Friday, 15 October 2021

How "finding your tribe" can help improve your mental health

Ginger explores her personal experience of feeling isolated, sharing her insights on how finding the right friends can be crucial to your mental health journey at any life stage.

- Ginger Abbot

I moved to a new city far away from the friends and family who had always surrounded me for graduate school. It was supposed to be an exciting new time in my life, but I was desperately lonely.

Between my school course workload and the two part-time jobs I worked, I didn’t have much time for a social life. I lived off-campus, so making friends through proximity wasn’t an option.

I still clearly remember the day I met the new editing assistant at my work. She asked me questions about my life and genuinely listened to the answers which I gave. I knew from our first conversation that I wasn’t alone anymore.

That’s what it’s like when you meet your tribe. A lot of people will never really see you, and some people will only notice you. Others will genuinely pursue friendships with you — and when you find those people, you’ll know you’ve found your tribe.

Does having a good friend group improve your mental health? Absolutely. Here are five ways solid friendships can improve your mental health:


Friends Remind You of Reality

Remember when you failed that exam and thought your life was over?

Healthy friendships give you a firmer grasp on reality. Listening to other people’s experiences will put your struggles into perspective and bring you hope.  Your problems are genuine, but they aren’t the whole picture. Sharing life with others brings many reminders that life is much bigger than a poor grade or a missed opportunity.

You aren’t alone, and you haven’t ruined your life. It’s easy to go round and round in your head over something you wish you could change, but good friends remind you that you don’t have to.


Friends Keep You Honest

Have you ever thought, “I can’t ever tell anyone about this?” You’re not alone.

Although secret-keeping can sometimes be a good thing, research suggests that keeping and especially thinking about secrets is harmful to you. They make you feel isolated when there’s no real cause. Even worse, they can make you withdraw from relationships. Cultivating honest friendships is one of many ways to combat isolation.

Healthy friendships bring the safety you need to tell the truth about your thoughts and feelings. You can process and learn from your life with support from friends instead of getting stuck in hidden mental cycles.


Friends Challenge Your Thoughts

Finding “a tribe” doesn’t mean choosing friends who agree with you on everything. Having people who challenge your beliefs can help you become the healthiest version of yourself.

No two people will agree on all their values and opinions, and in healthy friendships, both parties should feel comfortable telling the truth. That means conflict will exist to some level within every healthy relationship.

This kind of conflict is excellent for your mental health. Challenging the way you think is one of the primary ways you can confront and heal anxiety. Disagreements with friends allow you to examine your thoughts and develop healthier mental habits.

You don’t have to agree with every new idea you hear. However, learning to challenge your assumptions will lead to stronger friendships and better mental well-being.


Friends Teach You Self-Acceptance

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to forgive other people than it is to forgive yourself?

For example, I don’t find it difficult to forgive someone when they’re rude to me at the supermarket. I assume they’ve had a bad day or perhaps they’re hungry or tired. However, if I’m mean to someone while I’m there, I’ll think about it for hours, possibly months.

Good friends will remind you to be gentle with yourself. Without the support of a community, human beings don’t have the resources within themselves to generate the self-love and forgiveness they need.

Cultivating healthy, affirming friendships is an invaluable part of each person’s journey to self-acceptance. It’s a major factor in the importance of finding your people.


Friends Make You Laugh

When I was dealing with loneliness at school, I watched a lot of YouTube to relieve stress. I quickly found that laughing at something wasn’t the same as laughing with someone.

Laughter has many health benefits, including relieving stress, strengthening your immune system and relaxing your body. Good friendships bring a lot of reciprocated laughter, which is just another connection between social groups and mental health.

When you’re feeling down, your friends can lift your mood by acting silly and even encourage you to join in.


How to Find Your Tribe?

My loneliness at school lasted into my second year when I found friends who valued me as much as I appreciated them.

If you’re struggling with loneliness, know you won’t always feel this way. Continue to reach out and meet new people. With enough time, you’ll develop lasting friendships that will bring the support you need to thrive.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend help is available.

