Ways to be kind to yourself

The way we think and feel about ourselves significantly affects our wellbeing. We can be harsh and critical or kind and compassionate towards ourselves. For a lot of people, self-criticism is the default setting. This makes life harder and less pleasurable. Research has shown that if we are kind and compassionate to ourselves, even when things are going wrong, we are more likely to cope with life’s difficulties and be happier. Below are some ideas which you can implement to start being kinder to yourself and developing your self-compassion:

  1. When something goes wrong, forgive yourself. Move away from self-blame. Everyone makes mistakes. Accept these as ways to make progress.
  2. Notice what you are feeling without judging yourself. Everyone has difficult times in their lives. Our emotions are the result of a complex mixture of factors which are not our fault and over which we may have little control.
  3. Gradually train yourself to become more aware of your thoughts, especially those that are negative and self-critical. Mindfulness meditation practices can really help with this such as those on the Headspace app which offers a 10 day free trial or the guided audios on mindfulnessforstudents.co.uk.
  4. When you notice negative and self-critical thoughts, pause for a moment and then imagine that it is a friend of yours in your situation as you speak to yourself in your mind. We are often much harsher in the way we speak to ourselves than we would ever be with other people!
  5. Try to refrain from saying “I should”, “I must” or “I ought to” statements to yourself.
  6. Try not to compare yourself with others. Comparing how you feel internally with how others seem externally is likely to make you feel worse about yourself. Often people will hide their struggles so we can’t really know what’s going on for them.
  7. Let go of the expectations of others and of excessively high expectations you have of yourself. It’s good to aim to do well but putting too much pressure on yourself will have the opposite effect, causing anxiety and often lowering performance.
  8. Spend 5 minutes in the evening remembering kindnesses which occurred in the day.
  9. Focus on the progress you have made each day and appreciate even small achievements, rather than fixating on the tasks that are still on your “to do” list.
  10. Spend time with people who are supportive of you and help you to feel good about yourself.
  11. Plan at least one enjoyable activity for each day, even if it’s just something small like phoning a good friend for a quick chat or having a relaxing bath. Taking regular breaks from work will help improve your wellbeing as well as making you more effective when you are studying – it’s a win-win!
  12. Each day aim to do one thing, however small, to help you reach a long term goal.

If you would like to learn more about how to be kinder and more compassionate towards yourself, then you can book onto the one-off workshop “Being kinder to yourself” offered at the Reed Mews Wellbeing Centre by visiting the Wellbeing workshop page on the website. The Wellbeing Centre also provides a six week Compassion Focused Course for those who feel they would benefit from exploring this area in more depth. This can be accessed by booking a Telephone Referral Appointment (TRA) with the Wellbeing Centre.

Written By: Sarah Lane, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner

How Can We Have Better Conversations About Mental Health?

Daisy Parker is a third year PhD student at the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health. Her research focuses on developing training to support general practitioners when they’re talking to patients with emotional problems.



I have studied psychology in one way or another for over ten years, but that still didn’t prepare me for finding out that somebody I loved was suffering from depression. That gut wrenching feeling of knowing that a person you care about is in pain, but feeling powerless to do anything about it, is a feeling I’m sure I have shared with many other people. Having that conversation is not easy for any of us – including doctors. That is why for my PhD, I am investigating ways to help GPs have better conversations with patients with mental health concerns. But you don’t have to be a doctor to have a helpful conversation about mental health. Here are a few tips, based on my research:

  1. Listen attentively. Turn off any distractions, put down your phone, face the person with your whole body. Encouraging noises, such as ‘mhm’, lets them know that you are listening and encourages them to talk. Don’t be afraid of silence, try to avoid filling the gaps and allow the person to be able to gather their thoughts.
  2. Provide reassurance, and validate their feelings and decision to open up to you. It is often difficult for people to share their mental health problems. They may be ashamed or embarrassed, or feel that they are bothering you. Phrases such as “that sounds tough for you”, “I’m here for you”, and “I’m glad you reached out” are simple but effective ways of providing reassurance and validation.
  3. Remind them that there is help out there. Often, people do not feel that they deserve help, or that no-one can/will help them. Gently encouraging them to speak to their GP, or seek help from a charity such as Samaritans (call 116 123 in the UK) can be the endorsement they need. The university provides a number of sources of support which can be found at http://www.exeter.ac.uk/wellbeing/. You may also wish to offer to come with them to their doctor’s appointment for support.
  4. Don’t feel that you need to fix them. Simply being listened to, reassured, and supported is therapeutic on its own. Unless you are asked for advice, give it sparingly. A non-judgemental approach will help you to keep those channels of communication open.
  5. Finally, look after yourself. Listening to and supporting someone who has mental health concerns can be emotionally draining. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so make sure that you look after your own wellbeing as much as you can.

