This year Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 15th – 21st May and has a theme of ‘Anxiety’, a normal emotion in us all that can sometimes get out of control and become a mental health problem that stops us from doing the things we need or want to do.
There are lots of reasons why we get anxious. It can be connected to a job, a relationship, study deadlines, social situations, how we feel about ourselves, side effects of medication, or a change in our life. We can also get this feeling when it comes to things to do with money and not being able to meet our basic needs, like heating our home or buying food. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems people face and dealing with it can be incredibly hard. However, there are some things we can do to manage or ease these feelings and prevent them from becoming overwhelming, such as breathing exercises and mindfulness-based meditation, physical activity, spending some time in nature, speaking to a friend, or keeping a diary to record and reflect on our thoughts.
Engagement with the arts can also have a transformative impact on our wellbeing, decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones, restoring our self-esteem and enabling us to fully immerse ourselves in a creative moment (and perhaps temporarily forget the stresses of daily life). This is hardly news to OCA students, many of whom sensitively explore the myriad ways that creative practice can allow us to communicate feelings that we find difficult to put into words. Whether helping us process and make sense of things, understand ourselves better, or find new ways to look at painful feelings (may be by documenting and conceptualising inner states in a therapeutic manner), creativity can give us a voice, support recovery, address stigma or misperception and give us a chance to connect with other people.
If aspects of your course itself are causing you additional, unhealthy levels of anxiety, it’s important to remember that as part of OCA’s learning community you have access to a support network of tutors and staff who are there to look out for your wellbeing. OCA’s Learner Support team are Mental Health First Aid trained, but if you haven’t done so already, make sure you check out the Mental Health and Wellbeing section of the Student Handbook, where you can find information, resources and links, and see how to access the free OCA Wellbeing App. Your OCA Students Association also has wellbeing advice. Distance learning can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be isolating, so get in touch if you need some help.
‘Awareness weeks’ are meant to change the way we see an issue – not simply flag something up so that we can then ‘move on’. By having honest, open-minded and respectful conversations about anxiety and how it affects us, we can increase compassion for ourselves and each other, and normalise emotions such as vulnerability.
Take care of your mental wellbeing. In addition to the resources provided by OCA (and if your feelings of anxiety are not going away), you might find some of the following helpful:
Mind - A charity providing advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem
SANEline – An out-of-hours mental health helpline
Student Minds – A student mental health charity
Anxiety UK – A UK charity run by and for those with anxiety
TED Talk: How to stop feeling anxious about anxiety – A talk by Tim Box (therapist, author and anxiety expert) explaining why we need to think about anxiety differently