Mental Health of Students & What Can Be Done

As thousands of 18-year olds in the UK have begun or are about to begin their university experience, starting with the infamous ‘freshers’ week’, now is an opportune moment to discuss the mental health crisis in universities.

Why are university students of particular concern? Given that the majority of mental health problems develop by the age of 24, university students are a group at high risk of having mental health problems.

Starting university is a major life transition, and can be both exciting and overwhelming. Not only must students manage multiple academic and social pressures, they must also navigate developmental challenges as they transition to adulthood.

Students today are faced with unique concerns compared to students in the past. This includes the stress of unprecedented financial burden from student loans and increased tuition fees, and the potentially negative consequences on wellbeing of the use of digital technologies and social media.

The statistics

Recent statistics reveal the extent of the student mental health crisis in the UK. In 2015/16, over 15,000 first-year students in UK universities reported that they had a mental health problem, compared to approximately 3,000 in 2006.

This increase in disclosure is mirrored by a 94% of higher education institutions reporting an increase in demand for their counselling services. Despite the surge in help-seeking behaviour, there is evidence to suggest that there are many more students who do not seek treatment for mental health problems.

There are a range of implications of worsening mental health among students. Poor mental health has been associated with poorer academic outcomes, as students tend to be less able to effectively manage stress and pressure and, thus, their ability to perform given tasks productively is diminished.

Why it’s a problem

They may also be more likely to drop out of university; statistics highlight a 210% increase in university dropouts among students with mental health problems from 2009/10 to 2014/15. Of even greater concern is that student suicides have increased by 79% from 2007 (75) to 2015 (134).

Indeed, student mental health is being pushed higher up the government’s agenda. In June of this year, universities minister Sam Gyimah announced a new package of measures, including a University Mental Health Charter and a working group to support students transitioning from school into university.

What can be done?

While this package is promising and reflects a wider commitment to improve student mental health, a more proactive approach needs to be taken at government and NHS level, and at the university and higher education level.

This includes universities adopting a whole-university approach to student mental health, which should be informed by best practice. Universities and higher education institutions should seek to implement currently available programmes to strengthen the current evidence base and identify what refinements are required.

Through improving and strengthening this research base, better, evidence-based investment decisions regarding mental health provision in universities can be made.

Addressing mental health in students can have a positive effect on mental health in later life. By ensuring student mental health is treated as a societal concern, we can encourage early intervention and action.

By intervening early, at a critical transition point in young people’s lives, we can avoid the long-term risks associated with poor mental health, which can have far-reaching consequences for the next generation.

NHS and Mental Health Services

NHS Services moving forward with Mental Health

It is a historic time for mental health, as the NHS celebrates its 70th year, the NHS is undertaking an ambitious programme to transform mental health services, and to provide equal status to mental and physical health. Dr John Hague, clinical mental health lead at Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, points out that with nine out of ten adults with mental health problems supported in primary care, co-location of mental health therapists is a way of maximising the effectiveness of healthcare support.

One of the really important messages is to emphasise the effectiveness of evidence-based, low intensity talking treatments delivered in GP practices.

There is a perception among some GPs, nurses and patients that one-to-one treatments are the only valid mental health treatment, and  Dr hague is of the opinion that that’s just not true. He believes we need to challenge this thinking which is rooted in a past model that revolved around ‘counselling’ and the term ‘practice counsellor’.

Dr Hague is advocating more mental health therapies being offered in primary care on a group or guided self-help basis – for example for anxiety or depression among patients who have long-term conditions including depression, OCD and anxiety.

Co-location and therapy groups in practices are ways of increasing both the workforce and patients’ understanding of the effective mental health therapies in primary care pathways.

Although there can sometimes be barriers to co-location, such as accommodation issues or the availability of a room, mental health therapists are just as valuable in a surgery as the work that nurses and GPs themselves do. If the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service is seeing a patient then it is freeing up the GPs and nurses to do other work. So why not do it? There is no reason why not.

Evidence-based low intensity treatments are effective in terms of patient recovery and for most issues offer the most rapid, sure-fire chance of recovery.

Dr John Hague

Dr John Hague is based at The Derby Road Practice in Ipswich, Dr Hague’s main interest is in mental health in primary care, and the provision of high quality mental health care. Dr Hague was GP Clinical Lead for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme at NHS East of England between 2008 and 2011 – a role in which he delivered an IAPT service to between 11 and 13 Primary Care Trusts. He is a General Practitioner appraiser for NHS England. Having gained more than 30 years’ experience as a GP at the Derby Road Practice in Ipswich, he now works there as a salaried GP.

