On 29 January we held the first of our wellbeing workshops on ‘Coping with the ups and downs, when life gets difficult’ for Commonwealth Scholars led by Dr Dominique (Dom) Thompson, an award GP and mental health expert with over 20 years of clinical experience caring for students.

The past year has been particularly challenging for students in higher education with many experiencing feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of connection with their peers and friends. No one is more aware of this than Dr Dom whose previous experience as a university GP and Director of Service at the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service brought her into regular contact with students struggling to cope with the pressures of academic studies and student life.

As Dr Dom observed during the workshop, students can often go through stressful periods because of academic perfectionism, procrastination or fear of failure and these feelings can be exacerbated when students’ social lives or extracurricular activities are restricted, as has been the case in this year. However, as Dr Dom explored in the wellbeing workshop, there are ways many ways to cope with the ups and downs of academic life even during turbulent times.

‘Life is wiggly’

Dr Dom began the workshop by reassuring Scholars that anyone can experience mental health difficulties because life is not always a straight path, it’s wiggly. As such no one should feel embarrassed or alone if they are struggling because lots of other people have similar experiences. Instead, Dr Dom emphasised that taking steps to look after personal wellbeing and recognising the limits of what individuals can control is important in overcoming the negative effects of stress and worry.

Establishing a routine, deriving a sense of purpose

Screenshot of video conference presentation with Dr Dom Thompson

Dr Dom Thompson talks about dealing with uncertainty during the workshop

One of the ways that Dr Dom recommended tackling negative feelings was to establish a good daily routine, setting aside time every day for relaxing and doing fun activities as well as studying and attending classes. Dr Dom also highlighted the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet as crucial to looking after wellbeing because of the recognised link between mental and physical health.

Dr Dom advised Scholars to plan different free time activities and use a structure to mark off their achievements. By doing this Scholars can create a sense of purpose in their free time and maintain a good balance between studying and free time.

Getting in touch with family, friends, and peers

Another aspect of the workshop focused on socialising, and Dr Dom encouraged Scholars to speak to friends and family and reach out to different people in their social and study network. Dr Dom stressed that maintaining social contact with those around us can disrupt patterns of anxiety or loneliness that build up when spending too much time alone. Even if it sometimes feels uncomfortable, talking to different people can improve mood, self-esteem, and help boost wellbeing.

Next steps: finding resources to help

As part of the workshop, Scholars shared ways that they have been relaxing and enjoying their free time this year. These included cooking, baking, watching comedy programmes, reading books, doing exercise, playing music, meditating, and taking up yoga. Dr Dom encouraged Scholars to continue pursuing these activities and highlighted some free resources that Scholars could access for further help and advice:

If you are looking for ways to support your mental health and wellbeing, there are plenty of resources available to help, including through your university. There is also information and a list of resources on the CSC’s Student Wellbeing webpage.

If you feel you are unable to get the support you need, you can always contact the CSC’s Senior Welfare and Immigration Officer on welfare@cscuk.org.uk