Ginger Abbot is a student life and education writer who is currently enrolled in graduate school part-time. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief for the online learning magazine Classrooms.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Getting over self-doubt

Despite a difficult start in the UK, Thu took positive steps by focussing on what mattered to her most to improve her self-doubt and mental health issues. She hopes that this blog can help you to deal with self-doubt, especially from financial and working environment issues.
- Thu Anh Tran

Let me share with you my initial 2-year journey whilst studying abroad in the UK. In September 2017, I travelled 17 hours on a plane from Vietnam to the UK. This was the first time I had travelled abroad; the first time I had left my family and the first time I would be able to make my own decisions in life. I was extremely excited. Unlike many other students, I had to pay my own living fees and a part of my school fee. This financial commitment was also a promise I made to my family before travelling to the UK. This commitment was to motivate me to be independent, but it was also an enormous pressure. Therefore, my first thoughts once in the UK were to look for a job. 

In my case, this financial commitment was where my self-doubt started. After 3 months of living in the UK, I ran out of money. As a result, my family had to get involved, souring the relationship between me and my family. This led me to feeling guilty, irresponsible, and useless. It was the first time in my life I heard my mum cry on the phone, the first time since moving I felt desperate and the first time, I knew… how useless I am? Another 3 months went by, and I was continuing to stress about money. This led me to accept the first job I could get as a means of paying my living fees - manageable but not ideal.
Whilst some of the financial pressure was off, I was neither satisfied nor enjoying my job. Whilst my job was benefitting me financially, I worked in a toxic environment that affected my physical and mental health, deepening self-doubt. Working for 20 hours every single week during term-time, and 10 to 12 hours every day during holidays affected my mental and physical health. My self-doubt intensified to the point that I would be affected by any negative words, which was discouraging. The feeling of uselessness and self-doubt affected my sleep as I thought about the work environment that I hated. After transferring to a new work location, work certainly picked up, but my mental health still did not improve. 

Studying abroad was not a ‘rosy’ journey. I was lost and suffered with self-doubt for 2 years. That was until an important opportunity came my way - I got offered an internship at an international training company. Though I considered it a risk at the time, having to give up my stable job, I knew this could help me achieve my ambitions and accepted the internship. This was the turning point in my journey. On my first working day, I immediately realised why I was struggling for the past 2 years. It was not just about money; it was and continues to be about how those around me recognised my hard work and the support people gave me. It was not just about the job’s duties, but about my passion for what I was doing. Money is important but it is not everything. It felt great to do something I enjoyed and was good at it, allowing me to be the best version of myself. The internship helped me to improve my mental health and I become more confident – finally I started tackling my self-doubt demons! 

After starting my internship, I decided to change my living environment. I move to a new accommodation, to live in a place I always wished I could have. For the first time throughout my journey in the UK I was smiling in front of the mirror, I had peace in my heart and was able to tell myself that it’s good that I came to the UK.

For about 1 and a half years I pursued money and did a job that I was not passionate about nor good at. I realised that money did not help with my confidence, improve my mental health nor did it cure my self-doubt. I also realised that I struggled to engage with anything that did not interest me and found myself under-performing. My mental health was shattered for the first 2 years of my journey to the UK. Therefore, from my experience, here is my advice for international students to ease financial pressure and make the move more enjoyable. If you’re concerned about money, look for scholarships from the government, businesses, or the university. Work hard and save up money before you move. It is much easier to earn money in the environment you know, like your home country rather than in a new environment you may not know that well and may have a language barrier deal with. If you want to gain an accomplishment and have a great study abroad journey, plan your finance now before buying your flight ticket and think… everything will be ok.  

Strive for job satisfaction and to be happy. Whilst money is important, it is not everything. Speak with the people you trust most, including those at the university, representatives, your family, and friends. They might provide a different perspective! 

For the international students who have already started your journey, good luck!  For all of you starting soon… give it all your determination and energy, as your efforts will be worth it! 

Looking back at this difficult time, my experience crafted the version of me writing to you today – and considering how happy I am now… I know it was all worth it!

Find out more about what you can do to improve your wellbeing on Student Space.

I am Thu Tran. Graduate Business (Marketing) student at Birmingham City University. I just thought that this is a meaningful activity to share my story and encourage the other students who are on their way, going through these challenges.