Dealing with Stress

It’s been ages since I’ve posted. There are many reasons for that, but I’m going to talk about one of the most important, and contributing, factors now, and that is stress.

 

I admire you if you’re not stressed at university at any point; that must mean you’ve either got nerves of steel, you’re super composed, or you’re ace at managing your time. I’m not saying I don’t have time management skills (because I do), it’s just adjusting to the workload of second year is tough – almost too tough to deal with as well as finding placements etc.

 

What I’m going to write about today is a very sensitive and personal part of my life right now, as I haven’t been coping very well – and I’m going to admit that. Like any kind of recovery, it is the first step to making things better for yourself. Now, this isn’t just going to apply to any workaholics out there that don’t know how to turn off; it applies to every single student who is at, or wants to go to university. I’m going to outline a few things I have found to help deal with stress, as it’s bad if you let things get on top of you too much.

 

Okay, so, negativity over – let’s talk about how to deal with stress.

 

First thing’s first – stop. Now, being a self-confessed workaholic, I know for a fact that this is easier said than done, because when it is a part of you, stopping working for a minute or two seems like an impossible task. But seriously – take time for yourself. You need time in the day where you need to not do work, and actually think about something else for a while. If you feel like you’re getting to your boiling point – just put down your pen, shut your laptop lid, sit back in your chair or lay on your bed and shut your eyes for a moment. Breathe. It sounds stupid saying it, but if you’ve gotten to the level of stress that I have lately, this helps a lot – even if you’re not that stressed at all. Taking a few moments to focus on yourself when you’re surrounded by work will help you focus better, and to clear your head. If it doesn’t work – listen to your body. If you feel you can’t type another word – don’t. Go to bed, or go for lunch. Do something that isn’t work, because if you force yourself to work anyway, the result won’t be great – trust me.

 

It’s taken me many a time to realise that I stress myself out way too much. I found a method in first year, of visually recognising the fact I was making progress to keep my stress levels down – and it worked. What I did was have a sheet of paper tacked to my wall, with bullet points of all the things I needed to get done. Here’s a short extract from my current list:

  • Write myAston Uni Life blog
  • Neat notes of Software Engineering lecture
  • Talk to careers centre about placement progress
  • Look over functional requirements for group project
  • Put DVDs on eBay

When I did something, I could cross it out, and it signified I had actually done something. When you’re stressed, it becomes hard to acknowledge your achievements or progress, and that sucks. Doing something like this will help keep you focused, and most of all, positive.

My alteration for this year is that I have a paper spike and post-stick notes. I write a post-stick note for each task I have to do and stick it on my wall. Once I’ve done it, I can stick it on my paper spike, and hey-presto, an impressive stack of tasks is there to show me that I am actually getting somewhere.

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Another thing for when you’re stressed is to do something that makes you happy. Take today for instance; I went out for lunch with my friend, and my mood instantly improved, because I wasn’t thinking about my course, and I wasn’t in an environment that made me think about my course. In stressful periods, removing yourself from the place that reminds you of working can be a really good thing to help you out – I have found this so useful. Saying that, don’t then take your work to restful places, as then that will remind you of work and subsequently if you visit that place without doing work, you’ll think about it anyway and it won’t do your stress levels good. So basically – keep the places you work to just the places you work, and make sure the places for yourself stay that way too. Segregate your work and your life, and you’ll feel a lot better.

 

I’ve found that one of the biggest contributing factors of my stress right now, is that I had all these things that I needed to do swirling about in my head, and because I only found the time as and when to work on those things, my mind snowballed them into this massive task that I couldn’t bear thinking about anything else but. I can’t stress enough how you don’t want to end up in this situation! Seriously; jot down all the things you need to do, then sit down with your timetable. Work out where you can fit these things in, and plan for your tasks. More importantly, plan some break time! Down-time is just as valuable as work-time when you have a lot going on, as it helps you to focus, and rest too. If you’re emotionally drained from stress, you’re not going to be good to do anything, let alone producing quality work you can be proud of. Planning breaks was the hardest thing for me, because I felt guilty that I could be doing work during that time. Do yourself a favour – take a night, or even an hour off. As I’ve said – do something that makes you happy, because if you’re not happy, you’re going to keep being stressed. Go out with friends, or take a walk. Go on the internet for an hour or two. Do something.

