I would like to begin this article by stating that I am not a therapist, nor am I a life-coach, or a psychologist. I am simply a student who has struggled with my mental health and wellbeing for almost my entire time at Imperial. That said, there are two reasons why I have written this article. My first reason is personal; I wanted to reflect on how far I have come as a result of my own efforts. My second reason is that I simply wanted to share some tips that may help anyone who is in a place I was in not so long ago. I would describe that ‘place’ as a form of purgatory – an almost stagnant position in my life. In that position, I knew that I had to make some changes if I wanted to reach ‘the good place’, because the easier option would have me either stuck in the middle or regressing back to ‘the bad place’. Although by that point in time I had been on antidepressants for almost a year, received mental health support through my GP, and received regular wellbeing support from my department’s Wellbeing Advisor. I felt I had gotten as far as the antidepressants and the external support could get me. The Final Boss, if you will, was me.
Visualising what I wanted to do using Pinterest
I specifically chose to start using Pinterest, as I knew that it would be very difficult to convert the time I spent scrolling through Instagram or Twitter to zero. If I have to scroll through content, I would rather it was content that I carefully curated with a strong intention of inspiring myself. Pinterest allowed me to build collections of images that helped me to identify the areas of my life I wished to focus on. As intense as that may sound, it was more akin to me creating and developing mood-boards that were essentially multiple Instagram Explore pages in the form of themed ‘Pin-boards’. At the start of my journey I had no real direction, and essentially did not know what this ‘good place’ would look like, nor what I would be doing there. So, by creating these image banks, I gradually was able to build a better image of my future self in my mind, which inspired me to try new things. For example, some of my first Pins were study inspiration images. Since then, I have pushed myself to study in spaces outside my small bedroom – a small change which has yielded amazing results for me when it comes to my studying productivity.
Setting aside time to enjoy my ‘off’ moments
In a discussion with my Wellbeing Advisor, I was encouraged to use a Pomodoro timer to split up my study time into more manageable and observable chunks. So, I started using this timing technique, and I noticed that each time I was supposed to have a short break after 25 minutes of working, I felt a great internal resistance against the break. In fact, I often found myself a bit stuck as to what to do with my time ‘off’. I slowly began to realise that I spent so much of my “free” time either thinking about work I needed to do, or just not fully focusing on the present, that it wasn’t really free at all. So, gradually, I forced myself to do something completely remote from my studies when I needed a break. This was a very difficult thing for me to do consistently. I already struggled to savour my relaxation time when I was around my friends, so I rarely set aside adequate time to relax in my own company. Even when I was procrastinating, I did not particularly find myself enjoying that time I spent – it was often me lying in bed chasing crumbs of dopamine through Twitter threads. Therefore, I decided to start with simple things, like staying off my phone as I ride on public transport - all I do now is listen to music and people-watch as I travel to campus. Then I started do things I loved yet always told myself I did not have the time for. For example, reading a book during the term time. I love reading, and so when I sat down and set aside one hour to just read, with no distractions, I felt a part of myself light up that had been dormant for so long. Reading is truly one of my favourite activities so I am a bit biased in saying this, but I cannot emphasise enough how rewarding it is to switch off from Imperial life by simply reading a good book. In a world full of distractions, sitting in silence and focusing on the words on a page helps to take my mind off things in a way that, say, watching a Netflix show simply cannot.
Writing and drawing in my journal
After my Wellbeing Advisor suggested that writing my thoughts out would help me detangle from them in moments where I felt my thoughts overwhelm me, I decided to try journalling once again. This time round though, I decided to not follow any specific idea or structure of what a journal should look like. I also told myself it would be okay if I did not write in it every day, to make the activity of writing seem less of a burden. Once I became comfortable with writing, I ventured into more artistic pursuits in my journal. This was the step that really made me embrace my journal, as the internal chaos of it all solidified its representation of my core self. I had previously treated my journals and diaries as if they were precious goods that may one day be read by someone. Now I do not care. My journal is just for me. It is uncensored and this is so important as it is the one outlet I have for the thoughts that are always racing in my mind. Additionally, the art I do in my journal has helped me explore and define the art I currently want to make. I now find myself rooted in the creativity that I feared I lost on the day I joined Imperial.