By Florence Hassall
I have always struggled with quite severe anxiety, so when I came to Oxford I made the (rather scary) decision to refer myself to the counselling service. I knew there would be a large workload that I may need a little help handling, and I knew the intensity would have an adverse effect on my mental health, as any big change does. So I have semi-regular appointments to check in, and make sure I am keeping on top of my issues, but last year I got to do something a bit different through the service; I was enrolled on a 6-week group mindfulness course, to teach me techniques to control my anxiety.
It was only 6 weeks, and miracles don’t always happen – my anxiety is an ongoing issue– but it was such a good experience, and I would recommend anyone else in my position to at least give something like this a go.
If you are not familiar, mindfulness is essentially meditation, and teaches you ways of being more in tune with your mind and body, and the world around you, which in turn helps you to feel more in control of any issues you have. The course I did was also based in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (as most mindfulness practice is), meaning the techniques I learned there have also helped in my other counselling sessions. We did weeks on how to deal with intrusive anxious thoughts, how to be more present in the moment, rather than in anxieties rooted in the past, and how to deal with rumination, amongst other topics. The group environment was great, as it helped to take the pressure off the quite daunting experience of taking an active step towards better mental health; there were laughs and jokes, we didn’t have to take the harder experiences too seriously, and the fact that we were all learning this new skill together meant that there was more motivation to keep up with it!
I can’t pretend that mental health provision for students is the best it could be – and this is the case at universities across the country – but I can say that courses like these, offered for free to anyone who needs them, are a huge help in understanding and bettering your mental health. Some people don’t connect with mindfulness, and that’s fine! There are groups about managing workloads, low mood, panic, and many others, that, if you find one that is right for you, are a very helpful addition to any current mental health plan you may have.
Taking steps towards addressing any health issue – physical or mental – is a tough one, and especially at Oxford, many people have the mindset that they need to ‘grin and bear it’, and just power through any issues they have. But at Oxford, there are lots of resources to help, and they are easily accessible – often only an email away! When the academic environment you are in is as intense as Oxford, looking after yourself is even more important, and it is always worth doing the research and seeing what might be able to help you. The hardest step is asking for help, but once you ask, a whole host of things appear!