Author Archives: Ellen

Top Tips for Getting Going and Building Your Motivation    

It’s quite understandable if your get up and go has got up and gone during these times of uncertainty, especially if you have August exams on the horizon. Remember that you’re not alone in feeling this way.

We’ve put together some tips which we hope will help get your motivation back on track. If you do feel like you need further support, please email us at wellbeing@exeter.ac.uk or call us on 01392 724381 to organise an appointment.

Regular zzzzzzzzzzzs

It’s tempting to go to sleep whenever we like during these times and not set an alarm for the following morning, but this might not be doing you any favours if motivation is an issue. Try to stick to a routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day to maintain healthy sleep and therefore support your energy levels during the day. You can always switch off the alarm on the weekends.

Get some structure

Our lives are usually structured by study or work, so if those are absent you can create a structure for yourself. You could create a timetable each day, or simply set yourself goals – whatever suits you best. Doing this can also help you to differentiate between the ‘working week’ and rest days. You can find further information about ‘scheduling’ and ‘unscheduling’ in our procrastination booklet, How To Just Do It.

Cut yourself some slack!

Stress, worry and feeling overwhelmed often leads to procrastination and makes it harder to motivate ourselves. You can end up in a vicious cycle if you then get frustrated with yourself for not completing tasks. Remember to cut yourself some slack, as these are difficult times! Also take regular breaks from study or work and seek activities that reduce your stress levels in order to be kinder to yourself. Further information for managing stress can be found in our Stress Busting booklet.

Plan in rewards

It’s easy to ‘procrastinate’ by only doing tasks we enjoy. If you’re finding it hard to tackle tasks that you aren’t so keen on, then why not plan a reward for when you complete them? Having something to look forward to after completing a necessary task such as revision or a work project can help. Add a daily structure into the mix and that will help you to focus on the task in hand and have a set time for hobbies or activities you enjoy.

Break it down

When your motivation is lower, break tasks down into smaller parts and tackle one at a time. For example, if you need to tidy your bedroom start with more manageable steps such as picking things up off the floor, tidying the desk, making the bed. As you complete each task it provides a sense of achievement and builds motivation to take on the next step.

Order your tasks

Order tasks in terms of difficulty to create a hierarchy. Start with the easiest tasks first. Once you complete a task, this makes you feel accomplished and builds your motivation for tackling the next. You can move upwards in difficulty as you progress.

Challenge your thinking

We often make false excuses or assumptions about why it’s a good idea to put off the task in hand. Examples might include ‘I’m too tired,’ ‘I haven’t got everything I need,’ or ‘this piece of work isn’t going to go well’. This way of thinking is often not accurate and contributes to our lack of motivation or procrastination. Ask yourself whether there are any factual reasons to put off the task, or if there are any parts of the task you can get started with despite the conditions not being ideal.

To-do lists and goals

Many people find setting goals and writing to-do lists to be really beneficial. When setting to-do lists, it’s important to ensure that what you are setting yourself is achievable for the time available. Alternatively, why not keep a ‘reverse to-do list,’ where you keep track of all the tasks you have done – it’s great when you see that grow!

Time to get started

Use the ‘just 5 minutes’ approach to get started with a task – commit to carrying on with it for at least that period of time. Once we make a start on a task we are far more likely to see it through to completion. This techniques works best with tasks that wouldn’t take very long and you can also experiment by setting different time frames with more time consuming tasks.

We hope the above tips help. If you need more support, get in touch with us at wellbeing@exeter.ac.uk, or phone us on 01392 724381.

Food and Mood – Balance Your Blood Sugar!

This blog has been written by Joy Davies, a Welfare Consultant at Wellbeing Services.

Everywhere we look at the moment, there are memes and jokes about how people are surviving lockdown by munching their way through snacks to pass the time each day. We also know that these are strange times, with lots of us feeling isolated from friends and family, changes in routine and uncertainty for the future that can lead to dips in our mental health and feelings of wellbeing. But can we use the food we eat to support us in feeling good in body and mind during the lockdown?