Find out more about Daisy and her research by checking out her University profile or following her Twitter @daisy_parker2



Doing a PhD when your personal life is falling apart

Catherine is a PhD researcher in the Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health (REACH) at the University of Exeter. Her PhD research examines how people with dementia use social media. In 2016, Catherine graduated from the University of Bath with a BSc (Hons) degree in psychology. She is a cyberpsychologist interested in online communities and health research. She is also interested in internet-mediated research ethics, digital methods, and body image. Catherine is also the Vice-Chair of PsyPAG, a national organisation for postgraduate psychologists.

Dear Blog,

It’s been a while…Over the Christmas break, I received some news which has completely thrown me. The safety net has been dragged right out from under me and everything I once thought to be stable, is now a shattered mess on the floor. After taking time off at Christmas to relax, I came back to my PhD exhausted, distracted, and more stressed than I was before the holidays. I have nine months left of my PhD. I wanted to come back to work and hit the ground running, but instead, I feel overwhelmed and have zero motivation to get anything done. I like to think of myself as a bad-ass researcher, but just lately, I feel anything but bad ass.

One of the hardest parts of doing a PhD isn’t the content itself, but the process of keeping up momentum. So what do you do when you’re drained and feel like you have no momentum left? This must be a problem that affects so many PhD students. We aren’t just researchers who only exist within the realm of academia; we are people with our own dysfunctional lives, and sometimes the dysfunction of it all coupled with the culture of academia is too much.

I’m still working through my problems and, quite frankly, I feel drained. My cognitive and emotional load is at full capacity and I feel like I’m going to explode at any moment. I fluctuate between being super high-functioning and productive to being a total mess.

So, how am I coping (or not coping) during this time?

I’m trying to be kinder to myself, which was one of my new year’s resolutions. I’ve had my share of 2019 negativity and I don’t want to add to it by beating myself up about my PhD work. I’m trying to engage in lots of self-care and I have set myself realistic, achievable work expectations. If I’ve felt a bit low, I have taken a mental health day. The advantage of doing a PhD is the flexible working hours, so I am trying to work at times that are best for me. I am trying to celebrate the little things and not look at the bigger picture right now. I am also spending lots of time with my super supportive friends and keeping myself distracted.

I recognise that the next few months are going to be an emotional rollercoaster, but I am finally starting to pick up momentum and sometimes feel like my old self again. Life happens and there is nothing I can do to stop that, so I am going to continue making ‘me’ a priority and live by my new year’s resolution of being kinder to myself. Watch this space.

C xx

Blog post taken from Catherine’s personal blog: https://catherinetalbotcyberpsych.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/doing-a-phd-when-your-personal-life-is-falling-apart/

Written By: Catherine Talbot, PhD Researcher in College of Medicine and Health. You can find out more about Catherine and her Research by following her on twitter @Catherinetalb


PGR Disability Network

Debbie Kinsey is a PhD researcher at Exeter Medical School examining museum programmes for people with dementia, with a particular focus on how including caregivers has an impact on the person with dementia, the carer, and the relationship between them. Her broader research interests include living well with chronic health conditions (particularly those acquired in adulthood), the arts and health, and accessibility in its many forms.


Dealing with a chronic illness or disability as a PGR involves many of the same issues as those without an illness/disability – finding balance between work and life, managing differing expectations, project managing (perhaps for the first time), etc. But those issues are often magnified for those of us who also have a health condition. For example, you may be more likely to need to take sick days or need to work less hours in a day. And there are also additional issues like navigating support services (or lack thereof depending on what you need), considering whether to disclose to supervisors or wider teams, and dealing with working in perhaps a very different way to your colleagues.

It can be quite isolating at times, particularly if you need to work from home or others around you don’t understand the difficulties of doing a research degree with a chronic illness or disability. But there are more of us out there than it can seem.

I’ve started a network for PGRs at Exeter with a chronic illness or disability, so we can find peer support, share experiences, and perhaps think about if there’s anything we would want to try to change or add to in the way the university (or funders) supports PGRs. It’s new, so we’ll work out what we want as we go. We might want to stick to just having an email list where people can post, or we could have a some coffee meet-ups, or we could invite university staff to talk to us about how they navigate academia with health conditions, or we could lobby the university to make changes in policy based on our experiences. It’s completely open and up to us.

Initially, the email list is set up on JiscMail. It’s set to private, which means that only those on the list can read the archive (past messages), and the list can’t be found in searches on the JiscMail site. The privacy settings are intentional, so that people feel able to talk openly. And though the doctoral college supports this network, it’s not run by them or any member of staff, which, again, hopefully helps people to feel they can be open without worrying that supervisors (or potential future employers) will read it. But we can decide as a group if we want to change that in the future.

If anyone wants to join, you can sign up via the JiscMail link below. Because the list is private, you have to be ‘approved’ by me to join, but I will do this automatically for Exeter University email addresses. You don’t need to provide ‘proof’ of your condition; you don’t need to be ‘bad enough’; you don’t need to have disclosed an illness or disability to the university or your supervisors. All that’s required is that you feel you would benefit from peer support and/or networking around coping with chronic illness or disability as a PGR at Exeter.

Click this link to sign up to the JiscMail.

Please feel free to email or tweet Debbie if you have any questions: