Categories
Well-Being

Guide to living alone

‘6 tips for Home Alone 5 – pandemic boogaloo’

Living alone can be the best and the worst thing. You’ve got time and freedom like never before, but living alone in a pandemic? That’s a whole new ballgame.

I’ve lived alone before but living alone during the pandemic was a real challenge. It was during this time I picked up some tips and tricks, or rather, realisations that have helped me enjoy my time alone.

Talking to yourself – it’s normal! – Many people associate talking to yourself with mental illness or the infamous ‘hearing voices’. However, in many cases talking to oneself is actually a healthy habit to get into.

One benefit of talking with yourself is that it can slow down your thinking, engaging linguistic brain areas and forcing yourself to process your thoughts differently. Hearing them aloud offers new possibilities in interpreting them and can prove useful for problem solving.

Not to mention, it can be nice just to have a little running monologue as things happen. Learning to make a joke out of something and learning to laugh with yourself are two skills that can really help during times of solitude. Common Cognitive Psychological approaches view our cognitions (our thoughts) as integral to the development of mental health conditions. With negative cognitions and interpretations forcing the individual onto a dark path.

So, try chatting with yourself, learn to enjoy the conversation.

Nobody wants to hear it but – eat well. – I know if you’re anything like me you have been bombarded with healthy eating slogans and marketing from primary school all through to adulthood. It’s tiring and can make us feel guilty for eating anything other than raw salads and purified water!

Just try to provide your body with the right nutrients. Try and get some leafy greens, low fat sources of protein, Vitamin C rich foods such as peppers and vitamin D rich foods such as mushrooms into your diet. Add a touch of spice and once bland vegetables become all the more exciting. If mental health is a concern try looking up the Mediterranean Diet – studies suggest this diet can reduce symptoms of low mood, and depression. It’s well worth a try!

Most of us struggle with what to make, bored of the 5 meals you know how to cook, it’s dinner time again. If this sounds familiar, try looking up vegan or vegetarian recipes. By necessity, these recipes have to be inventive to add flavours and textures you lose when removing the meat, and as such they offer a new world of possibilities for you to try. And there’s no reason you can’t add meat to it if that’s what you fancy!

Even better, dark chocolate and red wine have been shown to reduce chances of blood clots, something we’re more and more at risk of the longer we sit at home unmoving. So, crack open a bottle and enjoy, knowing you’re treating your body to what it deserves.

The kitchen is the heart of the home and food is a universal comfort blanket, so don’t forget to take a moment to purposefully enjoy what you’re eating.

Stay connected! – Abuse of Zoom is peak lockdown one behaviour, with people joining group calls to speak to people they wouldn’t normally have seen either way, even without a lockdown.

That aside, it’s still important to keep in contact with others if you’re living alone. Social contact and support offer numerous mental and physical benefits. Even if there’s nothing left to say, a chat here and there can go a long way in the isolation.

Another option open to you is hotlines. Now you may have your reservations about contacting a hotline, but ones such as the ‘SHOUT’ text line I volunteer for is open to everyone. 

Avoid doom scrolling. – It’s easily done, you go onto your platform of choice – Twitter, Facebook, TikTok etc. – you read one post, then another and another! The next thing you know it’s 3am and you’re sat in the dark in your room shaking with terror at the sh*t show that is the world currently.

Sitting for hours looking at all the bad things in the world does nothing for the world, does nothing for you and doesn’t help you get through this tough time we’re all facing.

Find your muse. – Hobbies, particularly creative ones, give us the chance to stretch our creative minds and exercise our skills. Finding what’s right for you is down to you. Regardless of what you choose, hobbies provide psychological benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.

Additionally, the act of carrying out a hobby or interest alone like this teaches us how to be alone in a way unlike anything else. There’s no deadline, there’s no specific rules or demands that must be met. Many people, myself included, find cooking to be very therapeutic. Try not to see it as a chore but as an opportunity, a challenge, or a moment just for yourself to enjoy. Switch off your laptop and turn on some music, pour a glass of wine and get cooking. See it as a moment for creativity and experimentation, learning to appreciate the process can set you up to enjoying food more and feeling the sense of accomplishment when you create a culinary masterpiece.

