Why I’m Studying A History Degree

Term two of second year has gotten off to a great start. I’m so glad to be back in the buzz of university life, have a schedule of basketball practices and Exeposé meetings to structure my week around and get stuck back into my degree. I was thrilled with how well received my One Second Everyday video was when it was shared on Exeter’s official Facebook page; 276 likes, 37 shares and over 5,000 views and counting! Looking back on it has made me realise how much fun I had last term – and how important it is to make the most of daily things; the walk to campus on a beautiful day, or weekend pancakes with my housemates. I will definitely be keeping it up for 2016, and now that I know the ropes of making a good compilation hopefully this one will be better than ever!

HistoryToday though, I thought I’d make a post on a more academic vein than I usually prefer to opt for. There’s no doubt that university life involves so much more than the degree, but it’s also important to appreciate we’re only here because of our degree. The UCAS applications and A levels weren’t for the purpose of having fun at societies and learning the pros and cons of independent living; ultimately we’re here to study our chosen discipline. Through the pain of 8:30 lectures and the stress of deadlines however, sometimes I find it’s easy to lose sight of why I chose History, so in this post I thought I’d look back and consolidate some of the reasons why, despite how much I resent it some days, I chose History – and why I have no regrets about doing so.

  • I had a wonderful History teacher. I feel no shame in the slightest in saying that my fabulous A level teacher at school was a huge influence in me deciding to pursue history. Impossibly clever, terrifyingly witty and generally very entertaining, she would conduct whole lessons on the ins and outs of the French Revolution without referring to any notes or plans. She’d done an undergrad and then a PhD (with her thesis being on Medieval gambling and horse racing) and there’s no doubt a little piece of me wanted to be like her; knowledgeable about seemingly everything, and able to win the respect of all who met her. I was far from the only one – of the students who took A Level history I reckon at least 4/5 went on to do a History degree, and will largely in debt their decision to her.
  • History is essentially stories. As a child, I loved having my story book read to me each night. The reason I learnt to properly read at all was because 7 year old me thought we were progressing too slowly through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so I started to read ahead. At school I loved English for the same reason, but the more I studied history the more I realised it offers the most fundamental stories of humanity. Since the beginning we have been telling tales of our ancestors, and the myths surrounding them, and to look back at history now – at not only the ‘truth’ of the past but also how people remember it or have told it since then, is to keep up this ancient tradition.
  • The past teaches us about the future. To quote George Santayana on a gobbit that I’m fairly sure appeared in 80% of all History personal statements: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It might be cliché, but it’s true. People who say history isn’t relevant to the modern day infuriate me, as no matter whatever political decision or social crisis we’re facing we’ve probably already dealt with a comparable situation in the past. I remember learning about the Wall Street Crash at the time of the 2008 recession and our teacher pointing out all the similarities in the situation. Looking back at how humanity has acted in the past (and the benefits and flaws of those methods) are key to being informed on taking such decisions in the present and future. Remembering this is an important one for me, as sometimes I worry that there’s ‘no point’ to my degree. The very reason I didn’t choose English (not to down on the subject) was because I thought I’d probably end up having a post-modernist existential crisis several times a week – History has thankfully saved me from these!
  • It’s insanely interesting. Out of our house, I’m pretty sure I could bank on being the one to get away with talking about what I’m studying at the moment without boring my housemates to tears. Unlike Economics, English or Physics, you can guarantee there will be a part of history people will find interesting. History is everywhere you look, on every holiday you go on, in every town you visit. There are certainly less interesting aspects, but as a subject I find that from Charlemagne to Hiroshima most of the time I get drawn into my assigned reading through sheer natural interest.
  • There’s so much to study; and you get to choose. This leads on from my previous point; no matter what you find interesting there’s definitely some way you can adapt your degree in order to study exactly that. Compulsory modules in first year provide a grounding knowledge, but from second year onwards the options when choosing specialist modules are huge; last term my friend studied William of Orange and the Stuarts, and this term she’s learning African-American History, from the Slave Trade to Obama.
  • It incorporates lots of other disciplines. I’m sure there are those who would argue this is true for a lot of subjects, but to give an example; first year essay questions ranged from analysing the impact of famine (Science), assessing religious fundamentalism in the modern day (International Relations and Theology) and looking at economic factors for European expansion (Economics).  Whatever your strengths or interests, History caters for those and you can head down the path which best suits you. In some ways I feel I’ve learnt more about religion, science and literature than I ever would have if I’d done a subject specific degree. No matter the discipline, the history of said subject is covered at some point.
  • You learn important transferable skills. Here it comes; the inevitably ‘career utility’ justifications. But again, it’s true – a History degree is far more than just learning about history. It equips you with highly regarded transferable skills that will be valued in almost every workplace. As listed on the Careers section on Exeter’s website, a History degree will teach you:

o   Communication skills, both written and oral
o   Critical reasoning and analytical skills, including problem solving and creative            thinking
o   Research skills such as disseminating and collating information
o   Construct persuasive arguments and question assumptions by selecting and            ordering relevant evidence
o   Work in groups, accommodating different ideas and reaching agreements
o   Think objectively and approach problems with an open mind

(These might sound generic but that’s sort of the point – History degrees teach important and flexible skills you can apply everywhere.)

  • It’s a valuable degree. From Salaman Rushdie and Jonathan Ross to Sacha Baron Cohen and Gordon Brown – History graduates have gone on to do all manner of things. But whether you’re interested in media, politics, journalism, MI5 or education, a good degree in History is certainly going to put you in a great position. It’s appreciated that History is academically challenging but also provides the transferable skills already mentioned and a strong cultural understanding for the world we live in.

(If anyone reading this is thinking about choosing to study a History degree at Exeter and has any questions, feel free to email me at tb397@exeter.ac.uk)

Best Apps for University

It’s getting to a tough time of term. The deadlines are piling up, reading week is a distant memory, and the Christmas holidays are pretty near – but not quite close enough. This past week for the first time since I’ve been back this year, I’ve genuinely missed home – the home-cooked meals, having a kitchen you’re not afraid to walk about barefoot in, my dog, being able to have a bath, and my family.

The events in Paris have cast a shadow over the past week, but they have also put everything into perspective. Deadlines and early starts might be a pain, but never have I been more acutely aware of how lucky I am to be studying at a world class university in such a safe and tolerant society. There has been significant debate about why the world media ‘cares’ more about attacks in France versus daily attacks of a similar nature in Syria, but in some ways it has served to highlight exactly what current migrants are escaping from, and if that brings greater understanding to their cause it can’t be a bad thing. The more I read and hear about the conditions migrants are leaving, and the ones they’re facing now, the more grateful I feel to have lucked out on being born in the UK. In light of it, all our various complaints and grumblings seem superficial and almost offensive, but in some ways, they’re just the continuation of human life. Awful news fills the headlines most days, and yet we still bemoan burnt toast. It’s just the way we are.

I started writing this post a while back, and though part of me thinks it’s tremendously shallow, I thought I’d post it anyway.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice who spends a significant amount of time on campus that apparently the entirety of the Exeter student body seems to live with iPhones glued to their palms all hours of the day. Even with my now dated fourth generation, I am no exception to this. This past term I’ve been carrying out vague investigation into apps to improve my university experience, and I’ve discovered a number of truly very handy widgets for the iPhone (and possibly Smartphones in general – I can’t say I’ve done my Android research) that I thought I would share here.

iExeter – FREE

  • This is bit of an obvious one I know (and not a university endorsed plug), but the Exeter App, despite it’s occasional crashing, is a good’un. It’s easy to use, and has direct links to your timetable and email, transport and bus updates, food and retail outlets on campus info, maps, and even a system of telling you how many washing machines are in use in accommodation laundry rooms. I did admittedly use it more in first year than this one, but I’d say it’s an essential for all Exeter students to download at some point and see if it’s for them.

Wunderlist – FREE

  • Now I’m sure there are plenty of excellent ‘to do’ apps and the like out there, but Wunderlist is a good place to start. I especially like it as you can sort your ‘to do’s into folders, and that as you log-in, it automatically syncs between your phone and a nice little widget on your computer as you add or check things off. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and for an added bonus it makes a hugely satisfying little ‘ding’ every time you tick a to do off. (I have friends who’ve listed things like ‘get out of bed’ and ‘have a shower’ just so they can enjoy that minor sense of accomplishment.)

