Taking the First Step Outside

By Azizan Anas (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics)

As the majority of the academic year is online-based due to the ongoing pandemic, and most of us are confined to a small, limited hybrid space of our personal rest area and workstation (we also call it our bedroom), we often overlook the outdoors. Watching pre-recorded lectures, attending workshops and tutorials and communicating with groupmates through an online platform can all be done from our room now. This can be both advantageous and harmful: a double-edged sword of a learning format.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you went out to simply enjoy the outdoors or do physical activities, that was not because of groceries/commuting?

In full honesty, between March and December I barely did any exercise or went outdoors; most of my time was spent in my uni bedroom, watching lecture videos, attending seminars, doing coursework and attempting practice questions, as well as going to the communal kitchen to socialise with my flatmates. If I got too bored studying in my room, I would alternate the library or the shared kitchen for a change of scenery. Going outdoors or doing exercise, however, wasn’t a part of my routine.

One day, I saw an Instagram Story by the Malaysian Society about the 27 27 challenge, organised by the charity Mind. The challenge was to run 27 miles in 27 days during March 2021 while fundraising in solidarity with the 27% of students who report mental health issues while in university. It was a perfect opportunity for me to move on from my sedentary lifestyle. I was trapped in my room most of the time for the past 2 months simply because I didn’t find any incentive to go outside. It was too cold at that time since it was still the Winter season.

My coping mechanism to relieve stress has changed. From resorting to binge-watching Netflix while eating snacks as a form of unwinding from work – to now going for a short jog around campus. I feel much more satisfied and happier being able to take care of my physical wellbeing as well as my mental wellbeing while at the same time running for a good cause. There are plentiful benefits associated with going outdoors and doing physical activities such as improving your sleep pattern, improving your physical and mental wellbeing, reducing stress and so on.

The first step is always the hardest, but the following steps are easy to follow if you pass through the first obstacle. Exercise can lead to feelings of satisfaction, a sense of achievement, and being more cheerful. All that can be part of your day, you just need to take a step away from your room. All it takes is the willingness, and strength to go outdoors. What is important is to develop a sustainable habit that can help you to achieve this.

Go out and take a walk 15 minutes each day for a week; force yourself if you have to. The key to a successful sustaining habit is not to expect an immediate outcome but rather to see an improvement of at least 1% each time. It is no use to all of a sudden go for an extreme distance/time that you find too challenging, putting yourself off from doing it again. It is important to start slowly to make your desired habit of walking feasible, easy and satisfying. Depending on your progress at the end of the week, consider heightening the base mark to a higher level (at a moderate increase). In the end, you’ll be able to take going outdoors as a natural stress reliever full of benefits you will look forward to. You can reward yourself as well to keep you on track (an example is to get yourself a doughnut from Greggs if you walked at least 5 days a week!)

May is the National Walking Month in the UK. Take this as an opportunity to start and grow the habit of living an active way of life. To encourage people to cultivate this healthy lifestyle, Living Streets (the UK charity for walking) has a pledge on their website where they will share with you how many miles you will walk, how many calories you’ll burn and how much CO2 you will save depending on how many short walk you pledged for the week (A short walk is defined as a mile or 15-20 minutes of walking). I believe that by cultivating this habit of going outdoors and doing physical activities, we will be more prepared to take our summer exams much better, and more mentally prepared to engage.

The importance of work-life balance

By Tsz Yan (Student Blogger: MSc Business Analytics)Balancing Stones

We all know that study is a difficult but important task for most of us. Therefore, some people put all their time into study so as to achieve better academic performance. However, this belief is misleading and may harm our academic performance in the long term. Indeed, having a good work-life balance is a more appropriate way for our study or even life journey.

Firstly, a good work-life balance is able to improve our mental health and therefore academic performance. Whilst studying, we are easily getting to a stage of “burnout” and “stress”. In this stage, your study capability and productivity will decrease because you might feel you can’t understand what you are studying. Therefore, there is a need to take a rest. Try to go outside and have a walk, or chat with your friends/ family members, or even sleep. This will help you to eliminate negative thinking and refresh yourself. As a result, you may “suddenly” understand the knowledge you didn’t understand previously and therefore enhance your study efficiency. To conclude, a good work-life balance is able to improve our mental health and therefore academic performance.