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy your moment alone with your paintbrush, pencils, spatula, or saxophone!

Mindfulness. – You’ve probably heard a lot about mindfulness lately. Along with certain meditation and sleep apps there has been a real uptake in interest in such approaches to finding your zen space. There’s plenty to choose from and I’m not going to recommend any specific ones here, that is up to you! However, I do recommend looking into incorporating mindfulness principles into your daily life. Even better add meditation into your daily routine.

It’s worth a try and can really give you some peace of mind if you struggle with anxiety or low mood/depression.

So there you go, my tips and tricks for living alone. None alone are ground-breaking and none of them will suddenly alter your life, but each represent an opportunity to focus your time and energy on the positives in what can be a very drab and dull existence.

Good luck out there,

Joel x

Categories
UK Politics

Why the UK needs to change its emotional support animal legislation

‘Emotional support animals – the Uk’s outdated discriminatory legislation’

The UK is plagued with inequalities, one important area overlooked by our current legislation is that of Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Before we get into this, let’s answer the question, what’s the different between a support animal and a service animal?

Support animals Vs. service animals

In the UK there is a legislative disparity between ‘support’ and ‘service’ animals, but why?

The most well-known service animal is likely, the ‘guide dog’. These animals provide invaluable support for people with visual impairments in the form of a 24/7, non-judgemental, four-legged companion that allows them to reclaim their independence.

Because of the training guide dogs undergo for their role they are viewed under the category of ‘service animals’, and are permitted to enter shops, restaurants, rented accommodation etc. Yet animals, including guide dogs, also offer tangible psychological benefits.

The Psychological benefits guide dogs can elicit can be explained in terms of the confidence and freedom that they provide to their owners. Yet, there is also an inherent ability to for animals to soothe and comfort individuals in distress, making them the ideal companions for those struggling with mental or emotional difficulties.

These animals come under many names but are generally known as Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Countless research investigations have shown the positive effect of ESAs in depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Yet, if you were to request permission to take an emotional support animal into your workplace or even your own rented accommodation you would almost certainly be refused entry.

Requesting an ESA at my university accommodation started off well with my landlord claiming they were ‘invested in the well-being of all tenants’ and recognised the tangible support ESAs offer. Yet within the same email my request was denied because legally they had no obligation to permit an ESA. Naturally, I questioned this decision. If they were so concerned with our well-being, why wait until they are legally obligated to allow an ESA when they could decide to allow them…

To this I was merely told ‘our position has not changed’.

This made me wonder, why is there such a distinction between animals that ultimately provide an improvement in people’s well-being? The answer, the UKs dodgy legislation…

Legislation

In the USA ESAs are recognised on similar, if not the same, level as service animals. Yet in the UK companies, landlords, and workplaces are more than free to turn disabled people with ESAs away if they wish to. The reason for this is…confusing.

The distinction between service animal and support animal is generally made on the basis of training. A guide dog is trained to provide support for people with visual impairments whereas emotional support animals – largely – undergo very little training.

The issue with this distinction is that it discriminates on the basis of needs. A guide dog acts as the eyes of an individual, which requires a great deal of training. The need of a person with emotional or mental health related difficulties arguably come much more naturally to these animals. A dog elicits a positive feeling in most people just by their very nature, they are of course known as ‘man/woman’s best friend’.

Yet because they are not trained for their role they are seen more as pets than as service animals in the UK. I take issue with this as the contribution of an ESA is not measurable in terms of training received and not comparable to those offered by a guide dog. These are distinctly different animal roles for distinctly different problems. The UKs inaction on this matter highlights its laissez-faire attitude to supporting those with mental illness and hidden disabilities.

Hidden disabilities

This oversight by UK legislation is a shining example of how hidden disabilities are not taken anywhere near as seriously as they should be. Change is long overdue yet when the issue is brought up it becomes a discussion of ‘whose disability is worse’.

Both experiences of people with physical and mental disabilities are deserving of respect and worthy of support. To compare them serves no purpose other than to juxtaposition one as lesser than the other. To denounce treatment options for one group because its method does not require training or tangible or physical benefits just as guide dogs do is absurd.

