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Jo Knights, MPLS ED&I Coordinator, writes to remind staff and students (and anyone who's interested!) to look after their mental health and wellbeing, with some practical tools to help.

January 2023Photo of Jo Knights, EDI Coordinator

As we head in to a new year, with the weather being a bit gloomy and lots of external pressures to “be a new you”, it can be a bit tough. Some of us might feel super energised and ready to tackle everything head on – which is brilliant! – while some of just want to hibernate, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the year ahead. And there’s lots happening in the wider world that is completely outside of our control and still having an impact on us (strikes, war, the ongoing pandemic, and cost of living, just to name a few), as well as in the University (workload being a big one!).

Because of all of this, I thought now might be a good time to remind everyone to think about yourself – your wellbeing and your mental health, as well as those around you.

Here I outline a few tools and suggestions that might help you and colleagues, friends and family over the next few months – and hopefully beyond! One thing to remember – different things work for different people and there’s no right or wrong way to look after yourself. The following are just suggestions, and if you want additional or different tools, just get in touch.

Some suggested tools or methods for self-care and to build resilience include:

  • Keep a notebook that you use to write down thoughts and feelings, particularly after a difficult day, meeting or experience that has had a negative effect on you. Once you’ve written everything out, close the notebook and put it away. Some people find this helps them move past that experience.
  • You could do something similar with an object. Have a rock, or a fidget toy, or anything you choose, in your pocket during a difficult conversation or experience. Once that experience is over, you can remove it from your pocket to take it away from you.
  • Take a shower. For some people, this can help to wash away any negative experiences from the day.
  • If you are overwhelmed with your workload, take a step back. Go for a walk or just physically get away from your desk, rather than trying to power through it. When you are ready, write a list, and then use your diary to block time to work on specific tasks. Research shows that planning ahead really benefits wellbeing and reduces stress.
  • While I’m on the subject of stress, I really encourage you to go and watch the video by Dr Jennifer Wild on 7 Key Tools to Overcoming Stress (it's the third video on the page). Here, she gives tips on what to do when you notice you’re getting stressed (or are already stressed), and then there are some brilliant audience questions at the end.
  • Practice breathing. Feet on the floor (if possible, feel the ground). Close your eyes (if you would like to). Breathe in to the count of 7 (or for as long as you’re able). Hold to the count of 7 (holding is really important, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get to 7). Breathe out to the count of 7. Repeat 3-4 times if you find this is helping you.
  • You could practice meditation or mindfulness – but if you are new to this, make sure you read up on how to do it properly to get the best out of it.
  • Find an activity you enjoy, which could include: listening to music, crocheting, knitting, painting, drawing, going for a walk, run, or swim, stretching, cooking, cleaning, gardening, watching a movie or reading a book, playing games, doing a puzzle – literally anything that helps you switch off and takes away stress is a form of self-care.

A few recommendations to think about, if you feel able:

  • Think about the things that are causing you stress or worrying you, and work out what is within your control and what isn’t. Have a look at the stress container example to see if that’s helpful.
  • Identify what makes you feel better – and remember, don’t feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing. What works for me may well not work for you.
  • Try not to isolate yourself – talk to colleagues, friends, family, a Mental Health First Aider. Find your support network.
  • Build in a bit of time every day to check in with how you’re feeling. Do you need to put aside time to practice some breathing techniques, or go for a walk, or eat something tasty for lunch? Don’t ignore those warning signs that you may not be fully ok.
  • If you need to (whether it’s about work and workload or anything else), talk to your manager or supervisor about how you’re doing and where you might need support from them. If you don’t feel able to speak to your manager or supervisor, come and talk to an MPLS Mental Health First Aider.
  • Keep an eye out on those around you. Check in with your colleagues and friends. If you think someone isn’t 100% themselves, it’s ok to ask them if there’s anything you can do. They might say no, and that’s fine. Or they might say yes. But just knowing that someone is looking out for them will help.
  • And finally. Be kind to yourself. Extend the same compassion and kindness you give to other people to yourself as well. This will boost your mood and put you in a better frame of mind. 

If you want to find out more about other tools and resources, check out our online pages:

Services that support Mental Health and Wellbeing: This link takes you through to a full list of different services that are available to staff and students at the University, with descriptions of each service. There’s quite a lot to choose from so, if you are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to go first, speak to an MPLS Mental Health First Aider, who will be able to point you in the right direction.

Stress- related resources:

  • Managing Stress Levels – an article that explains the stress container and provides practical examples for how we can use it.
  • Overcoming Stress: 7 Key Tools – a video with Dr Jennifer Wild from the Department of Experimental Psychology. It is the third video on the page and I REALLY recommend giving it a watch.

Other useful pages:

And finally, if you have any tools for self-care that you want to share, have any thoughts on what we could do in the Division to continue supporting your mental health and wellbeing, if you need support but don’t know where to start, or if you just want to say hi, contact me on diversity@mpls.ox.ac.uk.