Duolingo – FREE

  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, I made the somewhat brave decision to resurrect my AS French this year and take an FLC module as part of my degree. It has been a bit of a baptism of fire, and on the recommendation of a linguist friend, I started looking into language apps to try and get me back up to speed (‘Mrs Vandertramp? Subjunctive? I’m sorry, what?’). Duolingo was widely recommended (it won Apple’s app of the year) and my goodness I can see why. It offers a huge range of languages to learn, and operates by prompting you to do a little bit of practice every day. Through a combination of listening, reading and speaking translation exercises – all in super simple phrases – it has gradually built me back up from ‘le chat est gros’ to a standard vaguely on a par with my module. It has been really helpful to have on the side as a daily 20 minute consolidation of my language learning, is very easy to use, and I honestly can’t recommend it more to anyone wanting a language app.

Focus Timer – FREE

  • Focus Timer has been a new venture for me. I have a tendency to be an appalling procrastinator (to the extreme) when it comes to actually getting down to putting pen to paper for my degree and it was reaching a dire situation by reading week. Instead of vaguely faffing for an afternoon therefore and claiming I’d done ‘about 3 hours work’, Focus Timer encourages me to, as the name might suggest, genuinely focus. It essentially acts as a timer – it begins as soon as you turn your phone face down, and stops whenever the phone is picked up. As a result it’s handy to keep track of how long those little ‘breaks’ to check Instagram actually are. The app allows you to have different timers for different subject specific areas too, and you can also keep track of your week’s progress and make goals for what you’d like to achieve. Of course, time is no real measure of work achieved, but it’s a start!

1 Second Everyday – £2.29

  • Devised by Cesar Kuriyama, ‘One Second Everyday’ is pretty self explanatory, but for the real inspiration behind it, Cesar’s TedTalk on the project has over a million views. A one second video, every day, for as long as you like, with the aim to compile a short video capturing a brief snapshot of your life. I first heard of it when it was suggested to me as a student project for my blog, and although it took some getting used to, I’m now hooked, and am consistently taking a mini-video each day. Although it’s at a cost, I think the app is a very valid investment for a really nice idea. I like the fact that it captures all aspects of daily life, not just those special events you get the camera out for – but the dull days and the rainy days too. You can set reminders each day so you don’t forget, and at minimal effort, I think the final result is going to be a wonderful way to look back on how I spent second year.

Bring on Second Year

The first week of term has flown by already in an exhausting mix of 7am alarms for painfully early 8:30am lectures and evenings spent at various second year house-warmings. Despite being shattered already, to say I’m glad to be back is a huge understatement. I’ve missed Exeter so much – I’ve missed the Forum and the pricey AMT milkshakes, I’ve missed the library and the satisfaction of finding 6 entire shelves full of relevant texts to your interests, I’ve missed being surrounded by young people and familiar faces; I’ve even missed the hills. The amount of reading and research that needs to be done this term is looming and my housemates are already attempting to secure placements for next year, but at the same time I can’t help but feel bizarrely content to be back in the buzz and minor stress of it all. Summer, despite the occasional interludes of lovely holidays and travelling, was for the most part quite a long and lonely experience, and it’s so good to be returned to my Devon home.

That being said, I can tell a lot of things are going to be different this year, and my course is no exception. This term I’m in the interesting position of taking only two 30 credit modules; an independent research module called ‘Doing History’ and an Intermediate French language module with the Foreign Language Centre (FLC). Combined, I have the terrifying total of 4 contact hours a week. Four.

Compared to the structured set up of last year, when I was up on campus every weekday going to this Medieval History seminar or that Modern lecture, the lack of any real timetable is definitely unnerving. I have plenty to keep me busy I’m sure, but I’m a hopeless procrastinator, and am a little worried that my days will blur into successive weeks of ‘not much getting done’.

So, in traditional September fashion – the month of New Beginnings for the past 14 years of my life in the British education system – I’ve decided to make a few resolutions. Not all are work related, but hopefully they’ll give me some structure to build my week around!

