Hi Christine! In light of your work around reducing stress for students, what has led you to where you are today?
Reducing stress for students became my mission after the many years of experience with my own daughter’s educational journey. Health and education collided and that was the inspiration for my vision. I wanted to help stop that happening to other sons and daughters.
I have two projects aimed at reducing stress for students. The one at the forefront of my mind due to the pandemic and the mental health crisis students are finding themselves in is My Mind Health.
The mental health crisis in students was on the rise before the pandemic hit and serious concerns were already being raised. Since Covid-19 started more and more students have found themselves facing mental health difficulties.
With My Mind Health I have created a new de-stress tool as a coping mechanism, providing a safe space for students to process their emotions on a daily basis, reducing anxiety and stress.
These are unprecedented times and students are feeling the pressure and their struggles are real.
This is a free service for every student to use and to share with others, promoting self-help, preventative care and personal wellbeing.
Journaling is a powerful tool for everyone to have in their survival tool kit. Journaling has been well publicised to help in reducing anxiety and stress. It is said that if you journal every day for two weeks you will notice a difference.
This is a simple source to get people to start opening up and then hopefully will lead to being able to talk to trusted friends and family.
When your problems are written down, this allows you to free up your mind and you are able to see more clearly.
We don’t know who we can help until we try. The mission is to reach out to as many people as possible and so it reaches those people who need it.
With my mind health de-stress tool, you have the modern-day equivalent of writing out your problems and setting fire to them. With my mind health you write out your problems and simply press delete. Let the universe take care of them.
In your experience, what can students do who are feeling overwhelmed by exam pressure and stress?
First of all check out:
The chances are the answers to all these are no because you have gone beyond taking any notice of them. However, once you are aware of these basic needs you can understand why everything is building up against you. Make some small daily changes to help you get back some energy and better concentration.
The three major things I would say to my own daughter when at exam time would be:
Your breathing controls you and if you can do some breathing exercises even up to the exam starting you will help yourself to stay as calm as possible.
What I mean by that is, your nerves have a way of trying to get the better of you especially in exam situations. So have a word with yourself and tell those nerves that you are going to park them until after the exam.
These are our experiences and will work for some students and not for others but you have nothing to lose by giving them a go.
What advice would you give to students who are struggling with deciding what career path to take and how to get work experience, especially in light of the pandemic where most opportunities are cancelled and job opportunities could decrease?
First of all, every student needs to acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and that none of us have lived through this type of crisis before, so there are no handbooks to tell anyone how to put this situation right.
What history has taught us is that with every crisis there are new opportunities to be explored. This gives everyone including students an opportunity to get creative and to think outside the box for change.
If a student is struggling to decide what career path they would like to take consider the following:
Look for opportunities outside the box, look further than the obvious choices.
As a law student if you have just been considering experience in law firms, consider what opportunities large organisations such as Life Assurance Companies, Pension Companies, Insurance Companies have and check out if they have any opportunities in their in-house legal departments. Government departments, the Police, the NHS have in-house legal departments.
As a law student you are naturally aiming to help build a great structure in society to serve and to protect the vulnerable and make our environment a better place to live. You could consider how your education and skills could be transferable into opportunities within the police service.
Think locally and see what you have in your area, consider the smaller firms that could provide opportunities for you to step up and show your worth. Smaller firms may be struggling right now offer to support them by giving some of your time as a volunteer. You will gain valuable experience and they will remember you when business starts to come back.
Do you think schools and universities do enough or should do more in order to support mental health wellbeing of their students?
The mental health crisis in students was on the rise before the pandemic hit and serious concerns were already being raised. The pandemic has brought the spotlight onto the crisis at a greater speed.
The Universities UK is the collective voice of 139 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I have had the privilege of attending six of their events since early in 2018 where John de Pury, Assistant Director and his highly caring team lead by Esther Dudley, Head of Events and Engagement have been working tirelessly to bring universities together to engage, share and support each other and to build a framework to be able to implement strategies to support the student community.
Work is being carried out behind the scenes to bring together collective knowledge and experience and in ways to encourage all staff to play an active role in being the eyes and ears on the ground.
The conference this year in November 2020 is going to be: Mental Health: A Whole University Approach.
The universities are already on their journey to address the support they need to give students whilst under their care. However, this is not a one stop shop problem. My personal belief is that society as a whole has to take responsibility for how our generations of sons and daughters have developed.
As a society we have not equipped our sons and daughters with the tool kit they need to survive when they leave the family home. We have not given them the coping mechanisms that they need to handle the everyday pressures of life. We have not built their resilience to cope with the normal stresses that life inevitably brings.
I believe education is one of the best gifts anyone can give their son or daughter but we also need to prepare them with a strong foundation of life skills.
Going on from the previous question, do you find that students are often stressed due to external pressures such as teachers or parents to perform well academically?
We have a student community that are so fearful of failure that there are times that they feel paralysed and often frightened to have a go or to take part. Society has encouraged the ‘Perfectionism’ culture. We all need to start letting go of perfect and think ‘Progress not perfection’. It would help each student to focus on the progress they have made and appreciate how far they have come and how much effort they have put in.
Many students are first generation students and the expectations are high from all sides. This results in the student being hard on themselves and often their own worst enemy. The student needs to take on a new mindset so as not to burn out and this is not an easy ask, the student needs to start to turn this tide around and needs to say my best is good enough. My health and my self-care is as important as my education.
Finally, what would you say to any student now who may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed?
Start by writing out everything in your head, get it down and out of your head. Start by writing in a safe space, in the box on my mind health, there is no retrievable data. Designed for this very reason. So it is just for you to see, then delete.
This may encourage you to start writing the not so personal things down on paper so you can then revisit your daily concerns.
Just start with a few words and before you know it, well it said that everyone has a book inside them. Write down what you are grateful for every day and who you are grateful to have in your life. The brain cannot be grateful and stressed at the same time.
May I say a personal thank you to Enakshi Khasriya and to The Student Lawyer team for giving me this opportunity to share my personal experiences and views with your student audience and to express what a real privilege it is for me to serve and to support students in reducing anxiety and stress wherever possible. Thank you, take care, Christine.