Looking after your mental health over the summer

After an intense year of round-the-clock revision, note-taking, essay-writing and everything else in between, the summer holidays is the perfect time to unwind and step out of the academic sphere for a while. Yet, for many people, the summer vacation can be one of the loneliest periods of the year and this can have serious repercussions on our mental wellbeing. Self-care is so often overlooked, but if we really take the time to pause and reflect, we can develop a sound framework that we can keep returning to whenever we feel like we need a break.

Self-care is so important to maintaining healthy lifestyle. It can take the form of something as simple as a cup of tea, or a five-minute walk to the local newsagents for a newspaper and yet, it’s so often ignored. Why? Whenever we may suffer from a physical illness, such as a common cold, we’re responsive to our needs; we go out of our way to ensure we have all the necessary comforts available to us to make us feel physically well again. But when it comes to taking the time to check-in on our mental health, a lot of us (me included) simply just don’t bother. I know that I often take for granted the state of my mental wellbeing, believing that I can just exert more and more stress on myself and it not be detrimental to me in the long term, which is a very foolish thing to do. I’m still learning.

Recently I went to a conference in Leeds that was attended by more 4,000 delegates. The venue was enormous and buzzing with the chatter of the immense crowd. I knew that as soon as I stepped into the venue and could hear the deafening boom of the music filling the entire space that it would be too much for me. The environment was too overstimulating and I couldn’t relax. I decided to give it a miss and sit in a quiet coffee shop to get myself together. By making the choice to leave and seek out a quiet space, I immediately felt much safer and able to regain my sense of self. I did feel a little guilty and yes, I probably would have learnt some interesting stuff and made some exciting new connections at the conference, but that’s certainly not a price worth paying for the stability of my mental wellbeing! Sometimes you need to prioritise yourself first, and that’s absolutely fine. Self-care is not selfish.

I asked my friends to share some tips on how they like to practice self-care and I gleaned some really ace advice that I’d love to share with you here:

Embrace the hills of Sheffield!

Recently I came across a fabulous new word that I just can’t seem to stop using: ‘salubrious’, an adjective that means something is health-giving. Although we haven’t had much sun (literally two days’ worth), it’s been warm enough to go out without a coat, which is always a bonus. If you’re still around Sheffield, the summer is the perfect opportunity to explore its many parks and running/cycling trails. When I feel like things are boiling over the edge a bit, I always find myself needing to take a walk outside. Not only does it make me feel physically stronger, but the solitude allows me to think about things clearly without the interference of other stimuli affecting my ability to concentrate. You could say the green space is (wait for it…) salubrious. Ugh. Stop.

Taking breaks:

If you’re working over the summer, may that be in the form of a part-time job, internship or something like a voluntary placement, make sure you take regular breaks. After spending a long day at work, there’s nothing I love more than binge watching a few episodes of My Mad Fat Diary with a cup of tea at hand. I love Sharon Rooney. (On a side note, has anyone been watching Brief Encounters on ITV? OMG.)

Eat well, and regularly:

One of my own methods of practicing self-care over the summer has been experimenting with lots of new food, in particular, desserts. Yep. I usually don’t eat cake or anything dessert-like, but over the summer I’ve been encouraging myself to treat myself once in a while and it feels great. Sheffield has so many amazing independent coffee shops, cafes and restaurants so why not give them a try.

Self-care at its peak!

Self-care at its peak!

Fruit and vegetable stores bloom in summer, too, so now is a brilliant time to try new fresh food and keep yourself feeling healthy and happy.

Do some exercise:

After developing shin splints in my legs, I haven’t been able to run for about a month and so I decided to take up yoga as it’s less strenuous on my body but still keeps me moving. It’s been helpful in so many ways. As I’m trying to save money, I thought I’d scour YouTube for some yoga tutorials and I found a brilliant channel called Yoga With Adriene, run by a lovely woman whose videos are so easy to follow. Yoga is great as it encourages you to hone in on your breathing and focus on strengthening your body slowly.

However you choose to practice self-care, take care of yourself. Have a lovely summer x

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