HEALTH AND WELLBEING Support Guide
Information for Current Homerton Members
Look after yourself
Food for Thoughts â€“ Exam Advice
Importance of Sleep
Beating Stress Relaxation Techniques Wrist Exercises
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This booklet is designed to provide you with support and guidance as you prepare for your examinations. We hope it answers your questions, should you require any additional support please consult the Welfare Support and Health pages on the Homerton website.
Look after yourself Get the basics right Eat well, nutritiously, get the saturated fat content down and the salt content low. Eat five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables a day, drink plenty of water, and make sure you’ve got your vitamins. Aim to get your BMI in the healthy zone. Get at least 7 hours sleep a night. Sleep is really important… and there’s even evidence the brain needs sleep to remain physically healthy. Further information about food and sleep can be found on pages 5-6. Although straightforward, this can seem quite difficult. There’s lots of advice and specific help around but the message is the same… get the basic, physical, fundamentals right.
Five ways to well-being There's a great approach called "five ways to well-being". This is an approach that really works, and is being taken up by more and more people. It's recommended by MIND and the NHS and there are plenty of tips to help you take do-able steps towards better mental well-being. 1. Keep active – do something physical each day. Could be as simple as going for a walk, but could be going for a swim, or going to the gym every day. 2. Maintain your relationships – for all kinds of reasons, friends are vital. Good friends, supportive friends, friends who won't judge you or try to take advantage of you. And we can all take steps to maintain our friendships. We can make sure we ‘phone, write, text, etc. You might even consider a kind of semi-professional approach - self-help groups for people in a similar position to yourself. 3. Learn – keep your brain active. Engage your brain. Your brain is the most fantastic machine ever created, and it needs to be exercised 4. Give – this isn’t political brainwashing, there’s real evidence that getting involved in charitable activity (and it’s probably better to give your time and effort, rather than money) makes people happier. 5. Stay open-minded – this is perhaps the trickiest thing, but it relates directly to rumination… so it deserves its own section:
Mindfulness Rumination tends to be eased if we learn to be mindful; if we are able to be aware of, and understand how our own thoughts work. This does NOT mean taking up any kind of religious practice, but some of the practical techniques of clearing the mind of 'clutter' can be helpful. Again, it's recommended by the NHS as well as being part of the five ways to well-being. In part, it means becoming able to decide where we focus our attention, because if we are good at this, it makes it less likely that our thoughts will always be dragged back to our ruminations. Further information on mindfulness can be found on pages 9-12.
“Catch it, check it and change it” And if we’re aware of what’s happening in our own minds, we can start to change things. A neat summary of the popular ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ or CBT is; “Catch it, check it, change it” a) First ‘catch it”; identify what you are thinking. It’s often really useful to use a change in your emotions as a cue to examine your own thinking. So, when you notice an unhelpful emotion or a shift in mood, or when you notice that you’re doing something you know can cause problems (being snappy, for example, or drinking too much), that could act as a cue to examine your own thoughts - “what am I thinking?” b) And then “check it”. Are you (after engaging your fantastic brain in a mindful manner) thinking sensibly, wisely, proportionately, about the situation? Is your mood affecting the way you are thinking? c) And then “change it”. Generate an alternative point of view; question the evidence for your negative thoughts, and find possible alternatives.
Counselling Counselling can be a chance to think things through with a professional in a calm, supportive and nonjudgmental atmosphere, and can be a great help for many students. Homerton has two Counsellors and further details can be found on their webpage. Alternatively, you can contact the University Counselling Service.
Exam Advice The key to boosting your brainpower and keeping your brain healthy leading up to and during exams are nutritious food, water and oxygen. Below are top tips for improving your concentration during the exam period.
Eat little and often. Large meals will make you feel sleepy as blood and oxygen race to your stomach to digest food and therefore are not in your brain helping you concentrate.