Dr Hague is a member of the Clinical Executive at Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, and has been appointed Clinical Mental Health Lead for North East Essex and Suffolk STP. He has written a number of professional publications including The Neglected Majority (The Centre for Mental Health), November 2005 (co-author).

Take a look at some of the NHS Trusts who have used Choices Education resources here.

Is the human mind prepared for the modern world

The rankings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) place the UK in joint seventh place for adults reporting they have depression out of 25 countries from across Europe and Scandinavia.

Some folks suffer for very specific reasons—perhaps because of a brain lesion, a genetic mutation, specific episodes of trauma, or an idiosyncratic chemical imbalance.

But many folks with diagnosable disorders simply suffer from more intense versions of the same things that almost everyone is suffering from. Some are just harder-hit than others because of their particular social circumstances, or because they are slightly more susceptible (a difference in degree, not in kind).

So why is there so much stress, anxiety, and depression these days?

Evolutionary psychologists will tell us that part of the problem is that there’s a mismatch between the current environment (with its cities, bureaucracies, inequality, and social media) and the environment of evolutionary adaptation (tribal life on the savanna).

In order to explore this possibility a bit, we will consider some of the ways the modern world is different from the one our ancestors on the savanna might have encountered.

Here are 5 ways reasons the modern world might produce more stress, anxiety and depression than that of our distant ancestors.

1. We interact with a greater diversity of people.

As we meet new people over the course of a year, we confront a greater diversity of skills, knowledge, and values than people have ever encountered before.

Diversity is the source of much good. Diverse groups of qualified people usually come up with better solutions to problems than less diverse groups.

However, modern diversity also strains our brains—especially the diversity in values.

A person has a family. A person also has workmates, schoolmates, and playmates. And people join special interest groups that meet weekly or monthly, in person or on the internet.

Our families like country music, our school mates like rap and pop, and our work mates like classic rock.

Some of these differences are trivial, and some are not.

Somehow we have to figure out a way to get along with those people in our lives who have influence over our wellbeing. And we must be careful how we do this.

People have a stake in whether we agree with them or not. They need to know what to expect from us, and whether we’re with them or against them. And we need to figure out when it’s necessary to be with them and when it’s OK to be against them, because being on the side of one person sometimes requires being opposed to another.

When our grandfather makes an insensitive statement about members of a different group, perhaps we don’t rebuke him, but give a polite smile and change the subject. Then we feel guilt at the thought of what our friends would think of our not speaking out.

When a friend complains about the alienation of the work force at the hands of greedy capitalists, we might want to respond in a way that keeps us in good standing with our friend (whether we agree with her or not). But we also have our boss and family members in the back of our heads judging how we respond.

The normative landscape is rugged. And these examples are vastly oversimplified. Most issues are not ones you are simply for or against, but there are dozens of nuanced positions to take. And many groups contain members all along a given value spectrum.

It’s fair to ask whether our brains are fully equipped to handle the degree of diversity we face today.

2. We compare ourselves to higher standards.

We watch TV and everyone is beautiful. We are not as beautiful.

We watch TV and everyone is rich. Entrepreneurs are always successful. Authors always get published. People’s houses are considerably nicer than ours.

We watch the Olympics and realize we might as well not even know how to run or swim.

Only those in the top 1% of 1% of 1% have an opportunity to display their talents, wealth, and beauty before the general public. And those are the people we compare ourselves to. It’s a nearly impossible standard.

It’s natural to want to be the prettiest girl in the group, to have the most wealth, or to be the best in the known world at something that others understand and respect. Once upon a time we could set goals like that and get away with it.

Today we draw our competition from a pool of 7 billion people, and wanting to be among the elite is most often a recipe for discouragement.

3. We specialize more.

Aristotle read all the intellectual writings that existed in Greece in his time, and then went on to add a substantial chunk to this body of knowledge himself.

Even as recently as 1600—if you were reasonably bright and had enough time on your hands—you could have a good grasp of all academic knowledge. You could read all the “classics”. You could master the known mathematics, philosophy, rhetoric and so on.

From 1600 to 1900 you could not master all human knowledge, no matter how bright you were; but, if you worked hard, you could aspire to master a single field—like mathematics, physics, philosophy or history.

