A research degree like an MRes or a PhD can be isolating. Often, we need to take action by ourselves to change that. The way the School of Advanced Study works, we often do not even meet fellow students from other institutes until very late in our studies.
We at SASiety are doing our best to bridge the gaps and create a space where all SAS students can come together. But we can only do so much, and we are also aware that social events are not everyone’s cup of tea. That is why I want to share a few of my own tips and tricks in my everyday life that help me dealing with mental health issues.
Only the lonely: Ways to deal with loneliness in a big city
Not quite London, but when I first moved to Birmingham, I felt pretty low after the first excitement of being in a new city wore off. But when term started, I met a number of people in the same situation which made it easier to make friends. You do not have to be a social butterfly to meet people. Many universities have clubs and societies for any kind of interest. Personally, I think book clubs or societies where you make something like a baking society or arts and crafts workshops are perfect as they facilitate conversation. Often you do not need to find a conversation starter and just talk about this week’s topic.
My SAS tip:
Here at the School of Advanced Study we don’t have a big selection of societies or sports clubs but have the advantage to be part of the big University of London community. Check out the Student Central website.
Also, don’t panic – you are in London, but you are in London!
There are so many opportunities outside of the university bubble to get to know people. For me, volunteering did the trick. I signed up to work with St. John Ambulance Service which gets me out the house and meet people while doing something good. This not only helps my feelings of loneliness but also gives me a boost by helping out in my community.
The greatest wealth is health
Between research and maintaining a good social life, it is often difficult to pay attention to your mental and physical wellbeing. You do not have to be sporty, do yoga or be the next contestant on Masterchef to keep yourself happy. Taking in a few rays of sunshine a day by only taking a little walk around the block can be an absolute mood changer, in particular in the winter months. Also, never feel like you cannot have your favourite food. Sometimes you just need to treat yourself to your favourite comfort food. After all, good food is good mood. One little extra cooking tip: healthy meals are actually very easy and not time consuming at all. I actually swear by some BBC Good Food recipes.
There is also a Farmer’s Market in the heart of Bloomsbury on Thursdays. Why not make that the day to treat yourself to something nice? Everything on the market either comes straight from the farm or contains sustainable ingredients. From doughnuts to pizza don’t miss out on a great lunch opportunity!
A book is a dream you hold in your hands
This might sound silly but one advice I am glad someone gave this advice a few years ago: ‘Don’t forget to read a book once in a while’. Being a literature student, I did not think much of it at first. But choosing a book you actually want to read rather than one that is on the syllabus makes all the difference! Us research students in particular spend so much time reading secondary literature and academic texts that we sometimes forget why we fell in love with literature in the first place.
My SAS tip:
There many hidden gems in Bloomsbury, some of which are adorable and niche bookshops. Why not take a few minutes, or several hours if you are anything like me, and browse? I guarantee you will find a hidden treasure.
Events & Resources
All these tips might seem obvious, but it helps me to keep getting reminded that I have to take a step back from the PhD bubble and focus on other things. On Study Online there is a whole section dedicated to wellbeing with key contacts. Student Minds also has a great set of resources and a list of contacts if you suffer from bad mental health.
SAS is actually offering a research training session on maintaining mental health on the 24th of January 2022! The last session in early December was a great opportunity to explore new techniques and share your experience with others.
Finally, and everyone might be sick of hearing this, do not be afraid to talk to someone about it. Your friends and / or family will be more than happy to listen and support you.