Secondly, a good work-life balance is able to improve our physical health and therefore academic performance. But what does this mean? It means that we need to do exercise regularly. Exercise is really important and can support our study by helping us to perform better academically. Imagine what would happen if you only concentrated on study without doing any exercise, you would have relatively weak physical health. When you have relatively weak physical health, it is easy for you to feel exhausted or even become ill. In this stage, you are not able to focus on your study due to your body status. Therefore, it proves that exercising is needed in your study life in order to enhance your study efficiency and effectiveness. To conclude, a good work-life balance is able to improve our physical health and therefore academic performance.

In fact, we should think more broadly on the benefit of having a good work-life balance. Not only can it improve your academic performance in the short term, but it can also help you build up interpersonal relationships and broaden your horizons. In our studying life, we should go outside to make new friends with different people. We can share a different opinion on any issue and sometimes they may even have some insight on particular things we don’t know. Discussion and communication with friends can help you to broaden your horizons, which may indirectly help you to solve any academic difficulty you face. On the other hand, building up interpersonal relationships can also have benefits not only for your study but also for your life journey in facing any circumstances (such as difficult work situations later in life), since they may provide different angles and insights on these issues and help you face these challenges. To conclude, a good work-life balance is able to improve our study and even life journey.

To sum up, it is essential to maintain a good work-life balance. Firstly, it can help you to improve your mental and physical health so as to improve your academic performance. Secondly, it can help you to build up interpersonal relationships and broaden your horizons so as to improve your academic performance and even life journey. Therefore, I encourage you to have your own work-life balance. Good Luck with your study and life journey!

Let’s get talking…

By James (Student blogger: BA Politics and International Relations)

Mental health has been the shadow in the dark this term, something that it would be safe to say that more and more people are struggling with. I have struggled with it, and so have many people I know. Although there are some simple things can help with mental health as we go into Christmas and the new term that have helped me personally.

  1. Self Care

Although something we hear about and see loads of, its important to make sure you give yourself some time to refresh. Whether that be a simple shower, walk, exercise, each one helps you to feel a bit more refreshed and ready to fight the day as it comes. Even doing something basic to make sure you’re prepared for the day gets you into the right mind state.

  1. Looking Yourself in the mirror

For me, a simple looking at myself in the mirror can help me build up my confidence for the day. For me I struggle with self-esteem so waking up and looking myself in the mirror and telling myself I’m good enough can help me again start the day right rather than in the wrong way and in the wrong mood.

  1. Don’t hold yourself to strict rules

For me, I know I beat myself up for not meeting a target of the day, or not upholding my strict rules I put on myself. It’s important to remember everyone needs breaks, and everyone needs to make sure they give themselves sometime between everything. Instead of cramming and not giving yourself time, make sure you get that cup of tea, or chocolate and make sure you look after yourself and don’t overwork yourself, or put too much pressure on yourself.

  1. Give yourself some time to reflect

Make sure when you’re working you give yourself time to look at what you’re doing and allow yourself to be proud of that. Make sure you don’t get caught up in the nitty-gritty things in life and work and make sure you can look at the overall picture and allow yourself to be happy with what you’ve achieved.

  1. Most importantly, speak out

This is always the step that got me, I could do all the previous areas, but I could never speak out. Trust me when I say speaking out is the most important thing that you can do; this means it does not bubble over the top. My favourite thing I got told was ‘pretend you’re a bottle of coke, and each thing that upsets you shakes you a little. Once you speak and let it out, you are a lot calmer and are not holding the pressure of the things that upset you’. This to me shows the importance of talking. Sometimes we can’t hold the pressure of the things getting on top of us and this makes us feel like we’re going to explode. It is important to let it out and speak up and take that pressure away.

How to Channel the Library from Your Bedroom

By Sean (Student blogger: MSci Hons Computer Science)

You’re shaking. The unthinkable has happened- there will be no compulsory exams for the summer term. Goodbye endless hours of absentminded half-studying, hello months of frenzied Netflix binges, crazed gaming sessions and potential existential crises. Tossing your gallon-sized jar of midnight oil into the bin, you start to list every single way you can maximize your enjoyment of the coming six months.

A month in, you’re starting to go a little bit insane. You’ve watched every show on the planet- in five languages. The game industry is booming from the hours you’ve crammed in and in-game purchases you’ve blown your pocket money on. And somehow, you’re starting to realize that- oh god- you miss university!! Collective gasps resonate from the chamber that is your bedroom.