  1. Play a sport

When the recent league tables for 2015/6 came out, alongside retaining it’s top 10 position, the University of Exeter was awarded the prestigious title of the Sunday Times’ ‘Sports University of the Year’. Considering my sporting participation last year (or rather, sincere lack thereof) I think it’s fair to say that this title is in no way thanks to my contribution. This year however, I’m determined to join the two-thirds of the student population who are involved in sport, across some 50 different clubs and societies, and actually join a team. As someone who has avoided the intense fitness-based atmosphere of the Sports’ Park and has shockingly bad hand-eye coordination at the best of times, this might be an interesting one – but I’ve decided the women’s Development Basketball team can’t be all that scary. So I’ve handed over the £70, signed myself up for some stash, and will be going to first training on Sunday. Wish me luck!

  1. Learn a language

Is this a cop-out seeing as I’m already signed up to do a French module? Maybe. But it has been a good two and a half years since my AS French exams, and despite my best attempts at being put in the Beginners set (Me: “Seriously, I’m not AS standard anymore, I can barely remember the present tense let alone the subjunctive”, FLC Lady: “I’m sorry but I simply can’t put someone with above GCSE standard in the beginners group”) I’ve been signed up to an Intermediate course. So, we’ll see how that goes. It will be nice to use a different part of my brain memorising vocab and butchering the French accent instead of trawling through history books, and hopefully it’ll come back pretty quickly! A language is a great addition to any CV as I’ve been told, and the FLC really does make it very easy to sign up, so I’d recommend it to anyone out there considering it as well!

3.  Go veggie

This is nothing to do with university as such, but as a result of a combination of financial, environmental, ethical and sheer will-power-testing motives, I’ve decided to give the whole veggie thing a try. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of meat anyway, and in an attempt to spice up my culinary repertoire (which is pretty limited) I think actively trying to be vegetarian and having to seek out new ingredients and recipes could be a good challenge.

4. It’s second year already – embrace the fact that The Future is inevitable

It’s the classic question that all final years dread; “so, what are you going to do once you’ve finished your degree?” but I’m determined I won’t be left rambling on about internships that may or may not exist or vague plans to take a year out travelling. That means jumping on the bandwagon now, and starting to take a hard look at life beyond university, and what I can do about it now. The most important thing in the immediate future is deciding on my year abroad (which university is most suited to me? What are the courses like? What about the weather? And how cheap are plane tickets?) but I’m also keen to finish my Exeter Award, get involved in Career Zone ventures like the eXpert scheme, and sort out a useful Internship for next summer.

  1. Don’t get too stressed.

Last year I started well, far better than I anticipated actually, but ended up really struggling for the latter half of first term. More than anything, my aim this year is to not let that happen again. I’m surrounded by a supportive, lovely group of people and I know my way around the numerous support facilities the university offers, so I’m in a far better place to face a new academic year already. I’ve just got to keep my head and not let it all get to me when the workload and expectation inevitably ramps up as term progresses.

This year as part of student blogger duties, I’m also going to have a go at taking a snapshot of my daily life here at Exeter on the app ‘One Second Everyday’. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and now I’ve worked out how to use it (just about) hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have a neat, little video summing second year up. Bring it.

Things I’ve Achieved in First Year

The library is packed to the rafters with harassed looking students in various states of dress, the Market Place is selling post-its, pens and vodka at discount prices, and everywhere you go people are talking wistfully about the holidays.

Yep. It’s that time of year.tumblr_no3aattKfk1s7fm11o1_1280

Currently most of the student population is slap-bang in the middle of revising for exams, so of course I find myself spending my afternoon writing a blog post instead of memorising essay plans. Obviously.

Coming to the end of first year with increasingly terrifying rapidity, it’s reached the point now where I feel able to look back on the whole experience and see just how far I’ve come. September feels like a lifetime ago – so much has happened since then, the awesome and the atrocious, I’ve learnt so much (although judging by the state of my revision you wouldn’t know it) and I feel like I’ve grown up a lot too.

In the vein of this somewhat cheesy nostalgia, I’ve decided to compile a list of 10 things I think I’ve achieved this year. Especially during exam season it’s easy to get hung up on final year averages as a gauge of ‘how well you’ve done’, but I think especially in first year there are a lot of other challenges to get over beside the academic; and no matter how small these ‘achievements’ might be, I think they deserve a little recognition:

1. Survived Freshers’ Week

It was just as intimidating arriving to a campus of complete strangers as I feared it would be, but through all awkward introductions, over-priced Freshers’ events and hideous flu, I made it through without a single homesick breakdown.