In the UK, if a person has a mental health condition for over a year it is classified as a disability. For anxiety you can be provided a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Yet, when it comes to support animals our legislation has absolutely no concern with the well-being missed out on by our out-of-date laws. Yet, it appears we are stuck in endless debate with the ill-informed, unwashed masses.

The ‘devil’s advocate’ people – what disability looks like

Many things we take for granted were once outlawed by outdated legislation. We look back and say ‘well that’s just how it was’. Yet when new changes are proposed they are almost always met with derision and criticism, regurgitating the line that if something is written into law then it must be morally and ethically correct.

With any proposed amendment of change to legislation there are always people happily playing devil’s advocate. The apparent need compare two different things on an axis that makes one appear absurd is tactic often used by traditionalists, ‘if we allow this, what will be next?’.

These people argue that ESAs are more like pets than service animals, and that the legal recognition for service animals should remain only for animals that support ‘truly’ disabled people. These are the same people that harass blue badge users for not ‘looking disabled enough’. These people feign concern for ‘truly’ disabled people to excuse their ill-informed policing of disabled people’s rights.

Despite only 8% of disabled people in the UK requiring a wheelchair, in the eyes of the devil’s advocate people, if you’re not in a wheelchair you’re not disabled. Through their outdated view of what disability looks like they see support options for non-wheelchair using disabled people not as levelling the playing field but as an unfair advantage. Such people have always been around, this does not mean we need to listen.

Closing thoughts

It’s time to listen to people who would benefit from this change in policy and work out a way for ESAs to be given the same rights as service animals and help defeat this mental health epidemic we face in the UK.

Have your say here: Make ESAs Legal UK.

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support options part two

We’ve discussed the treatment options available to us through your GP or therapy, but what else is there to choose from?

There are some options remaining that you can look into from the comfort of your own home, though, I will state for the record. It is important to discuss any treatments you want to try with your GP. There are less regulations around these treatments so it’s important to look into their legitimacy, reviews and any potential risks.

Without further ado lets get into it

Herbal home remedies

Anxiety and depression can trigger dissociation, so it may be worth looking into some herbal or home remedies if pharmaceuticals aren’t your thing.

St Johns Wart, lavender roll-ons, aroma therapy are all options to help you destress and reduce the chances of being overwhelmed. Be sure to check in with a doctor if you are on any other medications and you should first discuss it with them before you start self medicating.

Another topical treatment is CBD. I won’t get into the details but CBD is being viewed as a very helpful drug with little to no risk. CBD is made from marijuana extract but without the chemical THC. This chemical THC is what makes you feel high, its psychedelic properties are what you often associated with weed. CBD however, will not get you high and is totally legal. What’s more, research from King’s College LDN has even shown it have preventative properties when it comes to psychosis and has been shown to aid depression, anxiety and insomnia. All of which can help reduce dissociation.

When shopping around be sure to check reviews and ensure you know what dosage you’re getting. Start small and build up. Also, ensure you check for any side effects with any medications you’re on. I’m currently of an antidepressant that interacts with CBD so that it becomes metabolized by the body in excess, resulting in an increase in my medication dosage. Which could risk overdose. So be sure to look into this if you’re on any meds!

Third wave therapies

Meditations, hypnosis and mindfulness can all help with anxiety symptoms and reduce your levels of stress. In particular, mindfulness has been touted as a particularly effective treatment for dissociation.

I’ve been told, dissociation is characterised by a disconnection with everything around you, while mindfulness is characterized by a deliberate awareness of everything around you. This cognitive opposition may explain why mindfulness is seen as an effective treatment for dissociation.

However, it is suggested to be most effective when added to your daily routine. The emphasis is on learning mindfulness and integrating this mindset into your everyday life. It is not a magic solution and cannot stop dissociation when it occurs but generally can limit the severity and length of dissociative episodes if adopted into your routine.

Hypnosis sessions can be useful if you suffer with insomnia. From personal experience I find myself more anxious and more likely to dissociate if I’m tired. So hypnosis for sleep can help reduce this!

Grounding ideas – for when it’s too late

Once you’re feeling dissociated, many of these techniques may not be much use to you. That is, other than mindfulness. Techniques such as mindfulness ground you in the present, in the environment and pull you out of the dissociative blur.