You realise you’ve let yourself get a little too loose and you should probably start preparing for next year by re-learning (or learning- I’m looking at you, lecture-skippers) the course material from this year. Alas, the comfort of the library is out of your grasp- how will you ever focus without the soothing of lime green carpets?

  1. Craft a clean, distraction-free study environment

The library is professionally designed to facilitate studying as much as possible, which is why you, like many others, might feel you’re at your most productive there. While you can’t whisk yourself away, one thing you can do to achieve a similar state is to create the perfect studying environment at home: one that is distraction-free, clean and has the tools you need easily within reach. Try clearing your desk and placing it near a window- or find a quiet corner of the house that vibes with you. Put your devices away if you don’t need them. It’s amazing how much difference a decent study area can make.

  1. Hatch a plan

It’s incredibly easy to sit down and get overwhelmed by the amount of content towering above you. A bad habit people do is try to watch lectures while eating or listening to music. Sure, you get more done, but remember that you’re here to learn. How much do you think you’ll absorb from having your lecturer talk over an episode of Tiger King? One thing you should keep in mind is you have loads of time. If you take a little time to draw up a simple chart of, lets say, which chapters you’ll cover over which weeks, I think you’ll be able to keep your focus a little better since you know what your goals are.

  1. Sleep Properly

It’s not a very good idea to go full holiday mode, sleeping at 4am and groggily pulling yourself out of bed at 3pm. You’ll notice many guides (e.g. fitness, mental health, academics) mention having a good sleep schedule, and that’s because sleep plays an essential role in your general well-being. With good sleep, you’ll feel refreshed and energetic, two qualities that make you more likely to soldier through your lecture notes rather than complain.

The situation’s a bit weird right now, but don’t let that come in between you and your academics! Remember, you’re paying a lot of money to study, and you definitely want to make the most out of probably the last time you’ll be in education. Best of luck!

Forget Your Promises

By Deji (Student blogger: BSc Marketing)

I don’t have it in me to count how many times I’ve scripted and pledged to some plan of attack that fills the entirety of a holiday with revision and yet, reached the last hours of that holiday having done nothing of the sort. It’s easier than it has the right to be, and happens whenever a university or school term has all but had me concussed.

In battles between me and almighty terms, I’ve had to choose between myself and my grades. Grades have won each time, but the cost has always (eventually) been worth it. Nothing drastic – only the simple sacrifices of sleep and a proper human diet. After “winning” these battles, my MO has been to swear to myself and anyone within earshot, that the next term would be different. You know, that I would allow myself none of the pleasures of holidays. Read, revise, and repeat, so far ahead that when the time came, I could afford to maintain my grades as well as my sanity.

Not sure why, but this hasn’t been the reality. I’d open my lecture notes once or twice during the break, and that would be it. Pride? Procrastination? Perhaps some measure of the two? You decide. Here’s how it goes:

I’ve run myself ragged. I deserve this break. Days pass, and my notes summon me. They do a poor job of it, though. Oh, look – holiday’s over. There’s been no reading, no revising, and certainly no repeating. I use my lack of terrible grades to convince myself that all is well.

A few weeks into the term, I learn that all might not be well. The anxiety is bad, but the guilt is worse. The sabotaged master plan, the great many hours spent on YouTube. Like that, we’re back to a rough Me Vs. Term.

Last session though, it was different. Here’s my take: Forget your promises. Toss them. Into the infinite afar. And beyond, still. Seriously.

Hear me out. You’ve just completed an aggressive term. Probably not in the best space to be making big promises to yourself. Whenever you’re able to appreciate the approaching holiday for what it is (a holiday), plan out your revision. In doing this however, recognise that you’re not trying to fool anyone. You can only promise one day of each week to revise? One week and nothing else? An hour every day? Do that, then. Decide if you can effectively work your revision around your holiday. Might sound counterintuitive, but I figure that this way, no part of you feels cheated out of well-deserved vacation time. If in fact, it isn’t quite well-deserved, try committing to additional time.

In recognising that vacations exist for us to regroup, you don’t fault yourself for enjoying them. In resisting the urge to overwhelm your vacationing mind to the point where it just says ‘No’, you’re much better prepared for the next You Vs. Term. You and your grades can make it out alive, you know?

The end of the year: Balance, reflection, exams and graduation

By Sophia (Student Blogger: LLB Hons Law)

Every year there are big changes in every person.

As students we have many changes in many parts of our lives.