2. Lived Off Something Other Than Beans On Toast

Self-catered and I have had a love/hate relationship of sorts, but over the last term especially it’s gotten much easier to throw edible meals together. No longer do we avidly stick to student recipe books, bemoaning not having that clearly vital piece of student kitchen equipment; a lemon squeezer, or spend ridiculous amounts on Dominoes ‘discounts’. Instead, I’m actually now reasonably capable of constructing a variety of meals for the week and not suffering from vitamin deficiency.

3. Lived Away From Home For 3 Months Straight

I was always a little worried about being away from home for such extended periods of time, but no matter how tough it might seem at first – time really is a healer. It’s amazing how much easier it’s gotten to be away from my family, and no one was more surprised than me when after a month-holiday over Easter, I was actually desperate to get back to Exeter. ‘Home’ home will always be where my family is, but I feel like I’ve officially adopted Devon as my ‘uni home’ too.

4. Written An Essay On A Topic I Previously Knew Absolutely Nothing About With A Bibliography Of 18 Bookstumblr_naaw572FBO1ry1izso1_500

I now know so much more about the Great Irish Famine than I thought humanely possible. I guess this is a standard part of university life for humanities students, but my goodness it’s a long way from the standard expected at A level. The independent research was intimidating at first, but it’s also hugely satisfying to become a mini-expert on an obscure topic of your choosing, and after scouring the library for all and any books that could possibly help you out, submit an essay you’ve spent 2 weeks constructing.

5. Managed To Get A 3 And A Half Hour Train From Leicester To Exeter With 2 Ridiculously Over-Packed Suitcases, A Rucksack Full Of History Textbooks And A Guitar

I think this one speaks for itself as an admirable achievement.

6. Kept On Going

This one has been particularly important for me, even though it’s taken me a while to recognise it as an ‘achievement’ as such. To cut a long story short, when things got tough and I thought that maybe university wasn’t for me, I sought out all the support I could and managed to stick it out. I’m really grateful for that now looking back, and am proud of myself for keeping my head above water when it was all getting a little overwhelming.

7. Was An Adult-y Adulttumblr_nn83pohkGL1rmegquo1_1280

Aside from feeding myself, independent living has also brought a number of other jobs I’d never even really thought twice about that I’ve had to get to grips with as an ‘adult’. A non-exhaustive list of these includes: booking my own doctors’ appointment, making weekly shopping lists, going to the Bank for Serious Conversations, making restaurant reservations over the phone, picking up prescriptions, sending relatives Birthday cards (as opposed to signing the family card) and buying my own loo bleach.

8. Didn’t Miss A Seminar

I am pretty proud of this one. Arguably 9am lectures are very tempting to miss when you can catch up online at a more reasonable hour, but if I’m honest I’m quite happy to turn up to be spoken at for an hour. It doesn’t exactly require much effort, aside from making notes. Seminars however, are a different ordeal entirely; intensive 2 hour sessions which require reading and preparation and, horror of horrors, interaction. Far more daunting, and unfortunately far more essential to attend.

9. Found A House For Second Year

Some might not class this as an achievement seeing as all first years have to find themselves accommodation, but seeing as this was without a doubt the MOST stressful aspect of first year for me, I can’t not include it. Dozens of house-viewings and depressing phone conversations with various landlords (“Oh, so sorry, that one went 10 minutes ago”) later, I am in fact not living in a cardboard box in September, and frankly that’s all I really care about.

10. Made Friends

thumb_IMG_3714_1024 2Spending 7 years with the same group of people at secondary school, it was more intimidating than I thought having to suddenly branch out and make new connections all over again at university. It was like being 11 years old again and having that whole ‘first day at school’ feeling, except we’re all supposedly infinitely wiser and cooler now that we’re over 18. Fortunately, I’ve found a pretty great bunch of people who I’ve met in all kinds of situations throughout first year and I’m grateful to all of them for putting up with me and making me laugh on a daily basis.

The One Where First Year Is Nearly Over

It’s the weekend before we break up for Easter, and the fact that technically that means we only have one week left of teaching for first year is finally sinking in.