The mental health charity, MIND, have done some brilliant research into the link between the food we eat and our mood. And it doesn’t have to be complicated! Simple steps we can all take can help us to give our body and brain the best chance of staying well every day!

This blog series will explore simple ways you can use food to boost your mood including:

Power Protein
Looking After Your Gut
Sneaky Ways to Get Your 5 a Day
Energy Boosts (Without the Caffeine…)

Today: Balance Your Blood Sugar

Drops in your blood sugar can leave you feeling tired, irritable and depressed. Eating little and often and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your blood sugar level and avoid highs and lows!

Slow release energy foods include:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Cereal
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Protein like meat and fish

Snacks and Quick Meal Ideas to Balance Your Blood Sugar:

Easy-Cook Dinners for Balancing Your Blood Sugar

Super-Simple Spaghetti Bolognaise

(Serves 2, double quantities to serve 4)

Total Cost: £2.90

Equipment: Two saucepans or a frying pan/wok and a saucepan. Spoon for stirring. Kitchen knives and a chopping board.

250g Minced Beef or vegetarian Quorn Mince
1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 Veggie Stock Cube
1 Beef Stock Cube (or vegetarian “beef” stock cubes)
Whatever vegetables you have kicking about
A squeeze of tomato puree or ketchup
150-200g spaghetti, depending on appetite!
Optional: A sprinkle of grated cheese for serving

  1. Finely chop the vegetables you have – carrots, leeks, onions and peas all work really well. You can even use frozen mixed veg!
    Tip: Carrot works really well grated as it cooks super quickly!
  2. Fry off the mince beef until just browned – the meat should no longer look pink/raw. This should take about 3 minutes.
  3. If using onions or leeks, pop these in now to soften in the pan with the beef
  4. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes, the stock cubes and any other veg you want to use.
  5. Add a squirt of tomato puree or tomato ketchup for added richness
  6. Simmer for 15 minutes on low.
  7. Pop the spaghetti in a pan of boiling water with a pinch of salt and cook according to packet instructions.
  8. Drain the spaghetti and serve, adding a little grated cheese on top to taste!

Sweet and Spicy Moroccan-Style Casserole

(Serves 2, double quantities to Serve 4)

Total Cost: £2.68 including a new jar of Moroccan style seasoning

Equipment: Two saucepans. Spoon for stirring. A sharp knife or scissors to cut up the chicken. A sharp knife to cut up the carrots and any other vegetables you want to use. A chopping board.

Ingredients:

1 tin of chickpeas in water
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 Vegetable Stock Cube diluted in 200ml hot water
A carrot or two
Morrocan seasoning spice to taste
150g rice

Optional: Any other veg you have! Spinach works really well – frozen or fresh!

Optional: 1 Chicken Breast. The chickpeas will provide plenty of protein but you could always add a chicken breast if you can’t imagine a meal without meat!

  1. Finely chop or grate the carrots
  2. If using chicken breast, start by searing this in the pan with a little oil or butter. You should no longer see any raw, pink chicken – the edges of each piece should be white. This should take about 3 minutes.
  3. Put the chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, vegetable stock and carrots in a large saucepan.
  4. Optional: Add the seared chicken
  5. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer
  6. Add the Moroccan seasoning mix to taste
  7. Optional: add any other vegetables you want to add
  8. Simmer for 15-20 minutes
  9. Cook the rice according to packet instructions
  10. Serve and enjoy!


Fancy something sweet? Homemade flapjack

Homemade flapjack can give you a sweet fix while the oats slow down the release of the sugars into your blood.

Equipment: Something to bake them in – baking tray/baking tin/cake tin/glass heat-proof dish
Grease-proof paper/baking paper – don’t worry if you haven’t got this. You can always use some extra butter rubbed on the inside of the tin to stop them sticking. A saucepan and a spoon.