Fruit is important year-round, but especially during exam weeks. Eating fruit at breakfast, when your body is craving fuel, allows you to regain the energy quickly to focus on your exams for the day. Fruit ranks high among the best foods you can eat for your brain. The natural sugars in fruit offer clean energy, so you donâ€™t experience the crash that follows the consumption of refined sugar.
Vegetables: The darker the colour of the vegetable, the higher the concentration of nutrients, for example spinach is rich in vitamin K, Vitamin A, and iron. Other great vegetable choices include bell peppers, broccoli and sweet potatoes
Whole Grains: e.g. Cereal and oatmeal. Eating these at any time during the day can help boost your concentration and attention span. Whole grains are digested slowly and keep you fuller for longer. This helps improve your concentration levels and keeps you focused on your studies and not your hunger.
Drink at least 2 litres of water day. A sign of dehydration is a dip in concentration. Drink plenty of water. Choose pure water over energy drinks which can overwork the nervous system and cause you to lose focus. Avoid Caffeine drinks such as Red Bull, Relentless, Coke, tea and coffee. These act as stimulants but cause nervousness and loss of concentration and poor sleep.
Importance of Sleep A good night's sleep impacts on our capacity to manage our emotional lives. The findings about cutting sleeping have been around for some time and are backed up with respectable amounts of good research. Cutting down on sleep is not good for learning either; the fantasy of the all-nighter is just that. Actually, memories are processed from short term to long term memory during deep sleep and cutting down on sleep means they are lost from short term memory before being transferred. There are also other short term and long term consequences. Among the latter are obesity and diabetes which are related to poor sleeping habits. Among the former are the switching off of noradrenaline, enabling the processing of emotional experience during the waking hours. Without this, anxiety levels remain high.
Here are four
top tips to help you get a better nightâ€™s sleep:
Go to bed. Do not be tempted to do an all-nighter, your concentration and exam performance will be affected.
Stimulants such as tea, coffee, red bull, relentless also stimulate anxiety so avoid these and drink plenty of water instead.
Switch off before going to bed. Stop working at least an hour before bed to allow your mind to relax.
Relax. Learning to relax will improve your sleep. Listen to calming music; attend yoga or a massage session.
Panic Attacks Having a panic attack is quite common. Not all, but many people who suffer from anxiety will experience a panic attack at some time – and anxiety is a very common condition in society as a whole. What Happens? A panic attack is really just part of our body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. Back in the days when we lived in caves and hunted wild animals for food, we developed the ability to produce huge quantities of adrenaline for what we now identify as ‘fight or flight’, in other words to get ourselves out of danger. Of course nowadays we rarely need this mechanism for the same reason, but the same rush of adrenaline can be triggered by our modern day stresses and sometimes our bodies go into overdrive and produce so much adrenaline that we experience the symptoms of a panic attack. What are the symptoms? • • • • • • • •
Heart beats very fast Fast, shallow breathing or feeling unable to breathe Chest pains Sweating, nausea or faintness Feeling the need to go to the toilet Difficulty in controlling temperature Tingling or numbness Ringing in ears
People experience any or all of the above together with intense feelings of fear and of being unsafe. This is often accompanied by a feeling of being detached from reality and worries about ‘going mad’. Useful and Reassuring Facts • •
Although extremely unpleasant, panic attacks are neither immediately harmful, nor do they do any lasting damage to your health. You are neither dying, nor going mad! Panic attacks can take you by surprise, but they are usually very short-lived, lasting between 5 and 20 minutes.
What to do – First Aid • • •
Remember that you are NOT dying and the attack will pass in quite a short time. The commonest difficulty with breathing is over-breathing and allowing the lungs to become too full – so, IF IN DOUBT, BREATH OUT. After a good out breath, count your breathing in for 5 and out for 5 to ensure that the flow of air is regular. Do this until your breathing feels easier and your heart rate has slowed.