The best way to do this is to incorporate your senses. What can you see? Touch? Smell? Can you name 5 things you see?

Some particularly useful methods may include heat. A cold shower, splashing cold water over your face, or holding ice in your palms have been praised for their effectiveness.

Additionally, familiar smells may help. This may be sad to admit but I had a particular room spray in a period of my life I look back on fondly. The smell itself relaxes me. The same may be true for you!

Anything that gets you invested in the present can help you in your fight against dissociation.

Resources

There are an abundance of online resources for you to choose from. So please, take a look. These resources have helped me in my understanding and appreciation for my dissociative experiences.

Carolyn Spring’s blog: https://www.carolynspring.com/blog/

Grounding tools: https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/trauma-dissociation-and-grounding/

Youtube: Multiplicity&Me, DissociaDID

Mind resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/self-care/

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support resources: part 1

As we’ve seen, dissociation is highly complex and variable phenomenon. With it’s roots in our past experiences, influencing our present this hard to define disruption to our perception can be tricky to live with. But what treatment options are available to us?

Let’s take a look at the main treatments available, note treatments will vary depending on your location. This summary is based on those available in the UK.

Pharmaceutical treatments

Unfortunately there are no medications that can fix or reduce dissociation directly. Dissociation exists in a relative blind spot for pharmaceutical companies. However, it is not all bad news, there are medications out there that can indirectly help with dissociation.

If you came to a doctor or mental health professional with depressive or anxious symptomology you’re more than likely going to be put onto anti-depressants. The most commonly prescribed and most-side-effect-free being SSRIs. These Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors provide individuals with a much needed relief from their most intense symptoms.

SSRIs won’t influence your mood instantly, as they take a number of weeks to take effect, but for many they provide a much needed lifeline. For those that experience dissociation as a result of environmental or personal stress such as PTSD, BD, BPD, or anxiety disorders such as OCD, these medications can significantly reduce negative symptoms. As we’ve discussed, dissociation can occur when an individual becomes overwhelmed so these SSRIs can help prevent this from occurring and by extension reduce instances of dissociation or by the very least reduce the severity of episodes.

Therapies

NHS options

There are multiple therapies available to individuals with mental health concerns. Though, the focus is generally on dealing with anxiety and depression. Dissociation is something less familiar to most in the industry so it’s important to find someone that knows what they’re talking about.

In order to find a therapist that knows their stuff it’s worth consulting with your GP or health care provider to see if you can work out the best option available to you. A good rule of thumb to remember is that – generally – trauma centres will have more knowledge and expertise on dissociation than the average therapist. So it may be worth looking there for options and even worth contacting them to discuss it with them before you request a referral.

Through the NHS you can fairly easily be assigned a therapist, but you may have to wait a while due to unfortunately long waiting lists. However, it’s important to find the right therapist, try not to settle if you feel your therapist isn’t the best fit for the job. You’re allowed to not get on with a therapist, you can request a change.

Private options

If you can afford it, and not all of us can, it may be worth seeking a private counsellor or therapist that specializes in dissociative disorders. While it can be pricey, you get the benefit of freedom of choice. You can identify therapists near you using the counselling directory, which allows you to include specific areas of expertise. What’s more, many therapists are happy to discuss their skills and knowledge before you start treatment so it’s worth emailing a brief summary of your situation, symptoms and goals, and asking them if they think they could help.

The downsides of this of course, are the costs. Dissociative disorders can be hard to shake, so fees can stack up over time. What’s more you may have to relay some information to your GP or health care provider from your therapist if you require medication or specific referrals. They can communicate but when it is NHS-NHS inhouse it can be easier for the client as they are not stuck in the the go-between role.

Specialist dissociation clinics

If you have severe dissociative symptoms you do have the option of going to see a specialist. In the UK there are currently three clinics set up that specialize in dissociation. These are, The Pottergate Centre, The Clinic for Dissociative Studies, and The CTAD Clinic. Each other these specialise in dissociation and offer the best and most informed treatment options.

Of course, the downsides of these are that they’re incredibly hard to get referred to. The Pottergate Centre is open to private treatment but if you’re looking for an assessment this will cost you at a minimum £500 and more likely over £1000. If you’re trying to get a referral through the NHS you will be required to jump through a lot of hoops.