 

I’ve found I was in a vicious circle. I felt stressed because I had a lot of work to do. Because I had a lot of work to do, I spent more time doing work, and not resting – so working late nights and getting up early. Because I was working more, it took longer to do things because I was exhausted. Because I was exhausted, I got stressed. I got more stressed because I still had loads of work to do… and the cycle continues. The hardest thing is breaking out of the circle, or your body forcing yourself out of the circle because you literally can’t take it anymore. Either way, once you’re out, you can work to make things better. That’s what I’m doing now. In the words of my boyfriend – when you’re stressed, “a part of it is because you’re creating deadlines that don’t exist”.

 

A way I’ve managed to do this (surprisingly) is by making a schedule.  Yes, I’m conquering my stress by setting myself a schedule  – but hear me out. Having all these things to do cooped up in my head was not a good way forward, and I was getting stressed because I couldn’t forsee them getting done. I would fit things in as and when I had time – but this also came with its issues as I had become so unfocused that this was proving to be another problem in itself. I drew out a simple grid on paper, with seven rows (one for each day), and 17 columns (roughly). The first two are the biggest in size. The first column is “Today’s goal”. This is a positive start to the day; it is for something that I want to achieve, or if it is a rest day etc. The second column is for deadlines, so anything that has to be done by that day, like coursework or personal deadlines. This gives an aim for the day, and helps to plan ahead because I know when things have to be done by. Then, I have hourly slots from 9am to 12am, to plan in what I would like to do that day. I’ve found this majorly helpful because I can see what time I have, when I can have breaks (instead of winging it, or taking a break when I’m desperate), and also to stop me working six+ hours at a time without a break. It’s taking time management to the extreme, but I need this structured approach to get me back on track and out of the hole I have been in personally. It could work for you too, or something similar. I recommend a diary of some sort, or a calendar with space to write a lot, so you can plan in things with detail for what you’d like to achieve. This helps to organise yourself, and also making you remember deadlines – my academic diary has been my saviour this year!

 

Wow, this post has gotten very deep quite quickly (well, I say quickly very loosely, as I’m over 1.5k words currently…).

 

Okay, a summary if you’ve made it this far:

  • Stop, close your eyes, and breathe
    • Do this immediately when you’re feeling stress; you can’t plan for this to happen, it’s your back-up when things get too much
  • Recognise your achievements, and put it in a positive light
    • I’ve done this through a list on my wall of things to do, that I cross off as I go along. I’ve also done this with lots of post-stick notes and a paper spike to represent finished tasks, and accomplishments.
    • The most important thing to remember is you’ve made more progress than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes, you should give yourself a pat of the back for taking a break, as when you’re stressed, that can be an accomplishment in itself.
  • Do something that makes you happy
    • Go out for lunch, treat yourself, buy yourself a new piece of clothing, splash out on full price Ben and Jerry’s…
  • Segregate your work and life
    • Don’t do work where you have your leisure time, as it’ll always remind you of work. If you’re trying to unwind and destress, the last thing you want is little niggles at the back of your mind that you still haven’t finished that piece of work you started in that place…
  • Plan in breaks
    • You can’t work 100% all of the time. I’ve learnt this the hard way, as it’s always what I have strived to do. You’ll eventually grind to a halt. Breaks are good to focus yourself, and to clear your head, instead of getting worked up. Even though breaks are time you’re not working, and can be seen as “wastes of time” (Me, 1995-present…) – they are actually more helpful than you think.

