April is Stress Awareness Month and so we sat down with Dr. Aleata Alstad-Calkins, Director of Student Support Services and Tessa Watson, Programme Convener of our MA Music Therapy programme and qualified music therapist, to discuss the impact of stress and what steps you can take for support.
What can be some of the main causes for stress, especially amongst our students?
Aleata: There are many causes for stress but the main ones for students include exams and deadlines, economic pressures, relationship breakdowns and pre-existing mental health conditions. During COVID-19, another main factor to stress has been social isolation, loneliness and loss.
Tessa: Stress is the way that your body lets you know you are in a demanding or potentially dangerous situation, and it is a normal part of life. What we perceive as stressful is very individual, often relating to big life changes, money and relationship worries and time pressures. All these aspects of our lives can heap pressures onto us that can be hard to manage.
How can stress impact your mental and physical health?
Aleata: Stress can negatively impact your sleep, appetite, concentration, immunity and energy levels (to name just a few). It can cause symptoms of anxiety, low-mood and can even lead to a mental health breakdown. Prolonged periods of stress can cause hair loss, weight loss or gain and can also make you more susceptible to illnesses due to your body being run down.
Tessa: Sometimes people who are under a lot of stress can experience more serious mental or physical health problems, so it’s useful to be able to recognise the signs of stress. You might find that you are finding it hard to concentrate, feel moody or anxious, overwhelmed or isolated. You might also have physical symptoms that you can’t explain. It is helpful to learn to recognise your own responses to stress and take steps to help yourself when needed.
What tangible recommendations would you give for stress management?
Tessa: If you notice that you’re feeling stressed, don’t keep your feelings and thoughts to yourself. Talk to someone in your support network and share your feelings. This could be a parent, sibling, friend, colleague at work or on your course, a University tutor or one of the Wellbeing Officers or Wellbeing staff at University.
There are lots of other ways of looking after yourself too; why not write about your worries or write poetry, go for a run, practice yoga or other exercise, get into nature, cook or bake, listen to music or use the arts in other ways to express yourself. At Roehampton we are passionate about the use of the arts for health and wellbeing, being the home to all 5 Arts and Play Therapies Masters training courses. Whatever you choose to do to look after yourself, make sure that you plan some time away from your studies to relax and socialise (within the Covid-19 guidelines of course) or do something else that you enjoy. You might want to join a society at University or volunteer with a University work project or charity. Don’t forget as well to get enough sleep, and to ensure that you are eating a healthy diet. You might also want to use more structured activities such as meditation or mindfulness. Consider seeking support such as counselling if that seems right for you.
What mental health and wellbeing support is there at Roehampton if I am feeling stressed or feel that I am struggling?
Aleata: Student Support Services have a range of support options for students who are struggling. Students can attend a daily drop-in or arrange an initial appointment with their Student Wellbeing Officer (SWO). SWO’s will provide advice and guidance, including referrals to more specialist support including Mental Health Advisers, Counsellors, Disability Advisers and Mentors.
There are also lots of events and activities for students to take part in which are aimed towards fostering mental wellness, including a two-day certified Mental Health First Aid course (the next training course starts on 4 May, find out more here). There is also a free App called RoeWellbeing for students to use which has meditation guides, podcasts and useful information about the importance of staying mentally well. Search RoeWellbeing on Google Play or in the App Store to download the app. You can register with your Roehampton email address.
Tessa: Try to take control of your situation by working through what is making you worried. If it is related to your University work, remember there are lots of different sources of support, the Academic Achievement Team is a great place to start and they will be able to offer lots of support in scheduling, planning and improving your work.
Remember as well that stress isn’t always negative – it can help you produce your best work. But it is different for everyone. So, get into the habit of noticing how you feel. Look after yourself and check in with your support network if things feel tough. Remember that the University is here to support you at every stage of your journey
How to access support at Roehampton:
Find out all the information you need about the support available to you at Roehampton here on the Portal. This includes information about how to contact our Student Wellbeing Officers and our Counselling and Chaplaincy services, as well as more information about our 24/7 out of hours support.