and as though I now earn any time I choose to sit on the couch and do very little.

My next step is to make sure I couple this exercise with some decent, healthy food before/after the gym. Any tips on that would be gratefully received; @eemaalou 

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How can we tackle the growing demand for University Counselling services vs. funding cuts?

I have written about student mental health before and remain passionate and opinionated about the welfare of students – especially those living with mental health issues. Mental health continues to be a hot topic in the news and tweets about recent events (for example in America). As well as being the focus for campaigns such as “time to talk” and others.

Reading The Guardian  I was intrigued to see that funding to key health services for students is being cut. Why am I surprised? And although I wish I could constructively answer the problems faced by these services, as inexperienced as I am, I can’t help but think that we need to take a step back here.

I believe that the average British undergrad is being mis-sold university. Or at least they don’t fully know what they are getting themselves into. I believe Schools push people into uni under the misapprehension that if you don’t go to uni you will fail at life. Getting A level/college kids into uni seems to be the measure of both the School’s reputation and the pupil’s worth. Which is wrong. And while I think university is great I have seen both of my siblings, so far, pass up the opportunity to go to uni – and I can’t blame them.

Putting aside the notion I could have put them off university, I absolutely admire anyone who has said no to uni and made something of themselves (omg it does happen!) I think that students go to uni with a pressure on their shoulders to succeed and make sure they get a decent job at the end of it all. But as other articles have highlighted it is important not to go in and work yourself into the ground to get a 1st class degree – it’s about the experience and about making uni what you want it to be…

The transition from School to uni is a big one. I think a lot of students consider themselves to be a small fish in a MASSIVE pond. I think many of them feel alone despite their best efforts at making friends and “fitting in”. Their priorities lie in making friends, being a sociable as possible and then OH NO they have a degree to do as well on top of that. This isn’t meant as a criticism but I would argue that uni is attended now not for the discipline or academia, but for the tick on a list people HAVE to complete in order to be a well rounded human being. Some people even see it as the only means of leaving home and the constraints of family life.

I am not a  psychologist or doctor but I know that stress exacerbates things and underlying mental health problems can come to the surface during these times. Depression and eating disorders are just two examples I witnessed when I was a student (and beyond). I’m not saying if you have a mental health problem you shouldn’t go to uni but there is nothing worse than being far from home, away from comfort and confused. Existing services are hard to access and stretched enough!

I wish I had the answer to the struggles with funding that these important services (GP surgery, counselling, CBT etc)  face. But I think that the pressure would be taken off of some of these services if people weren’t pushed into university and if young people were better educated about mental health generally and their own mental well-being. I also think more should be done to help students with the transition to university by the Schools and Colleges who wish to nudge them in that direction.

On a side note, struggling with many personal issues myself I too have had to access some of the services at the university I work at. I have been very grateful for them and consider myself very lucky to be able to have some free counselling amid some really hard times. HOWEVER I am reluctant to take advantage of these services while I feel I could be taking a space that could be filled by a student. If every member of staff who felt this way, did that and stopped seeking that help, I think the university as a whole would suffer as a consequence.

Don’t lose your head

So at the moment I have lots of things going on. Lots to think about and organise at work and lots of different things happening in my personal life. Not all of them bother me all the time but there seems to be an abundance of people doing rather grown up things! Some of the things I have to look forward to/go through in the next couple of months:

  • I have a hen do to go to in London 🙂
  • One of my closest friends is BUGGERING OFF sorry going away to Australia for like – ever so I have to do goodbyes with her 😦
  • One couple we know is getting married (hence hen-do)
  • A friend of mine announced she was pregnant yesterday
  • My best friend is buying a house!
  • I have an operation to endure (2nd one in 18months) recover from and seamlessly go back to work again afterwards.

With all of this in mind I needed an opportunity to stop. I was lucky last night as I went to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake with work colleagues and aside from being AMAZING it also managed to chill me out and make me forget about lots of thoughts buzzing around my head.