By 1950, you were lucky to master a sub-discipline like Chinese history.

Today you’re lucky to master a sub-sub-sub discipline—like becoming a doctor specialising in skin conditions.

Today we have to work harder than ever to get mastery of ever smaller fields. And the payoff for this work is smaller than ever.

If you were a scholar in the year 1500 and you went to a cocktail party and someone introduced you as “a scholar”, that meant something. That meant you knew EVERYTHING.

Today, you go to a family reunion and tell them you’ve worked for 20 years to become an expert on the realism/anti-realism debate in the meta-ethics sub-sub field of Philosophy, and your relatives don’t know what to think of that. Then they ask around and find out you make £24,000/year, and they figure it must not be very important.

You tell someone you do front end web development. They hear “computers” and they want you to fix their printer. You can’t fix their printer, so you must not really know computers.

We often don’t understand what our neighbor does for a living, and we don’t know how to explain what we do.

We might even be the best in the world at some small little leaf far out on the tree of skill or the tree of knowledge, but no one we grew up with cares.

4. Markets are more efficient (a.k.a. “It’s the economy, stupid!”)

If you provide a good no one else provides, you can charge a high price and make good money. This probably won’t last long, though. If your profit margin is high enough, others will notice the opportunity and set up shop to compete with you. This will drive down prices. With enough competition, prices will fall to a level not much higher than the cost of production.

As consumers, we love this. As entrepreneurs we find it frustrating.

This same dynamic applies to the labor market. If you have a skill very few others have, you can charge a high price for your labor. However, if your wages are high enough, others will notice the opportunity and begin developing the skills they need to compete with you. If the supply of qualified workers grows faster than the need for the service, wages will fall.

As business owners we love this. As workers we hate it.

On balance efficient markets might work out well for us. The benefits we receive from lower prices and cheaper labor offset the frustrations that come from having to sell our goods and labor at lower prices.

But efficient markets might also fail us personally. If we lose our job, because there’s too much competition for our position, the equation won’t balance in our favor – at least in the short term. And in the long term some people reap more reward from efficient markets than others.

Overall, efficient markets have led to higher standards of living on average. Life spans are up. Physical possessions are up. Entertainment options are up. Education levels are up.

But are we happier?

Maybe. And maybe not. Once upon a time our place in the tribe was secure. Our skills were highly valued, and they would remain that way our whole productive lives. Today our place is not secure. If there’s a lot of competition for our position, we can be replaced with someone better. And there’s almost always someone better.

Today’s worker can be replaced regardless of how hard they work or how good they are.

Not only that, but whole companies can be replaced. If another company comes along and provides a better or cheaper alternative, everyone can be out of a job through no fault of their own.

Whether you own the business, or you work for wages, in the modern world you very likely live your days with a sword of Damocles hanging over your head.

5. Innovation happens faster.

We live in exciting times. New discoveries are being made every year in almost every field of science. New gadgets are being invented every year. And our existing technologies are being improved every year.

It’s well known that computers have been getting faster. Until recently computer clock speeds had doubled roughly every 18 months since computers were first developed. Your smart phone is (much) more powerful than the computers NASA used to run the Apollo Project. There’s reason to think this pace of improvement has slowed, and will continue to slow, but we are finding other ways, such as parallel computing, to keep finding improvements.

Have you heard about 3-D printers? These machines take a 3-D design for a coffee mug or a bracelet, or pretty much any solid object you can imagine, and print them layer by layer out of plastic. Individuals with a sense of design can invent new gadgets all by themselves.

Currently the production models of these printers make objects from a single material. And you can’t print a ham sandwich yet. But Star Trek replicators can’t be that far off.

And did you know that we can now re-grow body parts and organs?

True. A woman recently grew a new ear for herself under the skin of her forearm.

Imagine what would happen if we could combine the 3-D printer technology with the ability to grow new body parts. Then you could print a new liver for yourself in your basement.

These are exciting times. But they are also disorienting and turbulent times.

New innovations come along so quickly in part because we have such high degrees of specialization, diversity and market efficiency—three factors mentioned above.

But the influence goes the other way as well. New inventions and discoveries require new specializations. Rapid innovation also contributes to some of the negative effects of the efficient market. Not only can we lose our job. Not only can our company go out of business. But with new technologies, entire industries can be swept away.

