At The Open University we recognise that mental health and wellbeing impacts all aspects of our lives in terms of how we feel, function and interact with others. In recent years there has been an increase in students and staff disclosing mental health difficulties and we’re committed to supporting mental health.
We believe that everyone has a responsibility for actively supporting mental health and wellbeing, whether their own or that of others. By taking a whole institution approach to mental health and wellbeing, we will work collectively to promote an informed, tolerant, and inclusive culture.
If you need support, we’re here for you. We have a number of different partners through which we can better support this culture, including Togetherall and Shout, and you can find further support here.
Neill Boddington, one of our Mental Health Advisors , shares eight top tips for promoting better mental health and wellbeing, which are useful for yourself or when supporting a fellow student or colleague:
Writing down our worries, fears and stressors can be the simplest way to get them out of our head. We can then reflect, set actions and an appropriate time to resolve them. Any worries can be scrunched up and the paper your worry is written on thrown away as if you are throwing that worry out of your mind. This can be especially useful if you’re having problems sleeping and find intrusive thoughts circulating in your head.
- Limit your exposure
Don’t fertilise your worries by seeking out negative conversation, news or social media content. Limit the time spent reading up what worries you and only get your information from reputable sources such as national news channels.
If you are experiencing unhelpful thoughts, then trying to reframe them by using the catch it – check it – change it approach.
- Catch it – recognise early when you are having a negative thought.
- Check it – consider what evidence you have for this though and challenge it. You might find it useful to imagine you are offering advice to a friend who has the same problem.
- Change it – Try to change the thought for something positive, reflect on the catch it and check it stages and try to encourage positive feelings.
- Change ‘cannot’ to ‘can’
When faced with challenging times, it is easy to focus on what we cannot do. Instead look positively and think about what we can do. That might be the things that are constant in your life, the opportunities a challenging situation can create… or to look for small simple pleasures that we sometimes take for granted when life becomes overwhelming.
- Hypothetical versus practical
Worries can be placed into one of two categories – hypothetical worries or practical worries.
- Hypothetical worries are ones that currently do not actually exist and at best only might happen. They are ‘what ifs’, not based in evidence and sometimes irrational.
- Practical worries are actual problems. They are specific, defined and often happening right now.
- We can use various techniques (discussed here) to try to limit our thoughts around hypothetical worries.
- To help be more action oriented around practical worries, try reframing how you feel about it like this:
Instead of saying “I am worried about…” (this kind of thought just leaves us stuck with the ‘worry’), try; “If I care about…” This rephrasing can help to encourage positive actions because this is now not a worry but something you care about and is important to you.
- Focus on what you value
The things we value; people, activities or beliefs, are very important to us. They give us joy, purpose and meaning helping us to feel good about ourselves and our life. However, everyday life of sometimes other people’s values can get in the way. Choose five things you value highly and consider how much you have really been invested in these over the past couple of months. What can you do to ensure your level of investment matches the level of importance?
- Take a time out… often!
Working, studying, home and family life can have its pressures and demands, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes we can be on the go all for long periods of time, but we need to find time to ‘recover’ and rest from the everyday demands of life. Think about making use of your day, incorporating lots of mini rest and recovery breaks within it. Perhaps instead of going from meeting to meeting and staring at emails in between – take 5 minutes out to talk to a colleague. Are you rushing around with house chores? Designate a 10 minute wind down with a cup of tea in the garden before you collect the children from school. Do you head straight out the office and headlong into study time? Let your mental batteries re-energise with some time lost in a good TV programme first. For some, lots of little breaks can be more effective at helping them to ‘recover’ and recharge enough to keep on going.
- A balance of what matters
A balance of all these emotionally protective behaviours is important. Balancing activities that create enjoyment, achievement and connection help us to feel positive and filled with joy, confident and not isolated or lonely. The balance of each one will be different for each person, but the trick is to establish actions that promote these feelings and not to neglect one at the expense of another.
Find out more:
- Read student to student advice on studying with mental health issues
- Try some of our FREE mental health courses on OpenLearn
- OU academics offer advice on how to get mental health support
- Why exercise helps with mental health
- 8 ways to create a happier mindset
- 7 mindfulness exercises (and some mythbusters too)