It is likely you will be told that, because these clinics exist outside of your clinical group (your local NHS trust) you will need to be referred by secondary care and display tangible reasons for why the care provided locally is not sufficient.

This will require you getting an assessment from a psychiatrist, the waiting lists for which are…lengthy. For context, I told my GP I wanted to be referred to one of these clinics in August 2020 and so far I have spoken to a psychiatrist for 15 minutes and given another appointment in three months time. During this whole time I have been fighting to get this referral but without any luck.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it won’t be a walk in the park.

For the next instalment of support, take a look at our self-help resources.

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – causes and mechanisms

Disclaimer: this is not meant as a substitute for expert advice, and help from a professional is the safest way to find answers for your concerns.

Trigger warning: reference to trauma and abuse.

Causes of dissociation

It is the widely held belief that dissociation is caused by significant trauma. Now, what is significant can vary from person to person. Contrary to common held belief there is no universal yard stick for what is and is not a traumatic experience.

A lot of research has gone into understanding trauma, but efforts on defining what constitutes a traumatic event has been ultimately abandoned. Commonalities of traumatic events such as hostility and threat are accepted but a more nuanced understanding recognises that what constitutes a trauma is an individual matter.

Many like to view trauma as an external matter, what has happened to you. It is more accurate to view trauma as internal, what you felt as events took place. This understanding far better explains the apparent variation in trauma responses from person to person.

What traumatizes one person may not traumatize another, even if the event or events they experienced were the same or similar. A multitude of personal and situational factors influence an individual’s relationship to a potentially traumatic event.

With such variation it stands to reason why there are so many disorders associated with dissociation and trauma. For many individuals, dissociation is the brains attempt and protecting you. But how does this occur?

Mechanisms of dissociation

It is commonly understood that dissociation occurs more frequently in people that have a pre-existing inclination to imagine. Yes, to imagine or day dream allows us to exist in alternate realities. Linking back to the first article in this series, many of us dissociate when we watch TV or a movie. We become emotionally engaged and moved by what we are viewing even though we know it to be fictional or staged.

This ability for dissociative states to elicit emotion is also seen in reverse. Individuals with the ability to imagine that find themselves in hostile or unsafe environments can subconsciously or consciously escape from this unpleasant environment by way of their imagination.

Escaping an environment by way of dissociation is frequently seen in children from abusive homes. Like we can escape to a dissociative state of joy or sadness when we watch TV we can also escape negative emotions in our real environment and ‘switch’ to a safer imagined or dissociated environment to protect ourselves when we become overwhelmed. This explanation is used to justify why dissociation occur in adults.

A defence mechanism out of control

Dissociation offers us an escape from negative emotions we cannot do anything about. As children have little autonomy or power in our society it is theorized dissociation is frequently used as an escape because they have no tangible control to remove themselves from the environment.

This route of escape can become a learned behaviour. Meaning that adults can experience dissociation when they become overwhelmed. This can explain why people often experience dissociation as part of an anxiety or depressive disorder. The extreme emotions are too much to handle and the brain switches to a dissociative state as a form of protection.

Issues occur as dissociation is in essence avoidance of the consciousness, making it very hard to function while dissociated. Deficits in memory, knowledge, attention and perception are all altered during dissociative states, making it hard to meet any of the demands of every day life. Not to mention, the experience of dissociation can be unnerving.

For many people, their trauma or previous dissociative experiences may be alien to them, pushed to the back of their mind in a dissociative haze. Meaning that each and every time can feel as unfamiliar and bizarre as the first. Unsurprisingly this can provoke anxiety in people, which can further drive them onto a path of dissociation as they question what is wrong and why their thoughts feel so alien to them.

For people experiencing dissociation there are tips and techniques to help manage the experience. These techniques may not 100% remove you from the dissociative state, but they can provide a sense of routine and control for those of us that struggle with the uncontrollable nature of dissociation.

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Well-Being

Dissociation – academic reception?

As we saw in the previous article, dissociation can take many forms. What occurred me is that the subject barely came up during my undergrad in Psychology…

As a recent graduate I was well versed in the ins and outs of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), various paradigms and perspectives in Psychology with a particular focus on depression and anxiety throughout the course.