Ingredients:

150g butter or spread
100g/4 tablespoons golden syrup OR coconut oil OR honey
100g light brown sugar – but any sugar will do!
350g porridge oats
Optional: raisins, chopped nuts, chopped cherries, dark chocolate drops

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Line a baking tin/tray with grease-proof paper or butter the inside
  3. Put the butter, syrup/coconut oil/honey and sugar in a saucepan and stir over a medium heat for 5 minutes until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Take off the heat
  5. Mix in the oats – Optional: Add any raisins/cherries/chocolate drops here.
  6. Tip the mixture into your tin and use a spoon to press it down evenly. This helps your flapjacks stay together when cutting them up!
  7. Back for 20-25 minutes
  8. Leave to cool, cut up and enjoy!

Final Thoughts:

Remember, think blood sugar when you grab something to eat! If something contains lots of sugar and not much else (think that big bar of chocolate….) it will spike your blood sugar, followed by a big drop. Of course still enjoy your sweet treats, but overall, aim for a treat that will balance your blood sugar out!

We would love to see pictures of what you’ve cooked! Tweet @UoEWellbeing using #foodandmood

Next time: Simple ways to sneak in 5 a day

Exercise for the Mind

This blog has been written by Jess Prince (Mental Health Advisor and Welfare Consultant for Wellbeing Services) and Anna Janota (Sports Welfare Consultant for Wellbeing Services and Sports Park).

Now more than ever distractions that support and promote our mental health in this time of lockdown are being highlighted across the internet, from pets to baking to online quizzes and choirs to the next X Factor star.  Whilst it’s great to have such a wealth of options, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

The benefits of exercise

So why don’t we begin by looking at how our mental health and physical health is intrinsically linked?  When you exercise, chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood are released. If you exercise regularly or keep active, it can reduce your stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, help with recovery from mental health difficulties and improve your sleep.

The relationship between mental and physical health

So how are exercise and the mind linked up?  Exercising pumps blood to the brain, which can help you to think more clearly and increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory.  It also increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves your memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.

It is great to see all the benefits from exercising but the reality of being able to regularly exercise or even be active, especially during lockdown life, is a lot harder.

There are many barriers to exercising (physical, psychological, mental ill health, lack of space, lack of time etc.) but one thing that is key for all exercise is breathing.  So let’s start with a basic breathing technique that is accessible for everyone to try, called the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

Breathing Technique

This should only be carried out in a setting where you’re fully prepared to relax and feel safe.  Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, think about your posture.  If you want to, you can do this breathing technique lying down. Prepare for the practice by resting the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. You’ll need to keep your tongue in place throughout. It takes practice to keep from moving your tongue when you exhale.

The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:

  • First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
  • Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
  • Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
  • Make another whooshing sound and exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.

When you inhale again, you initiate a new cycle of breath. Practice this pattern for four full breaths.

The held breath (for seven seconds) is the most important part of this practice. It’s also recommended that you only practice 4-7-8 breathing for four breaths when you’re first starting out. You can gradually work your way up to eight full breaths.

This breathing exercise can put you into a deep state of relaxation so please ensure you don’t have to be alert straight after doing it.

Below is a quote which highlights our thoughts around the importance of the breath:

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

Your feedback

We’ll be looking into other aspects of mental and physical health in future blogs.  We hope you found this helpful and would really value your comments, feedback and suggested topics for future blogs. We hope that our small blog will start a wider discussion around mental health and exercise.

Please send your comments to: and mark FAO Jess Prince/Anna.

References

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/exercise-and-mental-health

https://www.healthline.com/health/4-7-8-breathing#3

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9009637-om-chanting-and-meditation

Coping During a Pandemic Whilst Having an Eating Disorder

Karen Chapman, a Mental Health advisor with Wellbeing Services, has written the following post with advice on managing an eating disorder during these unprecedented times. Jo Keeler, the founder of the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group, has kindly contributed.

The current pandemic has been a very challenging time for all, and for those experiencing an eating disorder it may have been particularly difficult. Eating disorders are tough, and perpetuating factors can be triggered by changes to routine, isolation or conflicts within households.

