Six tips to take care of your mental health as a Chevener

As a qualified psychotherapist, mental health activist, and public speaker, 2021-22 Chevening Alumna Maria Sergeeva shares her tips for how Chevening Scholars can take care of their mental health at this time of year.

Reflecting on my experience as a 2021-22 Chevening Scholar, I know that this time of year can be challenging. With the holiday season over and exam period in full swing, your stress levels are probably higher than normal right now. Thanks to the gloomy British weather, you might also find yourself more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But there are some simple things you can do to take care of your mental health during the colder months.

1. Sleep well

If you can change only one thing for your health, start with your sleep routine. We’ve all heard it thousands of times but most of us still underestimate the impact a good night’s sleep can have on our wellbeing.

While the amount of sleep needed is different for everyone (from 6 to 10 hours) the quality of sleep is essential for all.

My top tips for a good night’s sleep are to:

  • create cross-ventilation in your room with a cool temperature of around 65-70°F (18-20°C)
  • increase bright light exposure during the day and avoid blue light before bed, as it gets misinterpreted as daylight and thus prevents melatonin production at night
  • avoid eating heavy food, drinking alcohol or caffeine (although it might have no impact on individuals with ADHD), or exercising 3+ hours before bed.

Bonus tip: You might also want to invest in earplugs (try silicone ones), a blindfold, and a comfortable pillow.

2. Stick to routines

From a shower before bed to a nice breakfast and exercise session in the morning, developing small routines like these are crucial for your brain.

This is especially true when you’re in a new environment and are having to navigate a new culture, educational system, and climate, as it will allow you to start and finish each day with a sense of stability.

Bonus tip: a voice assistant can help you stick to your routines and improve your focus.

3. Be aware of cognitive defusion and context

Psychotherapy cannot make you happy forever, but it can teach you to process an unhappy moment in a healthy way.

Now you know: everyone has their ups and downs. But it’s all about self-regulation and learning to surf your emotions and separate yourself from your internal mental chatter (which can become very loud sometimes).

Also, try to remember what brings you to the state where you are, with the knowledge:

Everything passes. This too shall pass.

There are also biological reasons why many people feel low and lack energy during January and February and there is nothing wrong with having these feelings. Psychoeducation might help the defusion, but even just understanding that it is a natural response is helpful.

4. Prioritise and plan

For current Chevening Scholars, you’re around halfway through your time in the UK now. You probably already have an idea of what you like and what you absolutely need to see and try while you’re here, so it’s time to prioritise, plan, and be realistic.

Seeing how much your Chevening peers have accomplished might feel daunting. However, remember they also likely had to sacrifice something. Moreover, we all have different life contexts and levels of energy. Choose what works best for you.

Bonus tip: Take some time to plan your week, month, and even season. If you prefer handwritten notes, a good old wall calendar or paper planner could help you stay on top of your busy Chevening schedule. And remember, a lot of events in the UK are booked well in advance, so don’t forget to keep an eye out for your monthly Chevening Scholagram.

5. Make a happiness box

Be ready to deal with hard thoughts and feelings, as they are a normal part of human life…forewarned is forearmed.

Prepare a bunch of things that will activate your soothing system during this low period. It might be smells (vanilla, coffee, cinnamon or your significant other’s perfume), pictures, fidgets, candles, lights, sweets, your favourite jewelleries… you name it. The box can be perceived as a metaphor: your boosters don’t have to fit in a box or be physical. Just know what they are, keep them close to you, and don’t forget to use them when you need them.

A playlist with songs that make you happy, a scarf your mum made for you, or sunsets by the river… whatever they are, always keep stock.

Bonus tip: sticking an inspirational quote to your wall or wearing a ring you associate with soothing is one of the most helpful techniques.

6. Ask for help

If you feel like it’s getting too much for you, book an appointment to see your GP as soon as you can. However, be mindful about the way the healthcare system works in the UK, as it might be different from your country of origin.

If you’re put on a long waiting list, reach out to your university wellbeing team to check if they have any spare slots for you. It might be the shortest route, especially if your mental health affects your studies. You might also find online group therapies to be more accessible.

If you need additional support, various UK mental health non-profits, like Mind, Samaritans, and Rethink Mental Illness, are there for you. There are also specialist organisations that can help if you identify with a group of individuals (e.g. LGBTQ+, neurodivergent, bipolar, OCD, individuals with eating disorders).

Bonus tip: Don’t forget that Chevening is your UK family! Don’t hesitate to ask for help and support. From the Chevening team to fellow scholars and alumni, thousands of individuals are here for you to share their tips and experiences and to lend a helping hand.


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