It feels like I’ve been here an age, like I’ve always complained about trekking up Forum hill, like I’ve always had lunches that consist of bizarre combinations of items at the back of my fridge shelf, like I’ve always been friends with the awesome group of people I hang around with in the evenings – but the reality of it is is that we’ve only been here 7 months. 7 months of living pretty much independently and having to build new relationships; 7 months of adapting to a new timetable of working hours, a new level of academic expectation; 7 months of finding my feet 200 miles away from home.

Students soaking up the sun on campus

Students soaking up the sun on campus

We might still have summer term to come with weeks of no-doubt glorious weather and torturous indoor revision, but in many ways first year is nearly over and that’s just a little terrifying. Terrifying, but also pretty awesome – because we’ve nearly made it through and out the other side of the baptism of fire that is your first year at university. I’m feeling pretty reflective about the whole experience thus far at the minute, but I think there will be time for a proper review post at the official end of the year. At the moment, there’s still plenty going on in the here and now to keep me occupied.

Things have definitely been getting hectic in the past few weeks. The deadlines for the end of term are amping up and I know I’m not the only one in saying I’ve got two huge essays in for next week that I’m not quite as far along with as I’d like. As a result, there’s been a lot of mutual daydreaming about the imminent holidays going around, but I know that after a month away I’ll be glad to be back in Devon and at Exeter – exams or not.

Watching the solar eclipse

Watching the solar eclipse

Despite the extra pressure recently though, there’s also been plenty of good stuff going on too. First year historians submitted our choices for second year modules this week (whether I’ll get my first choices or not is another question entirely), and in choosing a French language module I’ve been reminded that in just over 12 months I’ll be heading off on my study abroad year. We’ve also been blessed with some pretty gorgeous weather; Friday was the technically the first day of spring (with the added excitement of the first solar eclipse since 1999) but you wouldn’t have guessed it. For the past two weeks students have been lounging about in the sun on picnic blankets all over campus, or else playing football outside accommodation blocks. There is a slightly ‘prospectus photo shoot’ feel to it all, except that it’s genuine – and I can’t help but feel this is Exeter at it’s best.

Exmouth beach

Exmouth beach

The other weekend saw a Saturday so sunny that it warranted another spontaneous trip to Exmouth, along with at least a quarter of the student population. The beach was packed with kite surfers, families and students, and sitting on the sand with a Tesco meal deal, my Feel Good playlist playing through mini-speakers, and some great company – I felt about as happy as I think I’ve been in a long while. Even the 12 hour essay writing stint I had to pull the next day for slacking off couldn’t put a damper on my mood.

It’s tempting sometimes to get caught up in the workload and grade aspirations, but I think it’s also so important to take aside those days to appreciate just where you are, and how great it is to be there.

The Universal University Issue: Dealing with Stress

Stress is a popular topic at the moment. Everyone seems to be constantly stressed; jobs are stressful, deadlines are stressful, thinking about the future is stressful. We crave weekends and the holidays for a brief respite from it all, and dread the workload starting again.

Stress and anxiety seem to be a ruling norm in student life especially, and certainly at the moment with Term 2 coming to an end, and essay deadlines and exams looming. Either you’re stressing too much at the detriment of your health, as evidenced by the long waiting lists at the Wellbeing Centre, or you’re not stressing enough at the detriment of your grades. At the moment though, I’d have to say I see far more of the former. With increasing competition for university places driving up the offers and expectations, I’m sometimes acutely aware sitting in the back of lecture halls how hard everyone in the room has worked to get here. And how hard most of them are working to stay on top of everything.

Personally, I’m no exception to this. I’ve had high standards for myself since I was 13, and feel pretty crushed if I don’t meet them – so I angst, redraft and stress over every piece of written work up until the deadline so I feel like I can say “I’ve done my best”. And when the essay comes back and it’s a 2:2 instead of a 2:1, I spend my time pouring over the critiques and red biro question marks in the margin, berating myself at where I so obviously went wrong.