The music and movement was quite therapeutic. I also admired the amount of strength and control the dancers had -you could see the sheer concentration on their faces. It reminded me of when I used to do yoga (still yet to get back on that horse but I have a note – honest!) and how if you don’t focus and concentrate you will topple instead of looking like a strong tree or indeed a graceful swan. So although I have a lot on my mind I need to maintain focus and make sure I don’t get overwhelmed by emotion. I also need to make sure I don’t try and cross bridges before I get to them.

Serious skills

I know these posts have started to get a bit philosophical, personal and deep but I think it’s important to put yourself first and look after your health both physical and mental in order to get the best out of any kind of work you do. I am incredibly lucky to have great support from my boss and I think it’s important to be open and honest about your limits.

I hope that all the different things going on in my friends lives will bring about new and exciting changes but I also hope I keep their support as well. I am assured by older friends that even if you feel like you’re losing people because they move away, ABANDON YOU FOR AUSTRALIA, get married or have children there is always the possibility you will stay in touch even if you’re miles away.

Student mental health – something I am passionate and opinionated about

This post is more about something I am passionate about and that I wish I could have more impact on in my day to day job working in a University. This week is Mental Health Awareness week so here I go :

I won’t bore you with my sob story about what I went through as a student but I will tell you this; Depression, Anxiety and Agoraphobia while you’re studying for a degree is no joke! I fully believe that student mental health should be at the top of the agenda for all higher education institutions. The one I work at has services in place to help students but they are not always accessible.

The building where counselling services resides is like any other on campus but has a back entrance and is not clearly signposted (as far as I can see) . I had concerns walking into it that everyone would know where I was going and why. But there would be no way of telling what happens in there. I don’t think there should be a big flashing sign outside and I don’t think there should be someone outside shouting “roll up, roll up, come and unload your worries and woes here!” but there are definite barriers that prolong the road to recovery, or coping with what you live with and I think this could be the case at any University.

Firstly there is getting a doctors appointment (you need their referral to get further help) this can take an age especially in a popular GP surgery. You then need to take a small tick box style test (I don’t know the medical name) some doctors will refer you from this, other will ask you to come back in 2 weeks to complete it again.

Most doctors will then refer you to talking therapies which relies on you actively making an appointment, for those who struggle to get out of bed in the morning, this is like climbing a mountain. Many cast the leaflets into the bin and resign the cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT)  to balderdash and poppy cock! (it’s easy to be skeptical when you’re at your lowest) Some people may also be referred to a counsellor, again this relies on you going to the building (I didn’t have the option to call) and making the appointment. Finding one (usually weeks of waiting) and ensuring that it fits in with your lecture/study schedule (if you’re still going to them, that is) is a challenge. You then have to turn up and make sure you stick it out for the course of sessions you are given. 

For those who don’t believe in/don’t take the option of talking therapies like CBT or counselling they may choose to take anti-depressants.  Some people can take a long time to find the right medication and dosage for them. In my opinion they work best while you try other coping strategies as well and doctors will agree they are not a “happy pill”. I felt like they took the edge off of things and my head didn’t feel so crowded with thoughts, which was good but it wasn’t without its difficulties. I faced further challenges having to register with another doctor who prescribed me something that was no longer being produced (cue painful withdrawal). If you want to know more or chat about my case then get in touch with me. 

I am just one person, but I know of others who have been through similar and worse things!  Mental Health among the student population is worrying. A quarter of University Students are estimated to experience worrying levels of mental distress at some point in the year. Though we know that student mental health is something that everyone involved in university education should be thinking about, it is not always clear what should be done. 

Student Run Self Help want to piece together a better picture of where the problems lie please take a few minutes to complete their survey –https://docs.google.com/a/srsh.co.uk/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDhEbGdNNGpiMFY5eVBGdXVqZVVYeFE6MQ#gid=0

It simply asks what you think the biggest challenges are for student mental health. Fill in the boxes and have your say!