• • •
If you have started to feel faint, cup your hands over your nose and mouth and breathe in and out for several breaths. (The advice is to use a paper bag but people don’t often have access to such a thing!) Try to concentrate on something familiar, something that represents a positive in your life. Accepting and facing your feelings during a panic attack will help the attack to pass. Tell yourself that you CAN depend upon yourself – you have coping strategies that you have used before and they will work again this time.
What to do in the longer term
You should regard a panic attack as a message to yourself that needs attention. It has probably happened either because you simply have too much stress, or because there is something stressful that you are trying to suppress or ignore. In either case you need to make some adjustments. •
Reduce your stress – think about your lifestyle, including things like your eating, drinking and sleeping patterns. Time management and learning not to over-commit is also important, as are exercise and fresh air. Learn a relaxation technique – these usually involve a combination of breathing techniques and muscle relaxation techniques. Among other things, yoga, pilates and mindfulness relaxation techniques are particularly helpful. Talk about your emotions – either to a friend or family member, or if you feel that you need to speak to someone more impartial, or you need some help in understanding what your anxiety is about, then seek some professional help from a counsellor or therapist.
CLS February 2014
Mindfulness Most simply, mindfulness is ‘the art of conscious living’ (Kabat-Zinn 2005) – the art of bringing into our awareness the whole of our experiencing, as it happens, in the present, immediate moment of its happening. Traditionally it has its origins in Buddhist philosophy and practice. It is however a way of being with yourself and the world which demands no specific faith, belief or religious context. Mindfulness is now commonly considered, taught and practised as a secular exercise, and through the findings of evidence based research has become a recognised and respected form of support and treatment for both physical and emotional health in mainstream medicine.
Mindfulness Exercise Below is a mindfulness technique taken from ‘Mindfulness for busy People, turning Frantic and Frazzled into clam and composed’ by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel (2013) to help you get started. Mindfulness-on-the-go – It only takes ten seconds (page 30) ■When you have read through these simple instructions, close your eyes for the next ten seconds and try to notice and acknowledge the sensation in your body where body makes contact with the surface on which you are sitting, laying or standing – this may be the sensation on your bottom or back where either meets the chair or bed, or the sensations on the soles of your feet where they meet the floor, if you are standing. ■Don’t think about this sensation, just notice and acknowledge it, in other words hold it in your awareness, focus your attention on it and allow it to take centre stage at the forefront of your mindnothing more than that. ■Should any thoughts pop in your mind about the exercise, any judgements or opinions about it or anything else at all (maybe about your body or what you need to get done generally), just notice these thoughts and bring your attention back to noticing and focusing on the sensation in your body.
■Just rest in awareness while you notice and concentrate on this sensation for ten seconds right now before reading on. Don’t count the seconds just take a rough guess of how long to do the exercise for, during which try to pay full attention to the sensation in your body described above. ■As we said, it might help to close your eyes.
Mindfulness FAQ’s Here we hope to answer some commonly asked questions when people begin to learn the practice of mindfulness (Adapted from The Huffington Post: Huffpost Healthy Living). 1. What does sitting still with my eyes closed have to do with getting my life sorted? Doing mindfulness is like practising piano scales or doing gym exercises. Sitting with your eyes closed while paying attention to your breath is training. (NB You do not even have to close your eyes! Just sit with your eyes feeling relaxed and looking down and slightly ahead of you). But like other activities we practice by repetition, mindfulness helps to strengthen our ability to focus and stay attentive to the moment. Without it, we never rest long enough to understand what is truly before us and what response is called for now.