As we continue coping with the pandemic, we can see our world has changed to how we knew it before. For those recovering from or experiencing an eating disorder these times can be very unsettling. The gyms and activity centres are closed, there is a reduced ability to go outside, and there are restrictions in the supermarkets and a reduced availability of specific foods. You may struggle with being isolated or living with family when you were not expecting to, and the future may feel uncertain. Perhaps having to make decisions in a supermarket has lead to panic or avoidance when the foods that you feel comfortable buying, without leading to guilt or fear, are not there. All of this can lead to increased anxieties and more to battle with whilst experiencing an eating disorder.

The Wellbeing Services logo - an orange tree, where the trunk is a hand reaching into the leaves.

If you need support, please contact Wellbeing Services at wellbeing@exeter.ac.uk

It is important to recognise this. You may feel you are slipping back into more disordered behaviours or your eating disorder thoughts are louder in your mind than usual. Don’t be hard on yourself for slipping back a little. If you have recognised that you are struggling more, that’s a really good sign and you can do something about it to prevent things getting any worse.  Remember that recovery isn’t a straight line, it’s more of a wavy line of ups and downs along the way. Don’t give up hope and keep taking those small steps forward. Please reach out to those who you feel you can trust.

Creating a routine and a new norm has been key for some. People also find it useful to try to be kinder to oneself (which can be hard at times), but even if you try to dilute or neutralise any harsh or fixed thoughts this is a form of self-compassion. It may be helpful to try writing your thoughts down in a journal if you find it hard to verbalise them to others. People also find it useful to limit their exposure to unhelpful social media – whether that’s having a break from social media, or only following pages that are pro-recovery, inspirational or positive.

One person has described surviving lockdown with an eating disorder as the following:

“I found the loss of my normal routine really difficult to begin with. My whole life revolves around knowing exactly what I’m going to and when I’m going to do it. Losing that was very scary and I was worried about relapse. I have created a new ‘quarantine routine’ which has massively helped me, but now I’m worried about when things go back to normal, I know I will really struggle to adapt to the change away from this new way of life and back into my old routine. I’m worried that I will see my social anxiety become worse as I haven’t been around people as much. I know I have my family and professional support though, and try to remember that I have managed to adapt before and will manage it again.”

Another person has shared their experience as below:

“Coping with an eating disorder in normal day-to-day life is challenging enough, but in lockdown it’s even harder. With everything that’s been going on recently I have found that my anxiety levels have been much higher than usual, which is often an easy way for Eating Disorder thoughts to take over. Since being back home I have much less control over what I’m eating and I struggle a lot when my routine is suddenly changed; succumbing to my eating disorder can often act as a coping mechanism. However, I’ve tried to adapt to the uncertainty as best as I can. It’s really important to me to keep challenging the foods that I have been in fear of, and not let lockdown make me feel guilty for consuming more of a particular food. If my mind feels clouded with negativity, a daily walk or some yoga helps me put things into perspective and remember there is more to life than my eating disorder. I also think calling a friend for a catch up is invaluable and can really lift my mood if all I can think about is what I’m eating. I reassure myself that every emotion I’ve been feeling is completely valid in such a confusing time, and that when it all ends, I will come out the other side having built more resilience against my eating disorder.”

From an individual who considers themselves recovered:

Logo for the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group at Exeter, showing a brunette woman in a green t-shirt peaking against an orange background.

You can find out more about the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group here: www.facebook.com/EDPSGexeter/

“I’ve been recovered from my eating disorder for 5 years and that largely is part to moving from a challenging environment and gaining some independence. This lockdown period has been extremely challenging, in some ways, mirroring some of the circumstances where my difficulties began. The loss of control, lack of ability to access my support network, increased food-talk in the public and general stress has made me worry about symptoms returning. Speaking to others in a similar situation to myself helped me recognise that this objectively is a very challenging time, even for those without a susceptibility to mental health problems. I have found it helpful to reconnect myself with other aspects of my identity and interests that are not related to food, exercise or appearance. For example, I’ve spent time doing arts and crafts, meditating and watching funny movies. I’ve also made an effort to reconnect with my values and recovery journey, to remind myself that it is periods of very challenging times that have enabled me to be where I am today. I have done this before and have come out the other side, and I can do it again.”