Before Christmas, we were trying to do our best and most of us were succeeding in many sectors, but after Christmas, almost always something is going to go wrong. From my own experience, I can say that try to have a set program and time for yourself first, so you can be healthy psychologically and physically and, later, if you take care of yourself everything will be ok. You will succeed if you put small goals that lead to the big successful goal.

Trying to be always excellent in every sector of your life will be difficult. Be lenient with yourself, you know your limits and power. If you do not push yourself too hard then you will always have power and strength to continue doing things. All that matters is to be ok mentally and physically. And then you will do better at the academic things.

Feedback can help you to reflect on your year. It is the analysis of your work from professionals. You give a piece of work, your “creation, your baby”, and you are waiting for a specialist to tell you if you need any improvement, or it is ok, or perfect.

University feedback is very important, because from that you can learn many things. Try to accept your mistakes and try to improve yourself so at the end, when you will have exams, you can do your best or in another coursework. Feedback gives us the opportunity to have better communication with our tutor and lecturer. So, this procedure gives opportunity to work better with the department, if any student has some needs the department will help and this continues, and can help lecturers and tutors know if a module needs improvement.

Anything that our departments give us back from our work take it, grab it and try to improve.

Now we arrive at exams… one word that can terrify you.

Every student has their own style of revision. We all want it to be effective and fast but some people panic and think that they will fail. You can take some lessons from everyone. Try to do your best and cultivate yourself from each module. Try to have good communication with lecturers and tutors, so if you need something, they will try to help you.

The secret is not to leave studying until the last minute. Study during the whole academic year, doing weekly or monthly revision for each module and try to have a set program. Program means balance in your life, not being workaholic or “uniholic”. Having good mental and physical health will help you to have a balance, and the word exams will be just a word, and not a difficult procedure.

Some of you will be graduating this year. I know that most of you are happy that you are going to finish and you have new goals to succeed – a job, Master’s degree or academic development, or even travel all over the world.

During your degree you were thinking sometimes if you were doing things right. I think that now the years have passed, you can see that whatever you have been through, it was worthwhile. Why? Because definitely we learnt something. We broadened our horizons and developed ourselves. We are hopefully better human beings.

Sometimes, we cannot see how much we changed and HOW we changed – what were the factors, but definitely, our degrees helped us to change.

Keep changing and change the people next to you. 😊

Putting your health first

by Sophia (Student Blogger: Law)

I initially entered Lancaster University as a Law student, back in 2016. I was so incredibly excited, and I knew Lancaster Uni was the right place for me, but my mental health at the time was particularly fragile. I met amazing friends, whom I still live with this year, but I found myself repeatedly unable to fulfil the required workload and I gradually fell behind.

In January of 2017, I made the incredibly difficult decision to intercalate, and then ultimately to withdraw from my Law degree. I knew that I wanted to return to Lancaster university, and with tremendous help from staff, I was able to find a course at the university that would be more suited to my academic style, ability and interests. Fast forward 2 years, and I have never been happier. I have learned more about myself as a person and about what I want from life in the 18 months I have been a student at Lancaster, than I had in the prior 18 years of my life.

There are 2 crucial things I’ve found key to avoid becoming overwhelmed at University, and this advice applies whether you’re a soon-to-be student, or you’re in your final year:

1) Your health should be the most important consideration in your life:
Yes, your university work is crucial, but the thing that allows you to do your work effectively is being in a good physical and mental state. It is totally normal to have days when the last thing you want to do is read; everyone has slow mornings! However, if you have a history of poor mental health or if you’ve just moved to University, you need to figure out whether you’re just having a rough day or actually if your mental health is on the decline. If you think it’s the latter, it’s vital that you give yourself a break, even if you feel like it’s not a good idea. Repeatedly trying to summon the strength to sit down and do that work is going to do far more harm than good. Go for a walk with your housemates, call your parents, go to a cafe and treat yourself to something for trying to do your work, and most importantly do NOT beat yourself up about it!

2) Keeping a routine:
For the most part, having even a vaguely sketched out routine to plan out your days can make completing your work far less daunting. But again, don’t be upset with yourself if you don’t stick to it rigidly! The great thing about University is that your days are largely your own. You may have lectures, seminars, or labs depending on your subject throughout the day, but at some point you will also have free periods in which to do your work or see a friend. Keeping certain times like your evenings free for socialisation or societies often provide a motivation to get your work done. Always reward yourself for hard work!