Tag Archives: Self care

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.





Looking After Our Wellbeing In These Challenging Times

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought about a period of change and uncertainty that most of us have never experienced before. It’s always important to look after your mental health and wellbeing, but it’s even more crucial now. Check out our tips and strategies which are designed to help you manage your mental health throughout the current situation.

Don’t panic

This is a challenging time for the world at the moment, and many of us are understandably concerned for our loved ones and society in general. Restrictions on the way we work and live can also create stress. It is important at times of anxiety to remember what is within our control and to focus on these things, rather than becoming worried about the things that we have no control over. An easy way to do this is asking yourself ‘is this a current worry that I can do something about now?’ It can help to express your worries by writing them down in a notebook or journal, which you can then put aside and let go. Then draw your attention onto the things you can do something about; capture these and try to keep your focus on them.

Keep a routine

Staying at home, whether you are working or studying, can mean we have some extra time in bed. While it is important to have good and restful sleep, it’s also important to keep to a routine. This doesn’t only help you to complete the tasks you need to do, such as study, work or housekeeping, but also gives a sense of structure, which can better help us to cope. Take some time to set out your routine and think about how you’ll spend time by yourself at home. For example, plan activities to do on different days, or habits you want to start or keep up. Be sure to build in times to rest and relax too.

Set yourself goals

See this time as an opportunity to complete a task you have been putting off for some time, or as a time to finally start a new hobby, or learn something new. Why not share your progress with friends and family, or on social media? We’d love to hear your progress – tag our University social media accounts with your stories: Twitter – @UniOfExeter Instagram – @UniOfExeter Facebook – University of Exeter.

Be creative

It can be easy to spend a lot of time using electronic devices or watching tv, but absorbing yourself in a creative task can often be more rewarding for your mental health. You don’t need to have lots of equipment – pick up a book (or find some online), do some writing, draw a picture, or sing a few songs! Again, you might want to share your creativity with others.

Connect with others

We are fortunate in today’s society to have many options available to connect with each other. Make use of video calls and phone calls (either individually or within groups). Many celebrities are delivering group activities such as cook-alongs and fitness routines via social media and this is something you could also arrange between your friends and family.

Maintain activity and fitness

Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. It can improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make you feel more relaxed. At present in the UK, the government states that you can leave the house once a day to walk, run or cycle alone, or with members of your household. If you can do this safely (remember you must maintain social distancing and keep 2 metres apart from others at all times) then it can help your mental health to enjoy some activity and fresh air. If you prefer to keep fit indoors, there are also a number of options for home workouts available online – or you might even make use of that old fitness DVD you have lying around!

Maintain a level of self-care and hygiene

It’s important to be comfortable when at home, however it can be easy to let our routines around day-to-day hygiene go out of the window when we’re not leaving the house. Even if you’re staying in your pyjamas, have a different set for the daytime!

Keep your home comfortable

Try your best to keep on top of household chores. Being surrounded by mess or dirty plates has a negative impact on our mental health in the longer term. Why not build your chores into your daily routine and then when they’re completed you can relax?

Be kind to yourself

These are exceptional times and you’re bound to go through a range of emotions. Try to accept that and treat yourself with compassion and kindness.

Remember: Wellbeing Services are available

Our Wellbeing teams are still available to support you during these uncertain and challenging times. We can offer remote appointments via telephone or online, and will do whatever we can to help you through this unusual period.

If you are a student usually based on our Exeter campuses, you can email wellbeing@exeter.ac.uk to request support or call Wellbeing Services on +44 (0) 1392 724381 and leave a voicemail.

You can reach our AccessAbility team at accessability@exeter.ac.uk or by leaving a voicemail at +44 (0) 1392 723880.

If you are a student usually based on our Cornwall campuses you can contact Living Support as follows:

  • Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm: +44 (0) 1326 255341 or livingsupport@fxplus.ac.uk
  • Evenings and weekends: +44 (0) 1326 253503

Further University information:

Information and advice from the University on the coronavirus outbreak: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/