If 3-D printing becomes extremely cheap and more versatile (and why wouldn’t it?), all you need is a design you can draw up on your computer (or download from someone else’s computer) plus some raw goo, and you can make nearly anything you want. This cuts out a lot of middle men. Many manufacturing jobs will become obsolete. And many of those workers will need to work very hard to become relevant again.

Not only does rapid innovation make it difficult to keep job skills relevant, it also makes it difficult to stay “in the know”.

Many folks who grew up in the infancy of computing have not embraced (and likely will not embrace) the internet. When they grew up electric appliances and automobiles were new industries. Many still walked and rode horses as their primary form of transportation in their youth. In many ways they had more in common with the young people in the Roman Empire than they have in common with young people today.

They have been left behind. They are irrelevant. After years of helping to build our world, our world no longer has any use for them. And they don’t understand the world they are leaving behind.

Before you pity them, realize something. Because the pace of innovation is increasing, it’s going to be worse for us. We will one day be even more “out of touch” than our octogenarians are today.

Those are 5 differences between our modern world and life on the savanna. And those 5 differences might go some way toward explaining why there is so much anxiety in the world today.

We could go deeper at this point and explore how each of these factors affect our basic psychological needs. And we could even try to come up with some remedies for our modern issues.

Take a look at our resources for combating anxiety and depression here.

seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Some of us notice that we don’t feel so good in the Winter, we don’t have the same motivation we did in the long, warm Summer days. This feeling can quite easily interfere with your day to day life, some people might remark that they feel like they need to hibernate but many people don’t realise they are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

So what is SAD?

SAD has  alot in common with depression, check out our blog post on Depression for more specific information. The main symptoms of SAD are:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Neglect of everyday chores or tasks
  • Reduced desire for self care

Often these symptoms also occur:

  • Being less social
  • Low energy
  • Easily irratated
  • Eating more
  • Sleeping more

If you are suffering from SAD you may find it difficult to wake up in the mornings and find the motivation to get out of bed, you may find yourself lacking motivation or energy to get through the day often feeling sleepy in the afternoon or desiring a nap in the evenings. You may find yourself binging on carbohydrate based foods much more than normal such as white bread or sweets resulting in weight gain.

Usually, most – if not all – symptoms disappear in the Spring or Summer with most sufferers noticing a dramatic increase in motivation and energy during these periods.

SAD is about 3 times more common in Women than it is Men but much less common in children and older adults. Many of us feel differently during the Winter months, with the days drawing shorter and the temperatures dipping, many people find themselves spending evenings inside much more often but if your symptoms are severe enough to be affecting your day to day life then you may very well be suffering from SAD. About 3% of the population in the UK suffer from significant Winter depression.

There has been a lot of research exploring how daylight can influence appetite, wakefulness and mood. However people living in more Northern areas do not appear to suffer at a higher rate than those living in regions closer to the equator so other factors may be related and some people even report feeling more depressed during the Summer months.

SAD can be treated the same way as Depression with a few lifestyle changes and in extreme cases, talking therapies and antidepressant medication. Light box therapy also has been shown to significantly improve the mental health of individuals but research into this is still at early stages.

Self-help

Some symptoms of SAD can create extra problems which make you feel even worse – ‘vicious circles’:

  • If it is dark and you feel tired all the time, you will probably do less – and this can make SAD worse. Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible. Take a walk during daylight hours or carry on any exercise you would normally do. Remind yourself that days will get longer again in the spring.
  • If you are eating more, you may put on too much weight which makes you feel worse. Remind yourself that most people put on weight in autumn and early winter.
  • Sleepiness, lack of motivation and irritability can all cause problems at home, with your friends, and at work. The feelings of not getting things done can make you feel stressed. Tell your family and friends so that they can understand what is happening and be supportive.

Medication

Antidepressants may be useful in the treatment of SAD although any treatment that would potentially make you more sleepy should be avoided, for this reason SSRI antidepressants are usually used. Usually a medication such as Sertraline, Citalopram or Fluoxetine. Many patients usually pre-emptively start taking the medication at the beginning of Autumn and then come off them in the Spring. However studies of the effect of medication to treat SAD has shown it to only be a minor benefit and self-help or therapy is generally preferred.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

There is evidence that CBT can help treat Winter Depression and even stop its recurrence in future years.  CBT is a treatment for anxiety and depression in general where you have weekly sessions with a qualified therapist and then do some homework through the week like keeoing a diary.