Yet the neglected concept of dissociation was all but left out of my education. I recognise that not every concept can be addressed in a bachelor’s course but when it is a concept that is integral to so many disorders and present in everyday life, I would think it deserved significantly more attention.

So I want to know, what do you know about dissociation? Have you ever come across it? And if so, how? When? Why? Comment down below!

For more on dissociation, see our next article.

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Well-Being

Dissociation – two sides of the same coin

So, what is dissociation?

Dissociation is a much debated and difficult to articulate concept that alludes being pinned down by one succinct definition. This altered state of being can be experienced by most people as a typical part of their day-to-day lives. Many of us will be familiar with the experience of driving on autopilot and getting to your destination safely. This is a normal and non-disruptive procedural dissociative state. The brain functions guiding you in this state function beyond your conscious attention, you are present yet absent.

Another example of dissociation can also be seen in everyday hypnotic states. When watching a film or a television programme you find yourself emotionally moved by what you are viewing despite no real impact being made to your life or well-being.

Unfortunately, dissociation has a more disruptive, darker side. Commonly experienced as a significant disconnection between conscious attention, awareness and ones understanding of reality. Dissociation is often likened to seeing oneself floating, separate from oneself, or as living life in third person. This may be experienced as ongoing feelings of unreality of one’s self or surroundings (derealisation/depersonalisation) seen as part of PTSD, Bipolar disorders (BP), personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

These often have a basis in anxiety or trauma which often mitigate the levels of dissociation experienced. Contrastingly, dissociation can be caused by deep rooted identity manifestations such that seen in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the DSM-5-unrecognised variations Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD) variants A & B. This is not an exhaustive list of disorders and dissociative experiences, but an overview of dissociation in the context of mental disorders.

Due to this complexity, dissociation is an increasingly hard to categorize phenomena. For more on this, look no further than part 2.

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Well-Being

Going back to normal – tips for social anxiety

For many of us the return to normality is an exciting prospect, but it also conjures up a mix of emotions. For many of us, lockdown has felt like an unending slog – nothing to do nothing to say.

The opportunity to go back to the pub, to wine and dine with our friends is an exciting prospect. But for many of us, while lockdown has been isolating and depressing, it has also offered us the opportunity to indulge the avoidance side of our anxiety.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

For those with social anxiety there is a constant nagging desire to avoid situations that provoke our anxieties. Whether it be showing up to lectures, public speaking or something entirely different we always want to avoid the things that stress us out. Lockdown posed a unique situation in which we suddenly had all our triggers removed.

For a year now we’ve lived without the worries of our day to day life intruding as it used to. Yet now, with the UK opening back up many of us are facing a sudden and potentially uncomfortable reintroduction to life as it was before.

If you share this preoccupation with the anxiety of returning to life as we know it here are a few tips for if your anxieties makes an appearance.

1. Breathe

I always hate to see this ‘tip’, as it always seems like the most obvious thing. Mental health staff and resources love to say ‘take long deep breaths’ when you feel anxious. This may help. But what’s better is to focus on maintaining a full and relaxed cycle of breathing to reduce chances of anxiety taking hold.

2. Grounding techniques

If you feel your anxiety building up, try and engage in grounding techniques. Grounding refers to techniques you can use to distract yourself from your anxieties and prevent the cycle from reaching a full blown panic attack.

The details on grounding techniques can be found here. You can try apps for grounding or even name things you can see in the room. The point of these exercises are to show you that you can choose to divorce yourself from the wave of anxiety and focus on something else. Repeated use of these techniques can help ‘prove’ this to yourself and thus improve its effectiveness.

3. Tell a friend

If you’re going out with friends, talk to them about how you feel. If something in particular is worrying you about your plans, tell them if you can.

When I was anxious I would feel incredibly nauseous and developed a phobia of being sick in public. Naturally whenever I went somewhere it was the only thing on my mind, making the symptoms even worse.

Speaking to a friend made me relax, knowing they knew what was going on and that they understood if I needed to step outside or leave helped relieve my anxieties.

Which leads me onto the fourth tip.