2. How can paying attention to boring everyday activity help? Isn’t it better if I use that time for planning my day? Most of us have spent years reinforcing the habit of not paying attention to our lives as they are unfolding in the present moment. Mindfulness is about learning to shift from a habit of continually projecting into the future or ruminating about the past, to a habit of being aware of what’s really happening right now. Training your attention to stay with the experience as it is really occurring improves your mind’s ability to see clearly and learn. We begin to see what truly is present – not what we wish or fear is present. We begin to interact with experience as it is, not coloured by our habitual “filters” or automatic views. We create the space we need to get in touch with our deepest principles and to build on those. So, when it’s time to plan your day, you can be truly there, with all your capabilities, for planning your day. 3. Yesterday mindfulness was easy and today it was hard: My mind just kept drifting away to my weekend plans. What am I doing wrong? First for the bad news: this is a very good description of doing the practice ‘correctly.’ Your question shows you now know some things about your own mind. You know that the mind you sat down to do mindfulness what today was very different than the mind you sat down with yesterday. You know what “today’s mind” was intent on doing: planning for the weekend. The good news is that you also recognised at some point that the mind had “drifted away.” The practice you are developing is to use that recognition to gently redirect the attention back to your present 10
moment. Some days your mind will throw a lot you and you get a lot of practice redirecting! On other days, your mind will be settled and content to sustain its attention on whatever you want. Either way, your practice is to be with whatever your experience is, with as much self-compassion and curiosity as is available to you. 4. How long will it take before I notice a difference? Not surprisingly, there is a good deal of variability in how this practice impacts people’s lives and when they start to see those changes occur. That said, it’s fairly common for people to report within a couple of weeks of dedicated practice that they were able to meet a situation with a new sense of having choice in how they respond. These are the early signs of developing a degree of freedom from out automatic and habitual tendencies. Co-workers, family and friends sometimes notice these changes before we ourselves are clearly aware of them. 5. Can I listen to music while practising mindfulness? This depends on why you want to. The inclination to put some music on, at least in the early stages of learning the practice, might be coming from a wish to be entertained or to “chill out.” In other words, a wish to get away from whatever is happening now. The aim of mindfulness practice, however, is to strengthen our ability to stay with what is occurring in our experience, and to see clearly what’s true for us now. Over time, if incorporating music into your mindfulness practice interests you, then experiment, remembering to notice if this seems to support your ability to remain attentive and curious, or not.
6. I can’t sit still for 10 minutes, is it okay if I move around? Through mindfulness practice we begin to learn more about the inter-relationship between the body and the mind. Just as we have developed the habit for our minds to spend a great deal of time jumping into the imagined future or rehashing the past, so also have we developed the habit for our bodies to continually shift position in response to the slightest uncomfortable sensation, usually without our being aware of it. Quieting the habitual jumpiness of the body supports us in aiming and sustaining attention, which in turn, strengthens the mind’s ability to focus. So we do our best to not shift position automatically and bring awareness to any movements we decide to make. 7. I’m fine with silent mindfulness, but once I open my mouth I’m not mindful at all! Does this ever get better? Brining mindfulness to communicating is a bit more challenging than paying attention to the sensations of the breath. This is where purposeful pauses can help us: By establishing the habit to use the common occurrences of our day to remind us to bring our attention to the present, we are eventually able to weave mindfulness into more complex activities, such as speaking and listening. It’s also helpful to recognise that the attention and focus we bring to these complex activities is much lighter and broader than the close attention we may place on the sensations of breathing when we are sitting still with closed eyes.
Resources There is a wealth of information available on mindfulness in many different formats, books, guided practices, courses and workshops. We have listed a few below which you may find useful. University of Cambridge The University Counselling Service website is a great place to start if you want to find out more about mindfulness. Clare College Rachael Harris from Clare College runs a free Mindfulness and Meditation course on Tuesdays, 5.30 6.30pm, 21 January – 4th March in the Meeting Room 3, Castle End, Clare Colony. Useful Websites • • •
www.mindfulexperience.org www.mentalhealth.org.uk www.bemindful.co.uk
Free Downloads • •
This YouTube clip may be a good place to start if you would like to practice the mindfulness techniques; it focuses on breathing and grounding self and switching away from distracting and upsetting thoughts. www.zencast.org
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses •
Top Tips for beating stress Good food: Plenty of energy boosting foods e.g. complex carbs such as pasta, rice and potatoes. Raw fruit and vegetables for vitamin and mineral content. If you can’t manage regular meals then substitute with regular and frequent snacks such as sandwiches, jacket potato pasta and a sauce. Bananas are a super food and will give you both instant sugar and more complex carbohydrates. You can eat a chocolate bar or other sugary snack immediately before an exam.
