As a student you are likely to be juggling many different study and life responsibilities. At times the multitude of things to do may feel overwhelming. Did you know that your thoughts can either add to the stress, or help you feel more resilient?
Scientific studies have shown that the way we think about what is happening in our lives makes a difference to how we cope and our wellbeing.
For example, thinking from an optimistic stand point (e.g. saying to yourself, “This is tough now, it will get better in time”) can help us cope with tough times and bounce back from them.
An important study of more than 30,000 people in the UK highlighted two thinking styles that were unhelpful. Firstly, a style called ‘ruminating’ where people dwell on, or worry over and over about things, and secondly a style of ‘self-blaming’ where people turn against themselves when things go wrong. These styles of thinking are likely to ramp up the negative consequences of other stress factors (like loneliness or low income). The good news is that there are ways you can manage your mindset when things are difficult, so you can reduce at least some of the negative impact of such stresses on your health and well-being.
How do you do this?
Psychologist Sara Tai from the University of Manchester in the UK has described one effective strategy as:
The first step is starting to build your awareness of what you are thinking. If you are finding this difficult, try tapping into changes in how you feel (e.g. from calm to anxious), as this often indicates a change in thinking. When you notice a change in your behaviour (e.g. eating more, avoiding people) this can be another good indicator that there has been a change in your thinking.
Once you are aware of what you are thinking this provides the opportunity to ask yourself if this thinking is helpful – that is, is your thinking helping you cope, or perhaps how you are feeling is affecting what you are thinking (feeling tired and therefore thinking critical things about yourself, for example)?
Finally, if what you are thinking is not helping you cope, what else can you tell yourself that acknowledges the difficult situation, AND, is kinder towards yourself as well as acknowledges your ability to cope in this situation. Have you noticed that we are usually kinder to other’s than ourselves? If you are having difficulty coming up with something more helpful, ask yourself what you would say to your best ‘mate’ in this situation?
Another strategy is to use mindfulness.
S.T.O.P is a basic strategy that can help with the the stresses and activities of daily life. Instead of
being on autopilot and letting your thoughts ramp up the stress, this four-step mental checklist
can become a quick way of taking a brief break and interrupting that unhelpful cycle.
STOP is an acronym that stands for:
Whatever you’re doing, press the pause button on your thoughts and actions.
Take a few deep breaths. Focus on the sensations of your breathing. This helps reconnect you with the present moment and creates a buffer between your thoughts and your actions.
Notice what is happening. What is happening inside you, and outside of you? Where has your mind gone?
What do you feel? What are you doing?
Body: What physical sensations are you aware of (touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell)?
Emotions: What are you feeling right now?
Mind: What assumptions are you making about your feelings?
What is the story you’re telling yourself about why you are having them?
Continue doing what you are doing. Or don’t: use the information gained during this check-in to change course. Whatever you do, do it mindfully.