4. Plan your escape route

It may sound dramatic, but often just knowing how to escape a stressful situation can make it more barrable.

When I felt anxious in lectures, I often got caught up in worries about how to leave without people noticing. This obsession of course led me straight to feeling anxious.

However, if you have a way of getting out of the situation that you have rationalised and know is safe, it can act as a comfort. I tried letting my lecturers know I may need to step out on occasions.

This can act as a comfort blanket, resulting in a reduction in overall anxiety.

5. Don’t go into situations expectant

In my experience, I often felt anxious when I went into a situation with high expectations and a high desire to control things.

In my head things ‘had’ to go to plan, i.e., I shouldn’t feel anxious and if I did that was the worst thing ever.

What’s more, I would go into situations telling myself I ‘had’ to be the most confident or sociable I could be, and if I didn’t live up to this I had failed.

The desire for control set me up to fail each time. Wanting to control everything and live up to my own standards made me hyper aware of how I wasn’t living up to these standards. Making me anxious about being anxious.

It’s better to be realistic. Socializing is not life or death. You can leave if you feel anxious, you do not need to live up to any standards – socializing is meant to be fun.

Paradoxical as it may sound, try to go into situations acceptant that things may not go to plan and they may go even better than if you try to make everything go perfectly to your pre-imagined idea of how it ‘should’ go.

Take it easy

Most importantly, try to enjoy this new freedom. Try not to be tough on yourself.

Rather than focusing on what you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do, try to think in terms of what you would like or prefer.

For more tips, look no further!

Categories
Well-Being

Disabled Students Allowance – what you need to know

‘Disabled Students Allowance – mental health review’

What is it?

The Disabled Students Allowance is set up to provide support for students with recognised disabilities. The services, products and support provided as part of a DSA are unlike other government funded financial aid such as those given by Student Finance England (SFE) as these are free to the recipient and do not constitute a loan and are not repayable.

Who is eligible?

Anyone with a recognised disability is eligible. This includes various physical disabilities as well as mental health related disabilities. As the latter is what I received support for, this is what my experience centres around.

Eligibility is based on medical evidence provided by the applicant, usually the form of doctors note or records. The cost of which must be provided by the applicant, for which you are not reimbursed. This can cost from £10-£20 depending on the complexity of your case, but once you’ve received the note it can be used on multiple occasions as they require only a copy.

The only caveat is that you must speak with your doctor prior to applying for a DSA to ensure that your notes reflect the issues you wish to get support for. If not, your note may not evidence the full extent of your disability. Furthermore, it may not provide sufficient information to grant your application. It can be a pain with long waiting times for GPs but it’s an unfortunate necessity.

Mental health conditions?

As stated, my experience of the process is that of a student with mental health conditions, for which a variety of options are available after an initial consultation with a registered assessor.

Initial application process

The application can seem daunting at first but do not let it dissuade you! On the DSA website you can download an application booklet to fill out and apply. It looks full on, but the majority of the sections can be skipped, and the bulk of the booklet will be left blank!

It was during my consultation with my university that led me to apply for a DSA as they were familiar with the application documents so managed to put my mind at ease when it came to filling it out. So, it is well worth checking in with your university’s team!

Evidence

As previously mentioned, along with the application you must submit your evidence. It is important that you check ahead of time that the GP or evidence source is fully aware of your disability and that this is reflected in your evidence. The DSA team need to see a consistency between what you describe and what your evidence outlines. But don’t stress you can speak about this with your GP before you apply for the doctors note and ensure that the correct details are in your doctors records. Additionally, if your evidence doesn’t quite outline things the way you would prefer, you are able to request edits to the note within the first few days of it being submitted to you. Though this may differ at the discretion of differing general practices.

The next stage – needs assessment

After submitting your evidence and your application has presumably been accepted you will be contacted to initiate the next stage of the process. Note, the burden is on you to chase up this correspondence and organise it. You will be sent a confirmation letter and a link to the site in which you can register for the next stage.

This stage is the specific assessment of your needs. You must book yourself in for a session with one of these centres, the cost of which is covered by your DSA and you do not need to fund this yourself at all. Mine took place via Zoom due to covid regulations but usually they take place in person, so it is prudent to choose an assessment centre nearby!