Keep well hydrated: It is easy not to drink enough water when studying or busy but being well hydrated will help you concentrate and prevent headaches.
Exercise Stimulates cerebellum, which is responsible for learning and known to be stress buster. Exercise also helps the body use the extra adrenaline produced during stress and panic.
Deep breathing is an effective way to stay calm. Take deep breath in, put lips together to make small 0 and let out a soft low steady breath; now take in deep breath filling lungs with clean air, repeat 2-3 times. Sunlight: Sunlight provides us with Vitamin D, avoid overexposure just 10 minutes a day will help you to feel cheerful and relaxed as it stimulates the pineal gland.
Stay Positive: Under stress it’s easy to feel negative. It may help to make a list of your top 5 qualities or top 5 things you are proud of.
Visualisation: Try to use you mind to visualise that you are sitting at your exam desk, relaxed and completing the exam easily.
Affirmations: Make up a mantra and repeat it several times whilst breathing in and out slowly such as “ I am relaxed, I am in control, I am confident, I can do it. “
Don’t’ panic: Remember all the advice above and remember panic reduces your performance in an exam.
Relax: Try and find some time each day to relax, listen to calm relaxing music, relaxation CD and carry out some relaxation exercises.
Simple relaxation techniques (Taken from the Cambridge University Counselling service self-help relaxation leaflet) Relaxation How do you know if you are tense? Strange to say, but it is the case that we can be so habitually tense, almost without realising it, that we gradually become accustomed to the sensations of living in a tense state and just think of it as "normal". So here are some clues that may help you to spot undue levels of tension: ■tense muscles ■heart racing or pounding ■hyperventilating; feeling light-headed or faint ■persistent tiredness or exhaustion ■aches and pains ■difficulty with sleeping or gritting your teeth at night ■waking up tired ■loss of appetite or not eating well, perhaps with our stomach "in knots" ■developing minor ailments such as headaches, migraines or stomach upsets ■mind in a whirl; can't think straight, concentrate or work effectively ■sense of rush and pressure, lack of time. These symptoms can also be caused by other medical problems, so if you are unsure, it is worth checking this out with your GP. Whilst some tension can help in the short-term by making us alert, or by motivating us to get on with something, in the longer-term it can begin to cause problems with our health, and in time our work and relationships are also likely to suffer. Generally, the more relaxed you are the better your mind works and the more capable and adaptable you can be. Which approach to relaxation? There are many approaches to learning to relax; none is "right" for everyone - it is more a matter of finding an approach that makes sense and works for you. Learning to relax muscle groups physically, learning mental relaxation, meditation, yoga, prayer, biofeedback - all are possible approaches. As our body is not disconnected from our mind and our emotions, it is possible to use any of these starting points to benefit our entire being.
