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Thursday 7 March 2019

The title of this article is a lyric from the Pixies, and sometimes while studying at uni, you may feel so stressed that you are about to collapse. Uni life can be overwhelming and sometimes you will feel that everything is too much and you would like, desperately, to quit and leave everything behind.

You know what? You are not alone and you shouldn’t be ashamed to feel what you are feeling, because it's completely normal. Mental health is a serious matter that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

My coursemates Emma Townley and Eliska (Elli) Peskova are studying MSc Marketing with me. Trying to find the right balance between their mental health and their daily tasks can sometimes be very challenging for them - Elli has dyslexia and bipolar disorder and Emma has PTSD and psoriasis. However, they try to remain calm and focus on their goals: get their master’s degree and get a job in the media industries.

They shared with me some valuable tips on how to cope with mental health issues and what techniques they use to de-stress.

L: How do you cope when you have lots of exams or lots of projects to deliver at the same time?

Elli: When I have many deadlines, I often don’t have enough time to look after myself or to relax, so I take at least one day off to disconnect and relax.

Emma:  When it comes to jobs I tend to thrive under pressure, but when it comes to coursework deadlines I struggle. My mind is constantly filled with ideas but I find it hard to sort and structure them. I'm also known for burning myself out. I work non-stop on a complete high and feel on top of the world and then I just crash and end up battling with my depression and anxiety.

L: What sort of techniques or strategies do you use to relax in those periods?

Emma: I use my creative side to help, be it photography, filming, painting, drawing or dancing. I love to read a great book while relaxing in the bath, or going for walks and talking is also a HUGE help.

Elli: I am trying to do yoga every day, I only do a few exercises for 15 minutes, but I have found it very helpful. I am also going to the gym with my flatmates and that has improved my mental health because you have more energy and you produce more endorphins, which helps you feel better.

Also, I started to knit a few months ago and I find it a very therapeutic tool that helps me when I feel nervous or anxious about my MSc. So far I have knitted three scarves: one for my mother, one for my grandma and one for myself, and I am planning to keep on knitting!

L: Elli, you mentioned that knitting helps you deal with stress and anxiety, could you tell me what other arts and crafts you use to help with your mental health?

Elli: I love taking pictures of landscapes, portraits… but also I love any other form of media and I find that creating something really helps me feel much better about myself and my mental health.

L: Do you find it hard studying for a master's?

Elli: At the beginning of the academic year it was hard because I was struggling with thoughts that I wasn’t good enough to study a master’s here at Solent and I fell into depression. Luckily, my flatmates saw that I wasn’t feeling very well, and, as they are also studying here, they recommended that I visit the Wellbeing Centre at the University.

Emma: It's not been easy. I haven't been an academic for many years; after my degree I attempted to study a diploma in counselling and psychotherapy, and, although I did the full three years, I didn't get the qualification as I had missed too many deadlines due to my own mental health problems. In the third year of my degree I was diagnosed with PTSD and I hadn't taken the time to resolve anything or seek my own therapy.

L: Elli, you mentioned the Wellbeing Centre, could you tell me a bit more about it? How was your experience there; was it helpful?

Elli: Yes, it was very helpful. I came to know the Wellbeing Centre last year, because I was struggling with my financial situation and also with my dyslexia and my bipolar disorder (which I was diagnosed with in April last year). I was looking for some help or therapy to help me cope with everything I was dealing with.

Now the conditions to arrange an appointment with a counsellor are slightly different. First, you need to visit the Student Hub and tell one of the advisers there that you’d like to arrange an appointment with a counsellor. I’ve already done that for this year and I found it very helpful. Since I have dyslexia, my counsellor is showing me study strategies and techniques. I think the Wellbeing Centre is a very good place and I highly recommend it.

L: Finally, what advice would you give to any student who is thinking about starting a master’s next year who is dealing with mental health issues?

Emma: Make sure it's what you want to do and you're not just doing it because you think you have to. Don't take on more than you need to. Give yourself time to study and plan while still being able to enjoy what you love. I've let this consume me a bit too much at times and I need to realise that I can only do my best. Make sure you take breaks - go for walks or use techniques which help you to relax. Most of all, make sure you communicate how you feel and speak to people when you need to. The most important thing is to enjoy it and remember that self care ALWAYS comes first.

Elli: If you would like to take a challenge in your life, do it. For me, it was a huge challenge; but now, after the first semester, I am very happy with how well I am doing: I’ve got very good grades and I am on the right track to get the master’s degree next autumn, which is incredibly exciting. It was tough, but I am proud of myself for two reasons: first, because I am doing it, and second, because I have so many exciting projects to work on in the near future.

Moreover, thanks to this master's I landed a role as a marketing intern at Nuffield Southampton Theatre and I know I wouldn’t have had this chance if I wasn’t studying the MSc.