 

Some other things that are useful, are to get your feelings out. Take five minutes to write down everything that’s getting you down, stressing you out, or that is on your mind. Get it out your system. If you don’t want to write it down, rant about it! I ranted to my course mate yesterday, and we found we were both in the exact same position. One thing to remember about stress and university – you are not alone! Talking to people can help, as it gets it out and you can lean on each other. Your friends are your best tool for success at university, in my opinion. Others may disagree, but I strongly believe that without all the support – emotionally and academically – from my friends, I would not be in the privileged position I am today. Alternatively, write a super long blog post about how you’re coping with it… I surprisingly feel a lot better than I did an hour ago.

 

This has been a very unstrucutred, whatever-comes-out-of-my-head-styled post, that turned out to be so much longer than I intended! I suppose I will write a more condensed and planned piece soon, that isn’t all over the place, but for now, I hope I have helped. If all else fails, know this: there is always a way to break out the circle. It may take a while, it may be that you find it difficult to identify that you can make things better, and not everything is as bad as it seems at first. I have certainly learnt this over the past two days. I hope in the future I can help you as much as the people in my life have at this moment in time, and throughout my time at university, because without them, I believe things could be quite different right now.

 

All deep-thoughts aside, I do hope I haven’t sent you to sleep with this insanely long post, and I hope it’s contained even a sliver of useful information you can take away to improve your stress.

 

Thanks for reading, and until next time.

 

~

 

The Forbidden “B” Word

BUDGETING!!!!!

 

No body likes it. Nobody wants to actually pay for food or toilet roll. Then again, nobody wants to be left with no money and starve for a month because all their student finance money has been blown on a 52″ TV because wow now I have money and I can spend it all. I’m just going to straight up say it – no you can’t spend it all on everything you’ve ever wanted since you were five!

 

Okay, rant over. Well, nearly. Here’s my guide to actually living well and having lots of money to spend whilst paying for your essentials like, you know, food and rent. Once you’ve got your musts sorted, leisure-spending can be worked in. It’s this easy – work out what you absolutely need to pay for like rent, and how much food you’re roughly going to buy each week/month, then other things like going out, getting a takeaway and going clothes/games shopping won’t leave such a big hole in your bank account that your rent isn’t covered by the measly amounts left in it.

 

Don’t be scared; a lot of students don’t get budgeting right or it takes a while to get into the swing of it – and scarily some adults struggle too! I’ve found a way that’s worked for me, so I’m going to tell that to you today. Aren’t you lucky? 🙂

 

Step One – Income

Before you can think of spending anything, you need to get a rough idea of how much money you’re going to have. This includes your student finance maintenance loan/grant, any financial help your parents/relatives may give you, scholarships/bursaries, wages from any jobs you may have etc. Then what you need to do is work out how much you’re going to get each term/semester; you’ll usually get student finance money each term, so that’s a good place to start.

 

Step Two – Rent

Rent and bills will be the biggest thing on your expenditure list, so this comes first – always! You’re likely to have to pay rent each term/semester, and these might be split so one term costs more or less than the other two – so just check it out first, as it could leave you with a hole in your bank account you weren’t expecting! The average living costs for the UK (excluding London) is said to be £4,834, so that roughly equates to $1611.33 a term if split equally. Your rent amount depends on a number of things: contract length, location, single/double bed, bills included, house/halls, ensuite/shared bathroom, catered/self catered etc. If you have to pay for bills separately,  it’s about £13-£23 a week for gas, electrics and internet, with a TV license on top of that if you want it.

 

Step Three – What you have to work with

Take your  rent costs away from your income to give you everything you have to work with for that term. It may surprise you – it certainly did when I first did this! If you’re looking at your costs before you go to uni (great stuff, as you’re being prepared!), you may want to search out for any scholarships your chosen universities may offer based on academic performance, to give you little extra money to help you out. If you find your term costs are in the minus, you might need to search for a part time job to help you live a little easier, or ask parents or relatives if they will be prepared to help you out. Alternatively, if you’re looking at accommodation and haven’t actually started uni yet, you might want to chose a cheaper, alternative accommodation to reflect what you can realistically afford!

