Well-being for students – University isn’t all party, party, party…

images (6)We have recently reposted our piece about ‘empty-nesting’ and the anxiety of parents as their children head off to University and college for the first time. This time of year can be tough for the whole family, and it is important for everyone to acknowledge the emotional and physical stress involved in this new phase of family life.

So – today we focus on those young people taking what might be their first steps to independence. Along with the natural excitement of organising accommodation, buying any equipment and books necessary and packing carefully, there is also a natural level of anxiety – it is the body’s natural reaction to the anticipation of the unknown.Will I like my course? Will I make friends? Will I have enough money? It may not feel like it but everyone has these concerns, even the most confident prospective student. It is a time when you need to take your mate’s bravado with a pinch of salt – inside they will have their own worries, guaranteed.

But sometimes anxiety can become overwhelming. You may find you have work to do before you even start your course. There will be the expectations of parents and teachers and of course, the importance of your course to your future hopes and ambitions. This is the time to notice your body, and any physical symptoms that you may experience that can be attributed to this anxiety. You may not even see them coming, as they gradually creep up on you.

  • You may be less able to sleep…
  • You may lose your appetite…
  • You may feel tired and drained…
  • You could be irritable and prone to mood swings…

Sometimes these symptoms can actually affect your life on a day-to-day basis. Panic attacks, when you feel you can’t breathe, that your heart is pounding, that you will be sick and that you need to run, or are rooted to the spot  can stop you doing those things you would normally enjoy for fear of breaking down in front of friends, or being unable to cope in stressful situations.

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself – moving home for anyone is difficult and for you it will mean new town, new people, and new responsibilities. If you find anxiety levels rising try to remember that they won’t last forever – as you settle in to your new life the initial worries will fade to the background. Day-to-day worries will come and go, that is life. But if you can maintain some control over your life – especially when it comes to things like money, alcohol, getting exercise and eating healthily – you will find things easier to cope with.

Secondly, remember to talk about how you are feeling. This isn’t always easy, but if you can open up you will find you are not alone and hiding your feelings can simply store up more trouble for later. There is always support available at University or college. Student Support, the local GP, your lecturers and tutors…they are all trained to watch out for signs that their students are experiencing difficulties. And of course your parents and family at home need to know how you really feel. Don’t be afraid to approach someone. The longer you leave it the more cut off and hopeless you might feel.

images (7)To find out more about anxiety, stress and depression see the NHS website HERE. If you are reluctant to take that first step, you can approach someone anonymously – there is help at the end of a telephone. Call Samaritans, or Mind for example. Non-judgemental, they will listen and support you. Alternatively there is a great service that has been set up specially to support students. It is called Nightline and if your University or college is linked up there will be someone to help you. See their website at http://nightline.ac.uk/ . They have a useful list of other contacts HERE.

Remember – this is an exciting time, one that can be the very best time of your life. But you need to take care of yourself and always be certain that there is someone who can help you if you are struggling.

Also, see The Terrace website for details of the skilled therapists who work with us to support young people and their families.


Beating the stress of exams with the NSPCC

CaptureEach year we nominate a charity to benefit from our fundraising events and because of our commitment to ending of child abuse and the need to support the mental health of children and young adults we have, for the past three years, supported the NSPCC. Their campaigns are always targeted and committed to the prevention of cruelty to children and the support they offer in practical terms is fantastic. So, as we were looking to add to the previous posts we have written on dealing with the stress of exams we were pleased to see that the NSPCC has produced a leaflet for young people facing a tough few weeks of GCSEs and A Levels, as well as University examinations.

‘Beat Exam Stress ‘ is a colourful brochure filled with top tips to get anyone through May and June as healthily and successfully as possible. It is also brilliant for parents, who can watch out for signs of overload and perhaps take steps to intervene if things get tough.

Of course it includes the obvious (so much easier to swallow from the NSPCC that from a parent one suspects!) – don’t leave revision to the last minute, don’t cram the night before, don’t avoid subjects you find tough and so on. But there are some less obvious hints which need support from the adults in the household:

‘Try to talk to your family about how they can make studying a little easier for you – for example, by agreeing times when you can have your own space, when they will try to be a little quieter around the house and when you’d rather not be disturbed (except perhaps for the occasional treat,such as a drink or snack)’

This is so important  – many adults forget how worried they were when they took their own qualifications and a little thought can make the environment for revision so much more positive. As can avoiding confrontation – it is likely that exam stress will shorten fuses and as an adult, stepping back and remembering that exams are over in a few short weeks can be the best thing you can do for a child.

