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Student Wellbeing – Keeping Well As A Postgraduate

Student WellbeingAs a postgraduate student, there will be times when you will need a bit of support, be it academically or emotionally, so it’s good to know that there are plenty of people looking out for your wellbeing – and not just on an academic level.

So, if you are experiencing a crisis in your life as a postgraduate student, maybe the illness of a family member or a relationship break up, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Postgraduate students are experiencing more mental health problems than in previous generations, and this trend seems to be on the rise at many universities. However, in half of the cases students are afraid to search for help because they fear discrimination in their educational surroundings and professional employment. This hesitation jeopardizes their academic achievement and reduces the quality of the university experience.

It’s important to realise that there is no stigma attached to asking for help in times of need. You should always prioritise your personal wellbeing and mental health over worrying about what people think.


Emotional wellbeing of postgraduate students

If you are a postgraduate student studying at a UK university experiencing any kind of emotional problems but don't know what to do, or if you are planning to come to the UK to pursue a postgraduate course, here’s an overview of the student wellbeing support system that is in place at universities to help you look after your mental health.

  1. Postgraduate tutors – if you are experiencing any problems, your postgraduate tutor is usually the first person to ask for advice. They may be able to help you to think clearly about the possible solutions to your problems or will be able to direct you to someone more qualified, who will be able to help you.
  2. Student welfare officers – most universities have student welfare officers who can help you with personal problems or guide you on where to seek further help within the university.
  3. Research supervisor – although it may seem unusual to talk to your supervisor about personal problems, most supervisors will want to help and make your studies a more pleasant experience. If you are in a good and friendly relationship with your supervisor, he/she may be the person to talk to.
  4. University counselling service – most universities have counselling services to help postgraduate students with any problems associated with psychological and emotional wellbeing. Counsellors will be qualified to help you with more severe mental health problems than postgraduate tutors or student welfare officers, so if you are feeling close to the edge, the best option may be to contact your university’s counselling service. You can self-refer and it's completely confidential (except in cases where you or someone else is at risk, but they will explain that before you start). You don't need anything 'official' to go here – and most services will offer courses, particularly targeting exam stress.
  5. Charity organisations dedicated to students’ mental health – in the UK, there are various charity organisations that provide university students with a support base in case of any problems with psychological wellbeing. One such charity is the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN). Their website offers valuable information on what to do when experiencing mental health difficulties.
  6. Self-help – not everyone will want to share their personal wellbeing problems with someone else. Fortunately, there are many resources that you can use on your own to help alleviate your problems. Many students who have experienced psychological problems write their own blogs detailing their journey, and maybe you can use some of their experience to enhance your own wellbeing. Websites of many university counselling services have information on how to overcome specific mental health problems, so check what is available at your own institution.
  7. What else? – the Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that peer contacts, religious affiliation or establishing a social network seem to minimise the risk for psychological wellbeing associated problems. Therefore, when you come to a UK university to study a postgraduate course, make sure you join some university societies, establish a group of friends and spend enough time on leisure activities. If you are an international student, the easiest way for you to find friends may be to join the society of students from your country. Also, if you feel lonely during the holidays you can spend a few days with a British family, is a great initiative started by HOST UK.

Make sure you get enough sleep

Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to student wellbeing. Sleep (or lack of it) can affect your concentration, mood, effectiveness, energy levels and productivity. Most postgraduates (along with the rest of the working population) get far less than the recommended daily amount of sleep.

The term "power nap" may have originated in the business world, but it's a concept that's applicable to life as a postgrad, too. As you struggle through that masters degree or PhD, you may well find that napping is the key to staying on top of your workload without feeling like a zombie.

When you don’t get enough sleep, things can start to overwhelm you, to combat this, short naps are a great way of boosting sleep time during the day. A good nap can revitalise and re-energise your body and mind, allowing you to perform at peak mental performance for the rest of the day. While a nap won't replace the full night's sleep you really need, it can stop too much interest from accruing on your sleep debt. So how do you get the perfect postgraduate nap?

The perfect postgraduate nap

Time is of the essence – the amount of time we nap for is a vital factor in determining the effectiveness and benefit of the nap. By limiting your nap to 20 minutes, you will reap the benefits of entering the first two stages of the sleep pattern, giving you more alertness, motivation, concentration, and improved mood once you wake up. A nap of up to 45 minutes can leave you feeling more creative, but any longer than this and you'll enter slow wave sleep. Waking up during slow wave sleep can result in long lasting grogginess and instant disorientation. If you fancy a longer nap, make it at least 90 minutes so that you can reach a full sleep pattern.

Set an alarm – now that you are aware of the importance of timing, ensure that you set an alarm before you doze off so that you can get the optimum amount of sleep and wake up feeling fresh and revitalised.

Nap in a quiet, dark place – this one may sound a little obvious, but find a dark, quiet place for your postgraduate nap as this will reduce the amount of interference encountered. Earplugs and blindfolds can be effective in creating a calming nap environment, so utilise these when in a public space such as your student common room.

Lie down – whilst some people find it incredibly easy to fall asleep wherever they happen to be, the best position for the body to be in is a flat one. Research has shown that we fall asleep up to 50% faster in a horizontal position.

Control your caffeine – a recent study found that by consuming caffeine just before a 20-minute nap, people were waking up just as the caffeine kicked in (which usually takes 20–30 mins), and this was giving an extra boost. The tests showed that this combination produced better results than a nap or consumption of caffeine alone.

Cut out the guilt – science has proven, beyond doubt, that napping can be extremely beneficial for productivity, mood, energy and mental capacity, yet many people avoid napping as they feel that they are too busy to nap. The fact is that it could end up being the most beneficial thing for you, so don’t feel guilty and enjoy the nap for what it is.


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