Light Therapy

The idea behind light therapy is that you make up for the reduced hours of sunlight during the day by using a “light box”. A light box is a powerful lamp that tries to mimic sunlight but without any of the dangerous ultravoilet rays, the idea is that it helps the individual produce less of a hormone called melatonin.

Usually a lightbox will be used for about 30 minutes each day, often in the morning while the individual is getting ready for the day, a big upside of this type of therapy is that strong improvements are usually noticed in the first week so it’s quite easy for an individual to tell if it’s working for them or not.

Another type of light therapy is a “Dawn-simulating alarm clock”, similarly to a traditional alarm clock you can set a time to be woken up but instead of being jarred awake by the dreaded monotone beeping, the dawn simulating alarm clock comes on dimly about an hour before you need to be woken up and then the light gets progressively brighter the closer it gets to your alarm time. This way you are woken up naturally and peacefully.

Best Treatment?

Generally for mild symptoms the best treatment is the self help described above, however if you find that this isn’t enough you may need to to speak to your Doctor about medication or therapy, your Doctor will usually discuss available options that are convenient and appropriate for you.

 

 

The signs of depression

Everyone has “blue moods”, it’s a normal part of life, sometimes you get hit with bad news, like the loss of a loved one or getting laid of from a job, even something as simple as friends cancelling on plans they have made with you may trigger it. Being sad is a natural part of life, this type of depression is referred to as Situational Depression, most people recover from this in a few days or weeks.

However, it becomes Clinical Depression when the symptoms don’t go away even after several months. The symptoms are often so severe that they inhibit people from living a normal life, it’s important that you know the signs of Clinical Depression so that you can seek help when the signs appear.

The symptoms can often be overwhelming, a lot of people suffering from it often refer to depression as a pit of darkness, hoplessness and despair. You can feel so hopeless and apathetic that you stop even caring about yourself, often skipping basic self care routines such as eating or showering, many people suffering from depression often overlseep, some may even skip out on as much sleep as possible, others will fill a void in their life with hobbies such as watching tv or playing video games so as to distract themselves from the realities of life.

Some of the more common symptoms may include:

Sadness

You may find yourself crying for no reason, you might feel hopless and empty and unable to control your negative thoughts. Everything you try to do to combat it just leaves you feeling empty, as if you’re at a buffet eating as much as you can yet never feeling satiated.

Guilt

You may be overly self critical, maybe you don’t even feel like you deserve to be depressed. It’s possible to be in a wonderful place in life in terms of your family, finances or anything else yet still feel depressed, maybe worthless and hopless and you’re not even sure why.

Irritability

You may find yourself having issues controlling your emotions and swinging between anger and sadness seemingly for no reason at all. Particularly men who are depressed tend to make much more reckless and impulsive decisions or act out in displays of anger.

Mental Symptoms

If you’ve been experiencing increased episodes where you have difficulties concentrating, making decisions or remembering simple things this could also be a symptom of depression. People with depression often describe it as though their thought process has been slowed down.

Physical Symptoms

You may be experiencing more random aches and pains, you might have just stayed in all day yesterday (though we recommend against this) yet woke up with inexplicable muscle aches in your thighs today. Maybe you keep getting headaches even though you’re making sure you stay hydrated.

Loss of Energy

When you’re suffering from depression you may feel like you have no energy, you might struggle to get out of bed before midday on yyour days off, probably with a reason not too disimilar from “I have nothing to do today anyway”.

Loss of Interest

Many sufferers of depression lose interest in things they once enjoyed thoroughly, you might have stopped going to your gym or perhaps you start getting messages from your friends asking why they havn’t seen you out for a while, perhaps you used to enjoy going for 5am jogs before work but you “just don’t have the energy or motivation” anymore. This may also manifest itself in how you look after yourself, such as showering less or not eating as healthy as you used to.

Sleep Changes

One of the biggest symptoms of depression is a change in your sleep habits, whether you’re going to bed later than you used to, or struggling to actually get any meaningful rest once you do, or just simply sleeping too much. If you’re having trouble sleeping it may be that you need to review your Sleep Hygiene habits.

Appetite Changes

Some individuals compensate for their low mood by overeating, others just don’t have the motivation to prepare meals anymore opting instead to grab something quick and easy from the snack aisle of the local shop. Either way it’s important to take note of any large swings in body weight, if you lose or gain more than 5% of your bodyweight in a single month this could be a major warning sign for depression and it’s important to evaluate if this is maybe just because you ate out a little to much on that recent holiday or if it’s because of lifestyle changes you’ve made without realosing that need to be reviewed.