Like exercising in order to get fit, doing relaxation exercises once won't make you "fit": learning to relax takes time and practice in order for you to become proficient. A simple physical relaxation technique Here is one simple physical method which is designed to be useful in everyday situations: it doesn't aim at deep relaxation or require you to lie down for half an hour! Rather, it aims to reduce unnecessary levels of tension, so that you can continue with your current activity more effectively. It can be used just about anywhere - sitting in a lecture or examination, walking down the street, or going to sleep in bed. How it works In the early part of this century it was recognised that when people first tense up and then relax muscle groups, they end up more relaxed than when they began. In fact this is a natural process that we all use, for example when we stretch, or yawn. But the key to this particular method lies in two factors: â– that we learn the difference in the sensations of being tense and being relaxed, and â– that it gives signals to the subconscious and "automatic" parts of our system (the autonomic nervous system) that "all is well", "there is no need to be tense any longer", and it is your autonomic nervous system which will do the real work by slowing down your heart rate, stopping the release of adrenaline into your blood stream, etc. - things which we do not normally have under our conscious control. Hence the exercises themselves are deceptively simple. Don't be fooled - they do work; but like all relaxation methods, it takes time and practice for this to be useful in real-life stressful situations. The Method For each of the areas of the body described, it is suggested that you tense up and then relax muscle groups. Do each exercise three times. As you get better with time at relaxing these areas, try using less tension before relaxing. Hands Hands are commonly one of the first parts of our body to show tension. When they tense up, they tend to either clench up into a fist, or to hold tight onto something, such as the arm of a chair, or to clasp each other. Instead, try stretching out your hands so that your fingers are straight and spread out. Hold that position for a moment and feel the tension across your palms and the back of your hands. Then let your hands relax and flop beside you, or on your lap. Resist the urge to hold onto something; just let them hang loosely beside you, or let them rest on your lap. When hands are relaxed, the fingers are gently curved, neither tightly curled nor straight, and are "floppy", not stiff.
Shoulders When we are tense our shoulders are commonly raised i.e. hunched. Instead, pull your shoulders down; feel the tension under your arms and up your neck. Hold that position for a moment. Then let them relax and return to a natural position (i.e. not hunched). Head and neck The neck muscles can only relax when they don't have to support the weight of your head - i.e. if you are lying comfortably with your head supported in a straight line with your spine or, if you are standing or sitting, with your head balanced and looking straight ahead - neither angled to one side, nor looking up or down. People who work at desks or keyboards tend to spend a lot of time looking down, either reading, typing or writing, or looking through a microscope. So instead, try looking right up, and feel the tension in your neck; then allow your head to return to the straight ahead, balanced position. Face There are many muscles in our face - used, of course, for speaking, eating, facial expression... This is one of the areas most likely to show tension. As with other muscle groups, it is possible to tense up and then relax these muscles. However, do not do this if you wear either contact lenses or dentures as they could be damaged. So here is an alternative method, which has the additional advantage of being less obtrusive in company. Let all expression go from your face: let your forehead become smooth, your jaw sag with your teeth just apart (though your lips may still be closed), your eyes looking straight ahead and into the distance, and not squinting. It may help you to do this if you think of a word which describes this particular expression - "vacant"; "empty"; "relaxed"; "gormless" are some possibilities! Put this particular expression on your face. Breathing When you are tense, your breathing tends to become faster and shallower. So, allow your breathing to come from lower down in your abdomen (this doesn't mean inhaling a lot of air - rather, just a little air, but from low down) and this will help you to slow your breathing down a little (but don't actually hold your breath). Let it become gentle, easy and regular. Once it is comfortable, you may be able to slow your breathing a little more. [Some people find that thinking about their breathing is counterproductive as it increases anxiety. If you find this applies to you, just omit this section.] Relaxing thoughts Although the physical relaxation method described above doesn't aim for deep relaxation, it should nonetheless help you to relax mentally too. It isn't possible to be really relaxed physically while being tense mentally, or vice versa. However, here are some suggestions which may help further with mental relaxation.