I’m not so naïve as to realise that this sort of perfectionism isn’t a healthy attitude, but in some ways, ‘stress’ has been useful. For a start, the excessive revision and work I put into my A levels were what got me into Exeter in the first place, and I’m certainly grateful now for those unpleasant weeks in June I put myself through. Stress is also what kicks me into gear to get reading done before seminars, or essays submitted the night before deadlines. In moderate quantities, it can be pretty helpful. But then again, there’s a dark-side to stress.

Stress can build up to a level where you feel crippled by it, where the to-do list is so long it’s impossible to know where to even start, and can leave you curled up in a ball dreaming of your days at kindergarten. At the far end of the scale, stress can cause panic and anxiety attacks, and is often strongly linked to depression.

So stress can go both ways – the good, and the very, very bad – but if I’m honest, I’m a bit sick of fixating on it. Stress takes up so much of my time and thought processes, and if talking to older students and adult relatives is anything to go by, it’s set to take up a lot of my future too- and that’s a bit of a depressing thought.

It can sometimes feel like we’re constantly seeking the perfect equilibrium of a work-life balance, and once we reach that seemingly unattainable goal, we’ll finally be happy. In reality though, everyone knows that the ‘grass is always greener’ idea is just a dream. What we’ve got is what we’ve got, and what we need to learn is to not just survive our lives, but to live them. But I don’t want to live a life that’s dictated by meeting my own ridiculous standards, that’s focused around just making it through to the weekend or to the next holiday. I want to be able to accept that there’s work to do, and sometimes quite a lot of it, without building this whole huge mental block around it and spending more time complaining and worrying over it than actually getting down to it.

So, what options are there available to combat stress?

I’d consider there to be two approaches:

1. Change the situation

This can mean a lot of things, whether it is taking time out of your job for health purposes or asking for deadline extensions. The stigma around mental health is slowly being combatted, but society still isn’t quite there. Despite what judgements you might be worried colleagues or friends might make, you wouldn’t go to work with a broken wrist or without your glasses, and dealing with stress or acute anxiety can be just as disabling. We shouldn’t feel ashamed to take a little extra time for the sake of our health to take a break and to regain a sense of perspective.

This approach however isn’t always the best for the long-term, and when coming back to the ‘stressful situation’ or dealing with stress in general, it might be worth looking at another approach:

2. Change your attitude to stress

Now, this of course is easier said than done, but it really doesn’t have to be as difficult a mental task as it sounds.

Dr Mike Evans is a Canadian doctor renowned for his media-based approach to communicating public health information and advice. His Youtube video entitled ’23 and ½ hours’ on exercise has almost 5 million views, but I’d consider his 10-minute lecture on The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress to be pretty inspirational advice.

Dr Evans considers that just changing the way you think about stress, from something that happens unavoidably to you to something that you actually create is a key step in reducing anxiety over stressful situations.

Most people think stress is something that happens to us…(but in reality) stress passes through a 2 pound piece of tissue on the top of your face called your brain…

We say things like, my job is stressful, or my friend Sylvia is stressing me out, but in fact, we create the stress in our brains… it’s your thinking that brings the stress.”

Dr. Mike Evans

It seems like a simple idea, but personally it was the simplicity of it that affected me so much. I don’t think changing your thinking style and attitude to stress so drastically is going to happen overnight, just as a life-long pessimist can’t suddenly see the glass as half full, but Dr. Evans puts forward a strong argument that such an approach can be learnt.

I’d like to think that in trying to approach things in the past few weeks that would normally stress me out (such as intimidating essay titles, page long to-do lists and long put-off phonecalls) with a different attitude, I’ve already noticed a difference. Similarly to how I talked in a previous post about tackling exercise at university, although it’s hard-work at first, it’s got to the stage now where I actually enjoy taking a positive approach to previously stressful situations. I try and remind myself that the stress I’m experiencing is in reality all self-generated, and try and change my approach to whatever the situation is that’s making me anxious.

For instance, whereas before I might think “Oh God, I’ve got so much work to do I can’t possibly manage it without pulling multiple all-nighters/having no weekend”, I now try and change that thought to “I’ve got a lot of work but I’m capable of doing the best I can in the time I’ve got.’”

Different things work for different people, and I can appreciate that many are not in the position to be able to work on changing their mind-set, but it’s certainly something I think is worth thinking about. And I’d recommend giving Dr. Mike Evans’ video a watch too 🙂