Suicidal Thoughts

Having suicidal thoughts is a red flag regardless of the reason and should always be followed up by speaking to your family and friends or a healthcare professional. If you’re having suicidal thoughts but don’t know who you can turn to, you can find a list of free professionals to help Here.

If you’ve experienced any combination of the above symptoms for more than a few weeks you should speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible (immediately if you’ve had thoughts of suicide). The best place to start is your Doctor. It is estimated that depression affects more than 19.7% of adults in the UK.

It’s important to remember that suffering from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety is not a reason to feel ashamed – it is a serious illness. It’s important to note that in the overwhelming majority of cases depression is very easily treated and catching it as early as possible makes it that much easier to get back on track so if you think you are suffering from mental illness, speak to your Doctor as soon as possible, even if it’s only to discuss some concerns you might have.

mental health and importance of sleep

A step by step guide to better sleep hygiene

Yesterday we talked about the benefits of sleep hygiene, today we’re going to go more in depth into how to improve your sleep hygiene and come out feeling more energised and happier because of it.

It may seem impossible to get any sleep when you’re awake at 3am tossing and turning under your bed sheets but a good nights sleep is well within reach, you just need to mix up your pre-bed routine, and we’re not talking massive pain-staking changes here, the tiniest changes can make all the difference. These tips are especially useful if you suffer from insomnia, jet lag shift work, anxiety or depression.

Caffeine
This is probably the most notorious offender. A lot of people, most notably students hit the coffee all day long to try and keep their mind alert for a variety of reasons but the caffeine from even a single coffee can stay in your system for up to 6 hours so it’s important to take that into consideration and cut out your caffeine intake during the late afternoon. Bear in mind though that even some chocolates and painkillers have a considerable amount of caffeine in them, don’t let it sneak up on you! While they don’t have caffeine, tobacco/cigarettes are also classed as a stimulant, so avoid these too.

Sleep Environment
It’s important that the space you go to place is a calm and peaceful environment. Avoid watching TV or playing video games in your bedroom as you may subconsciously associate the room with things other than sleep and even this will give you trouble when you try to drift off, it’s important to strengthen the mental connection between your bedroom and sleep. White noise or calming music can help reduce background noise if there is any. Using blackout shades or an eyemask can help reduce the light levels in the room as light is a powerful cue to the brain that it’s not the right time to go to sleep and if you have a pet that regularly wakes you up at night, you may want to consider keeping it in a different room.

Pre-sleep Routines
For a good half hour or so before you go to bed it’s important to get into the right mental state and ease the transition from wake time to sleep time. Doing things like taking a bath can help prepare you mentally for this as the rise and then fall of body temperature helps promote drowsiness. Reading a book or practicing relaxation excercise are also solid choices. The key takeaway here is to avoid stressful activities that release the hormone cortisol which is associated with increasing alertness so avoid work or discussing emotional issues.

Go to sleep when you’re actually tired
Going to bed when you’re not actually is just asking for failure, it’s important that your body actually needs to go to sleep when you hit the hay. Struggling to fall asleep will lead to frustration, which will lead to stress which will lead to further struggle. If you’re not asleep after about 20 minutes, get up, go outside and do something and do something relaxing like reading or listening to calming music until you actually feel tired. Anecdotally, you may find that blinking repeatedly for a solid minute or tires the muscles in your eyes allowing you to fall asleep faster.

Avoid looking at clocks
Staring a clock and counting how long it’s taking you to fall asleep is actually very counterproductive, it’s actually been shown to increase stress and make falling asleep even harder. Turn your clock’s face away from you.

Natural light
This is more for people who struggle to just get up and go in the mornings, if you sleep with the curtains open it allows the natural light to enter the room and wake you up naturally. Your body is subconsciously on an internal timer that goes along with the amount of sunlight you’re receiving so get outside and take a stroll in the sunlight on your lunch at work for a small energy boost. Side tip – the reduced daylight hours in the winter is the reason you might notice a dip in energy and mood through the winter making this tip even more important.

Woman sleeping

Improving mental health with proper sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene. This is the term given to your night time rituals and bed time routine. If you want to get a better nights sleep, the answer often lies in your bed time habits and how you set yourself up for a decent nights sleep.