 

Step Four – That thing everyone loves called FOOD

I’d say £30-£40 food shopping money per week is absolutely plenty; I had £50 budgeted per week for all living costs last year, which included food, any leisure, going out for meals, other shopping etc., and my budget sheet I made said on average my weekly spending for food was around £15-20! It can be done, and I will make another post soon about how to actually eat like royalty on a student budget – I won’t disappoint. The most important thing you need to do is stick to your food budget. This can be per week (my preferred method) or per month I’d say instead of per term, as that can leave you high and dry if your spending is much greater at the start of term. Keep your receipts, or use a budget spreadsheet (again, I will make another post soon including the spreadsheet I used – it has useful calculations to see how much you’re spending each week, and how what you’re spending affects the other weeks you have to plan for.) to keep track of what you’re spending, and how well you’re keeping to your limit.

 

Step Five – Toiletries and Household Essentials

You’ll need toilet roll, toothpaste, deodorant etc., so don’t forget to factor in these things! I can’t say from experience, but I can only imagine how annoyed I’d be with myself if I’d spent a great deal on creating an impressive stash of beverages or games let’s say, but have to go for a month smelling like an old sock because I have no money for deodorant. That’s not a good look. I’d guess about £30 would be a high estimate of these costs per month, including things like laundry if you need to pay for it separately.

 

Step Six – Anything left is what you have to spend

You might find by this point your balance is teetering on the verge of going negative, is negative, or if you’re one of the lucky students, you have plentiful amounts of cash to spend how you wish. I’d say the first option is the situation most students will be in. If this is you, there are ways you can help yourself! Here are a few:

  • Cook from scratch
    • This will save you money and is ultimately a lot better for you. I find cooking a good stress reliever too 🙂
  • Don’t eat out insane amounts
    • Treating yourself once in a while with some friends is nice – but make it stay a treat, so every so often
  • Supermarket value products will be your saviour if you want to save money!
  • Buy food in bulk, or share bulk foods with friends and split the cost
    • A 3kg bag of Tesco pasta is £3, whereas a 500g bag can be like £1.50!!
    • 3 for £10 meat – your freezer will be your best friend. Bag up meat separately and in portions, and freeze for a later date
    • Markets are always cheap; fruit, veg, meat is all good
    • BIGGEST STUDENT TIP and everyone does it… put your loaf in the freezer when you buy it! It keeps for ages and you only have to defrost a slice as and when you need it
  • Alcohol
    • I’m not going to tiptoe round the fact that students and alcohol are usually practically a pair; I don’t drink that much, but on the occasion that I do go out, I’ve found that buying x cans of drink and sharing them with a friend cuts costs, and is a good way of moderating yourself! Alternatively, buy a bottle of a spirit or whatever and make it a flat bottle, so everyone chips in
  • You don’t need that cute top, or that must-have game
    • …Yet, anyway. There is such thing as Christmas and your birthday!

 

Set yourself a budget each week for everything other than the essentials; if you spend less one week, you can up that amount for another week – or vice versa. All you need to do to budget successfully is be conscious of what you’re spending, and how what you’re spending will affect you later in the term or later in the year.

 

Phew, if you’ve lasted this far, well done! I suppose that’s all I have to say on the matter right now, and I hope I’ve given you a little bit of an insight in how to keep your money in your pocket and not in your overdraft!

 

~ Until next time 🙂

Fresher’s Week!

Hi hi!

 

So, fresher’s week has come to a close and lectures have begun… students all around are recovering from the lack of sleep and the unavoidable fresher’s flu!

 

This year, as I am now a second year student, I had the opportunity to be an Aston Auntie! We are a big team of 200 second, placement or final year students who help the freshers move in to their flats and settle in, check if everyone’s okay and help everyone make friends! We’re also there to ensure that everyone has a fresher’s week they won’t want to forget!