The leaflet also offers hints for the big days themselves, with checklists of things to remember and strategies for ensuring you can answer the questions on the paper to the best of your ability. Tips for dealing with anxiety sit alongside healthy eating and learning to pace yourself.

So we think this leaflet is terrific, covering all the practicalities without ignoring the emotional impact of exam time. The last page offers websites and helplines if further support is needed.

Here at The Terrace we have written about ensuring you pamper yourself, take a break and eat healthily over the next few weeks, as well as dealing healthily with the end of exams, when it is tempting to adopt destructive behaviours in the name of celebration.

The best thing to remember is, however, that exams don’t last forever!

Holidays are for relaxation, aren’t they? Some tips for really leaving stress behind…

holsOn our Facebook page over the past week we have been thinking about how we can make the forthcoming school holidays a time when the whole family can relax and enjoy really nourishing time together. How often have we looked forward to a one or two-week break for the first six months of the year, only to feel like we need a month off on our return?

There are many reasons why holidays don’t live up to expectations, but failures in the accommodation or travel plans aside, there are things we can do that make it more likely that everyone can come back refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the year.

Firstly, make sure you have all your travel plans to hand well in advance.  Many arguments start in the car before the holiday destination is even reached but can be avoided by making sure paperwork is to hand, routes planned and money for tolls in the glove compartment. Don’t travel when you are tired, but if you can start early to avoid the jams, it can make the trip so much less stressful.

Secondly, if you can take a day off work to pack it can reduce the last-minute panic that can cause arguments. If you can’t do that, start packing the week before and get the whole family involved, ensuring they choose what needs to be clean in time to get it washed and dry.

Thirdly, leave work behind. If you have to take work with you, limit the amount of time you are on your laptop; agree to have the phone on only during agreed times of day. You cannot expect your holiday companions to feel relaxed with you there on your Blackberry half the time.

beachFourthly, relaxing immediately will be difficult, especially if you have children with you, so wind down gently in the first couple of days with some energy-filled activities to avoid the mood swings associated with a drop in adrenaline.

Lastly, if you are travelling with children remember it is your time they will value, not the cultural trips you organise. If you are a couple travelling without kids for a break, don’t feel guilty and make the most of your time alone together; it will make your family unit all the stronger.

So relax and enjoy. If plans go awry , go with the changes and remember to be mindful every day. It will make the time go more slowly as you savour every moment….


Successful family relationships – how parents AND children need support

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Today’s post is written by Karen Green, who works from The Terrace. Karen is a fully qualified Chartered Clinical Psychologist and is registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS). 

As a clinical psychologist who works with children and families I am faced with a wide range of concerns which have to be considered in the context of individual development, the family and family relationships, friendships groups and schooling.

Children and young people constantly behave in ways which challenge the adults around them and whilst it is part of ‘parenting’ to meet and manage these challenges few of us can do this without any support, ideas and advice from others. Sometimes professional help can be valuable in ‘unlocking’ patterns that have become ‘stuck’ and fraught with negative emotion. This is can be especially difficult when juggling work, family and/or the demands and stress of other issues such as poor health, relationship difficulties and even separation/divorce. Many adult stresses and anxieties can impact on children and young people through their often uncanny radar for parental distress whether or not this is related to obvious relationships problems or less obvious stresses. Parental well-being also affects our tolerance with, for example, teenage challenges for greater control and independence. Other ways children and young people may be impacted are when decisions are being made about them, for example, access/contact with a separated parent.

Even the apparently simplest of problems can actually be complex and distressing for the family. With younger children it is often the parents who are the main source of any change. They may need confidence and space to explore alternative approaches to parenting, for example, a generally anxious or fussy child or one who has a phobia of clowns. Whilst this may initially seem amusing, the restrictiveness on family daily life and the child’s learning and development is no laughing matter. In this case, work was with the family and the child; although individual child work is not always necessary and often more likely with older children and teenagers.

Bringing various members of a family together in a safe and supportive environment can often help to build better communication and understanding of each other. Family strengths are explored along with alternative patterns and approaches to stresses and difficulties. Everyone in the family may need to change their behaviours in some way.

We are really interested in your thoughts about the best way to support parents and children to build successful relationships. Do get in touch with us on post@the-terrace.co.uk or comment below. We look forward to hearing your views.