This assessment took roughly an hour and was with a very helpful staff member – though due to various centres the standard and approach may vary between them! The key aim of this session is to assess the ways in which your disability can negatively impact on your studies and how this can be helped.

This means that the support available will vary greatly based on two key factors, your disability and the particular course you’re on. For me, short term memory and reading was a key difficulty, and I was provided with software to help with these factors. It’s advisable to check the assessor is aware of the fundamental aspects of your disability and the key requirements of your course. It is worth coming prepared with important aspects noted down to ensure you do not forget anything important.

What support you could get

From what I can tell the support for mental health conditions is split into 3 categories.

  • The first is software. Different programmes are paid for and provided as part of a DSA. It must be agreed that each programme would help in an area that your disability disadvantages you Vs. a typical student without this disability.
  • The second is hardware. As part of a DSA you may be provided with additional hardware such as a new laptop or microphone/headphones. For me this was due to my current laptop being too slow to operate the software I required. There is a £200 non-refunded fee the applicant must pay towards the laptop. It can be delivered to your door with programmes fully installed.
  • The third and final is tutoring. This comes in two forms, tutoring for programmes and technology provided to ensure the applicant can use the software to the best of its potential. The other is personal academic tutoring. Weekly sessions provided to help applicants stay on track throughout their course. All of which are funded by the DSA.

Accessing equipment with DSA letter

Roughly 10 working days after your assessment your final DSA confirmation letter will be sent out to you and your university. This provides you with a full rundown of what you will be provided with along with the costs for each item. This letter will also have the contact information for suppliers you need to access your equipment. This letter should be sent to these companies as evidence for your DSA after which they will place your order.

Overview

All in all, it’s a great option for those that feel their mental health negatively impacts upon your performance. Here are my final thoughts:

Pros:

  • Tailored to your needs – assessments allow you a good amount of time to discuss your issues and how the DSA could help mediate or resolve them.
  • Once evidence is provided it feels more relaxed and you are no longer having to ‘prove’ the impacts of your disability. It felt like my assessor was really on my side.
  • Non-repayable – Other than a £200 upfront fee for a laptop, you do not have to pay back any of the money used to fund the DSA.
  • Helpful assessors – the assessor I had was helpful and wanted to see me get the best outcome possible.
  • Training – this training also allows you to get the best out of the software or hardware provided. Taking place over Zoom.
  • Pretty straight forward – It does take a little while and can seem like a chore but overall, it’s pretty easy to access and understand what’s happening during the process. If I can do it, anyone can.

Cons:

  • You must do a fair bit of form filling and booking etc. But it isn’t as much as it seems at first.
  • Must do a lot yourself – like the point above, the burden is on you to book your assessment centre, order your equipment by citing the DSA letter etc. All of which can seem like a lot to worry about if you already suffer from anxiety or depression. My only advice is to focus on how it is worth it in the end.
  • Long lead times – the process is relatively quick but with so many components involved it can take some time (checking with your GP, application, providing evidence, booking assessment, waiting for assessment to be filed, waiting for DSA confirmation letter, ordering, and waiting for equipment, starting training etc.) Realistically it will take some weeks to complete the entire process, so it’s best to apply sooner rather than later particularly if you need the support ASAP.
  • Still up to you – obviously, this is no magic fix for your condition(s), the work still needs to be done and deadlines may still cause you stress and anxiety. However, the support should help counteract some of this.
  • Not covering breakages – the DSA receipt/confirmation letter states that the equipment is not covered for breakages or replacements so keep your equipment in good working order. Better yet invest in preventative measures such as a protective case. Additionally, you can insure your device(s) using student friendly tech insurers.
  • Upfront costs – while the majority of the DSA is totally free a £200 upfront fee is required if you need a new laptop. This is steep for most people, but it is fairly cheap compared to the overall DSA costs. You can seek support by applying for grants. Some universities also do offer a refund procedure for this, so it is worth checking with your disability or well-being team.

Overall, it is a helpful service that offers a lot of tangible support as well as providing the feeling that you have got back some control over your life. I know I felt in a kind of, freefall, for a while but now knowing I have put the effort in to take steps to help myself I feel more secure in what I can do.