Monday, 13 September 2021

Anxiety and Agoraphobia when starting University

Reece shares his personal experience of adjusting to university life with anxiety and agoraphobia. It isn't as bad as you'd think.
- Reece Beckett
You’re not alone. 

This is the one thought I would most liked to have had affirmed for me during the first month of university when I started in 2020. With the pandemic making the social side of university more difficult than expected and my anxiety and agoraphobia making it even more difficult, this feeling of loneliness was quite pervasive. My excitement for my studies was soon switched out and substituted for growing fear and nervousness that gripped tightly around me and sought to ruin the studies that I had spent the last few years feeling so excited for and working so hard towards.  

There was a simple solution though and that was frequently reminding myself that it was just fine to take things at my own pace. A short walk around the area of my student accommodation to adjust to the surroundings and to try to meet people, heading to the kitchen only for an hour or so to see flatmates and build that much needed rapport, etc. One of the most important things to soothe an anxious mind is to lull yourself in those nervous situations, but it should be done as a friend would do it rather than being forceful. Tell yourself that you’re just going to do something minor, and often you will find that those anxious feelings will fade away and you’ll do more than you were expecting to. This starts a very positive cycle of building up confidence and lessening anxiety surrounding certain situations. 

For me, in taking those small walks and having those small talks, the anxiety gave way to a new feeling of homeliness and hope. Once I was more comfortable, which took only a week or so, vulnerability became more of a possibility and thus started those conversations with flatmates about any struggles or worries we had been having about starting university. And as we all found out, the majority of us had been having similar thoughts and anxieties the entire time - the same excitements, the same nervousness and the same feelings of being alone.

You’re not alone, even if sometimes you trick yourself into thinking that’s the case. By reminding yourself of this, by reaching out to friends to discuss issues you’re having and by allowing yourself to take things a little slower, great things can happen and that anxiety can soon become less problematic. You can work towards the university experience that you probably wanted. Things may be tough, but they can become better or easier, and it’s okay if that needs to take a little while as these issues can so easily drain us of all energy. Take it slow and remember, you’re not alone.

Visit Student Space for further support with your mental health or emotional wellbeing

I'm Reece, I am a cultural critic and poet and I have struggled with anxiety and agoraphobia for a few years now and am hoping to find catharsis in looking back at those experiences and sharing them, being open and honest with myself as a way of self-expression and to help others who may be feeling the same.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Peak District and Pennines challenges - Our journey in raising funds for Student Minds

Phil shares his experience participating in various challenges with his students, friends, and family to raise funds for Student Minds.
- Phil Brooks

I am a photography lecturer at Dudley College of Technology. When possible, I organise college trips to the wilds of Derbyshire, Scotland and even Iceland. The results can be eye-opening.

A number of my students really struggled with their mental health during the recent lockdowns. Of late, I’ve been limited to urging my students to switch off their phones and spend some time outdoors, even if it’s just in their garden. Time spent outside stimulates the senses and can reset our thinking. Any green space, even just looking at a green wall lowers our heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety. I always urge anyone who struggles with mental health, to talk about it, ask for help and find a mindful, creative distraction within nature.

With no feasible trips on the agenda this year, in July, myself and a friend/colleague, Jo, together with Jo’s partner, Jim, teamed up to tackle The Peak District Challenge - a 50km jog up hill and down dale. Jo and I put up lots of posters publicising our endeavour. We organised a themed ultra-week at college, with our students volunteering cake sales, selling their artwork, organising a sponsored silence, fancy dress, quizzes, highest score computer game competitions, treasure hunts, name the cuddly toy, etc. Our students were amazing with their fundraising. Remarkably, one student even raised £700 on her own!
On top of all this, we made an Indian cookbook entitled, Steel the Spice, to help raise sponsorship. We asked our catering students to prepare a number of sumptuous curry and related dishes for our students to photograph, inspired by our recent exchange trip to India. Meanwhile, students at our partner college, Mahatma Gandhi International School, cooked and photographed their favourite Gujarat family recipes and sent them to us. The cookbook project involved sweat and tears but was worth it. It is still on sale at the Black Country Living Museum. Making the cookbook was a big team effort with lots of negotiation and flexibility required.

With the cookbook a success and with some training under our belts, the big day drew closer! Both Jo and I had completed a marathon before, in a slow but sustained 5 hours, so we figured, 6 or 7 miles further shouldn’t be too difficult. We felt reassured when
one poor bloke turned up at the start-line with a fridge strapped to his back! We thought, if we stick with him as a pacemaker, at least we won’t be short of chilled snacks! As it turned out, there were food stations along the way and you could eat anything you wanted for free! We ran as much as we could but had to walk a lot of it. The scenery was beautiful but the hills were relentless - over 3000ft of climbing! Then we were hit with torrential rain and thunderstorms! But there was still a great sense of camaraderie! Positive thinking on route helped – we tried not to allow a negative thought in as we battled on. Mentally breaking the challenge into smaller chunks helped too. We kept each other upbeat, telling stories and singing along the way. 

12 hours after starting, we finally reached the finish-line, somewhat the worse for wear. I had imagined that on finishing, I would relish a shower and savour a beer. Alas, after some hot food, it was all that I could do to hobble back to the tent, crawl into my sleeping bag and go to sleep. Nevertheless, there was a wonderful sense of 'we are all in this together.' Ultimately, we had a very memorable experience and found the organisation, support, friendliness and general positivity, brilliant! I recommend putting your name visibly on your top so spectators can encourage you directly. Every little helps.

We raised over £1,900, but in a bid to reach £2000, I organised one more challenge. Me and my kids pledged to complete a 60-mile Pennine walk – tackling a chunk of the Pennine Way from Calderdale to Horton in Ribblesdale. We carried all our camping kit, food and water. This time we did nearly 7000 ft of climbing. We camped on top of mountains. Again, we encountered lots of kindness and encouragement along the way! We met a Duke of Edinburgh instructor who told my 13-year-old daughter, Tia, she'd walked further than his 18-year-olds walk for their gold award! However, we only found one shop in 60 miles! My son, Archie volunteered to hitch 20 miles to find food for us! Like a lot of young people, he is anxious when meeting new people but he had a great time. Louise, a kindly local looked after him. Archie proudly returned with a bag of food, richer for the experience. During the week, we encountered extreme heat, midges and angry bulls! The kids did so well! Especially Tia, her first long distance walk, a few days after recovering from Covid! We have now raised well over £2000 collectively.
On behalf of Dudley College, we are delighted to have had the opportunity to support the increasingly important work of Student Minds, in empowering young people to develop the knowledge, confidence and skills to repair, nurture and support each other, regarding mental health, at a time when it is needed more than ever.

Visit Student Space for further support with your mental health or emotional wellbeing.

I was thrilled to have been awarded National FE Lecturer of the year in the Pearson Teaching Awards last year! My undergraduate degree was in Photography, Film and Television at Napier University in Edinburgh.  My MA in Education was awarded the Caparo Prize for my dissertation on Assessing Creativity. I have travelled around the world as a photographer and published a book called 60 Degrees North, exploring cultures in the Sub-arctic. Being a teacher is such a privilege. I love trying to unlock the future potential of young people. Helping our students to like who they are, believe in what they can do and have the confidence to try exciting new things, makes teaching one of the most rewarding endeavours.