Sleep is as important to our health as eating and drinking, It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep has been linked to physical problems like a weakened immune system as well as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Your sleep hygiene can be improved through a few simple steps such as adjusting light, reducing noise and temperature.

So what is sleep hygiene? The nitty-gritty of it is that what you do for a period of time before you go to sleep as well as the environment in which you sleep all matter a great deal. For example, pulling all nighters through the week and then sleeping in on the weekend to pay off your ‘sleep debt’ is bad sleep hygiene. On the mother hand, having a regular sleeping schedule and avoiding caffeine late at night are good examples of sleep hygiene.

Even minor improvements in your sleep hygiene can provide massively improved returns in the quality of sleep that you get each night, and reviewing your bed time habits should be the first thing you do when you start having troubles getting a solid 8 hours each night. Sleep hygiene is even an integral part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) used to treat insomnia, anxiety and depression. You already know sleep is important, you wouldn’t be reading this article otherwise, quality sleep on a regular schedule is critical to maintaining balanced emotional, physical and mental health and help you become more positive and productive through the day.

For a quick guide, this is a simple run down of what you need for good sleep hygiene:

  • Temperature – A cool room that is neither too hot nor too cold
  • Darkness – Darker is always better
  • Quieter – The less noise, the less distraction, however white noise can be used to drown out any background noise you may have.
  • Comfort – You’ll struggle to get to sleep at all if you aren’t comfortable
improving mental health

A suitable environment in which to sleep is key for good sleep hygiene

Reducing Anxiety with a Morning Routine

Waking up in the morning and breaking free of the cozy warmth of your blanket may be one of the most difficult things you do each day when you’re struggling with your mental health. Thoughts about all the things you need to do today flood your mind and you feel overwhelmed before you’ve even opened your eyes so you hit the snooze button on your alarm once more.

The next time you come around from your slumber you check the time just to realise you’ve overslept. You’re running late. You jolt out of bed in a blind panic and rush into the day.

This probably sounds familiar to you but mornings are not by definition a challenge and can be made to be a pleasant enjoyable part of your day. The key is to keep your first waking hour consistent.

Every time you’re faced with a decision, you spend time and energy thinking about the resolution or answer to that decision and when you’re starting the day it’s important to avoid this sort of mental fatigue. This can easily be achieved with a simple morning routine.

Having a constructive morning routine can help ease you into the day and prepare you for any challenges you may face in the late morning and afternoon. This period can help build up mental momentum, productivity and positivity by building up to the brains peak time for cognitive work. Here are some suggestions to make your mornings easier.

It’s easier to wake up when you aren’t rushing to wake up. When you allocate yourself time to lay in bed and slowly adjust, you’ll feel more motivated to open your eyes and allow your body to get into gear. Give yourself a few minutes of laziness and then follow these steps:

-Open your curtains, natural light helps to improve your mood and increase your energy and alertness for the entire day. You may have noticed, if you’ve ever been camping, that being woken up by the sun is a much more pleasant experience than being woken up by any alarm.

-Once your awake put your favourite spotify playlist or radio on, music lights up the whole brain.

-Get stretching, increasing the blood flow to your muscles to get them ready to go.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’d probably agree that this isn’t much to ask and can really help you get your day started on the right foot. If you’re feeling really adventurous why not go for quick jog around the block, even just a walk to the end of the street and back? Science has repeatedly shown that frequent excercise, no matter how small, directly correlates with an increase in happiness.

It’s important to get a morning routine started, no matter how simple, you can even incorporate your drive or work to work as part of it. As an example, here’s a simple morning routine:

  • 7:00 – Wake up and open your eyes.
  • 7:15 – Open your curtains to get light into your room, put on some music and do some light stretching.
  • 7:30 – Eat a healthy breakfast with fruit and a glass of water while reading of your favourite novel.
  • 8:00 – Shower and get ready for work.
  • 8:30 – Drive to work or walk if you can to get in some excercise.
  • 9:00 – Start your work day with a simple strategising session to plan out your tasks.

If you’re the type of person to snooze until it’s too late, jump out of bed, throw on some clothes and head straight out of the door you may struggle initially to wake up the first time the alarm goes off. You can avoid this by getting to bed a bit earlier and ensuring you follow good sleep hygiene but once you’ve got your mornings under control, you’ll find yourself reaping the benefits throughout the entire day.

Enjoy your mornings, don’t fear them.