It is really important to recognise the challenges you may face as this can empower you to adapt and take small steps forward.

Helpful resources

Wellbeing Services and Jo collaborated on a webinar on 20th May that you can watch using the link below:

Wellbeing Services also offer individual support sessions for students experiencing eating difficulties. Support sessions are open to all students, and no assessment or referral is necessary; sessions can be booked directly by students. Please scroll down the page below to find out more:

https://www.exeter.ac.uk/wellbeing/support/eatingdifficulties/

Please also see Beat’s website for top tips on staying well:

https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/your-stories/recovery/tips-coping-during-coronavirus

Managing Stress and Fatigue During Lockdown

A photo of Megan, author of this blog.

Megan Maunder is a PGR Mathematics student (CEMPS), who has kindly shared her thoughts on ways to manage stress and fatigue during lockdown. 

As a neurodiverse and chronically ill person I am finding lockdown particularly challenging. The change in routine, inability to make long terms plans, and absence of some of my favourite activities and distractions all add to my discomfort and my ability to self-motivate. Talking to family and friends, I am not alone in this. I’ve found one of the biggest issues with lockdown is that we are suddenly consumed by the minutiae of life. We often turn to the bigger picture to help centre ourselves and give us a sense of perspective, but now this may be inherently scary, and we have little planned to look forward to. Many of us are now bogged down in the small things, and whilst they might help and give comfort, they in themselves can also be a source of distress.

The uncertainty of this situation is something I’m struggling with but with the help of family, friends, mentors, and adapting my existing coping techniques I’ve found a few things that help:

Make Lists

We tend to be quite good at making to do lists when it comes to planning university work or errands but we’re not so good at doing this for positive things that help us feel better. Make a list of everything you enjoy that you are still able to do, activities, hobbies, and self-care. It sounds ridiculous, but often when I’m stressed I often forget what I can do to help myself. Make sure you schedule time each week to do some of the things on your list and, whenever you feel overwhelmed choose to do one of them for at least 10 minutes to help focus and calm you down. For me this includes Tai-Chi, short walks, reading, and I’ve recently taken up watercolours.

At the start of each week, I also make a plan for meals (with a few contingents) so that my partner and I know exactly who is cooking and what we’re eating each night. Making all my food decisions for a week in one block helps reduce some of the stress and fatigue around decision making. It also helps reduce food waste and it’s surprisingly easy to hype yourself up for whatever is planned that evening. Tonight I’m looking forward to making Mediterranean Tarts!

Routines

A picture of a To Do list in a wire-bound notebook, with numbers from one to four listed.

Plan your day and allow time for activities that reduce your stress levels. 
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.

Timers are your best friend. When I lived alone, I found it almost impossible to function well without them, particularly for meals and separating work and leisure. If you don’t like the idea of eating alone, I find the TV or video calling a close friend or family member helps. If you live with other people, I suggest setting a mutually agreed upon time for lunch and your evening meal. This gives you all a chance to decompress, and take some perspective and makes sure you eat and look after your body. For example, my partner and I  have set times for lunch and when to start preparing dinner, it gives us a way to manage our schedules, separate work and leisure, and encourages us to eat healthily.

Digital Boundaries

Most of us struggle with maintaining a healthy level of digital connection. Spending too much time ‘plugged in’ can often make me feel anxious and overwhelmed. Being apart from so many family and friends it’s tempting to schedule in more virtual commitments and want to feel more connected – I was definitely guilty of this at the start of lockdown! I was constantly connecting but I quickly felt burnt out and realised I needed more time offline and to myself. I’ve now cut down on online social events and massively reduced my social media consumption. I set screen limits for certain apps and make sure I have plenty of ‘analog’ activities. I’ve recently removed all work/university content from my phone and tablet. Before, with locations changing and travel I needed to access my work emails and files from these devices but now I’m permanently at home I only access them via my laptop. This way I can ensure my time off is truly separate from university work.