 

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The hoard of blue-shirted aunties (including me!) around fresher’s week are the Welfare Aunties (and we’re the best!). We make sure you’re all okay and get home safely! We also do door knocks on all the accommodation flats to see if everyone’s settling in well and answering questions or having a chat. Other aunties roaming around are General (green: help with everything!), Promo (purple: seshing, making friends, getting you to come to the events!) and Student Activities (red: clubs and societies).

 

So, to recap on this year’s AWESOME fresher’s week… I did aim to post during the week, but there was literally no time to even make dinner… so pizza was a recurrence!

 

     Moving-In Weekend: Moving in, with the Saturday Welcome Party and Sunday Beach Party

Aunties armed with big trolleys and huge muscles (well, some of us…) arrived with a friendly face to help fresher’s unload their cars, get their accommodation keys/cards and unpack their stuff into their very own uni room. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help out, but from what I heard, the days were manic! The parties were also renowned too, giving the fresher’s their first taste of university life and freedom!

     Monday: Carnival Bar Crawl

B4 Bar, Walkabout, O Bar, Players and Risa! Some of the big names on Broad Street all in one night. MASSIVE turnout of 1750 (I think) students, who all had an amazing time! Risa was packed by the end of the night, with the queue curling all the way round the corner of the street at one point because of the sheer number of people!

     Tuesday: UV Mardi Gras Party

UV Paint, glow sticks and a black light made this party the highlight for me – even though I was on sober duty (helping people back home safely). Everyone had a great time – and went full out with their paint!

     Wednesday: Sports Fest!

Sports clubs went mad, donning their sports gear and partying with club members til the early hours.

     Thursday: Masquerade Ball and Naughty Boy @ The Institute

Everyone got dressed up for this dress-to-impress event held at the Institute in Digbeth. As a music venue, it gives a bit of a different experience to the previous clubs and bars on Monday’s bar crawl which I thought was a great chance to see different venues available in Birmingham.

     Friday: Fancy Dress Fiesta

Ministry of Sound DJs came to our union hall to make this one event not to miss!

     Saturday: POUNDED!

Pounded is a union event which started last year, and has quickly become incredibly popular with everyone. With £1 and £2 drinks, you can’t go wrong!

     Sunday: Fresher’s Fair!

Fresher’s fair is THE place to load yourself up on free pens, bottle openers, t-shirts, pizza slices, and sign up to some awesome clubs and societies. All the clubs and societies will have a stall so you can go and talk to committee members and join or find some information about them – and for some you can get some free sweets! There are loads of new things on offer for you to get involved in, and even things you may have already done before. A sample of the weird and wonderful clubs/societies Aston has to offer are:

  • Tea Society
  • Aston Radio Station (AUX)
  • Aston Snow
  • RAG (Raise and Give)
  • Extreme BBQ
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Gaelic Football
  • Kayaking
  • Pool and Snooker
  • Aston Go!

These are just a few! The first four I am getting involved with this year, and Aston Snow is something I’m really looking forward to! With this, I’ll get the chance to do skiing or snowboarding which I’ve never done before, so I’m hoping it’ll be amazing! Here is a partial list – I think it still needs to be updated as a few I know of are missing… but nonetheless, this will give you an insight to what is on offer!

 

 

During the day there were other events going on in the MLK (Martin Luther King Multi-Faith Chaplaincy Centre) such as mask-making, Indian head massage, crafts, and other things too. The alternative fresher’s events (non-alcohol events) were held here too. There was an acoustic evening, a movie night, and other great activities too – so there really is something for everyone to get involved in.

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If you haven’t signed up to any clubs or societies yet, or missed fresher’s fair, drop Owain (VPSA – Vice President of Student Activities) an email and you’ll get sorted! I really recommend joining as many societies as you think you can handle as you get to meet so many new friends and get to do some amazing things, so you’ll really miss out if not!

 

That’s all for now, enjoy your first week of lectures 🙂