Replace stressful thinking with pleasant and relaxing thoughts One approach is to turn your mind away from stressful thoughts and situations, and instead think about something pleasant. This is a form of "day-dreaming" which you can turn to your advantage. Imagine somewhere, real or imaginary, that you would like to be and where you can relax and put aside the cares of the world for a little while; gradually begin to imagine the details of this place, the sights, sounds and smells. Imagine yourself "unwinding" and "recharging your batteries". Then gradually return to your current world, but bring the new found feelings of life and energy back with you, so that you can use them in your current circumstances. It is the last part of this technique - bringing your re-found energy back to apply in the present - which is the important bit. [Merely imagining pleasant places may give some respite from current difficulties, but can too easily become an avoidance of the present circumstances.] Thinking about something stressful while practising physical relaxation Taking the above approach further: once you are physically relaxed, try imagining yourself in a situation that you feel tense about, and then focus again on relaxing. Alternate your attention between the tense situation and relaxation, until you can remain relaxed while thinking about this situation. In this way you can mentally "rehearse" for a coming stressful event, something you are feeling anxious about such as an exam, an interview, a presentation, before you have to face it in reality. For example, in order to prepare for a coming examination, first relax physically, then imagine yourself revising for the examination. When you can do this and still remain relaxed, begin to introduce thoughts about the day before the exam whilst practising remaining relaxed. Then think about going to the examination, and eventually imagine yourself doing the examination, all whilst remaining relaxed enough to work well. N.B. Imagining yourself revising, etc. is not a substitute for actually revising! Nonetheless, this is a proven approach to improving one's performance: it is similar to the visualisation techniques that sports psychologists teach athletes to use as an aid to improving their performance. Relaxation and sleep Relaxing is not the same as sleeping. Many people sleep without being very relaxed, and although relaxing can lead one to yawn or feel sleepy, it need not lead to sleep. Learning to relax can certainly help you to get to sleep more easily, and then to sleep more restfully. Use the physical relaxation exercises described earlier when you are ready for sleep. Some other suggestions that may help with sleeping are: ■don't use your bed as a place to work during the day ■stop working some while before you want to sleep ■put your work books etc. out of sight of your bed
■develop a routine prior to going to bed ■once in bed, get as comfortable as possible ■yawn! "Artificial" yawns are just as good as the real thing in helping you to slow down your breathing, and at releasing the fluid between your eyelids which will enable them to stay closed all night. Having yawned, keep your eyes gently closed.
Stopping thinking altogether To quieten all thoughts and leave an empty mind is very difficult, but if thoughts are going round and round in your mind as you attempt to sleep, try these ideas: ■first, use the physical relaxation techniques described above ■with your eyes gently closed, look straight ahead and "stare into space" as if looking at a distant, unmoving spot. Just keep looking at this distant black spot ■if your thoughts still won't stop, try focusing on your breathing and gently slowing it down ■or imagine your thoughts as images on a black screen, which you can "wipe out" with a board rubber. Building relaxation into everyday life For these techniques to be of real use, you will need to build them into your everyday life, so that when something very stressful comes along, you are already thoroughly practised in the skills of relaxation and can put them to good use in the midst of difficulty. The day of an examination, interview or presentation is not the day to begin practising. As time goes by, you will probably find that you are more readily aware of any signs of tension in your body. As you become more alert to the early warning signs in your body, you can begin to relax before tension becomes a major problem. You may become so proficient that you do not need to tense up muscle groups prior to relaxing them the tensing stage is not actually necessary, but was introduced as an easier method for beginners. You may find in time that you can simply relax at will. You cannot overdose on these exercises; nor are they in any way harmful or addictive. They simply make good use of a natural process. Practice when life is going well, and then gradually build it into more stressful events. Incorporate it into all aspects of your life and then you will be well able to keep disabling tension at bay when stressful events arise.
Other ways to Relax If you want further help with learning to relax, or to apply this in stressful circumstances, you could do one of the following: ■join a relaxation training class ■speak to your College Health Advisors or Practice Nurse ■consider spiritual approaches such as prayer or meditation; your College Chaplain, Church or other faith centre should be able to point you in a helpful direction ■look at other leaflets in this series, which may also be relevant ■arrange an appointment at the University Counselling Service
Wrist Exercises You may find that your wrist begins to hurt during the build up to the exams period as you are not used to handwriting for long periods of time. We urge you to consult Sandy Chambers, the Student Health Advisors for support and read this useful guide on wrist exercises. Do not wait until it is too late, we are here to help you.