A message from our Head Psychologist: Practical advice for self-care

practical advice for self-care

This post has been written by Sharon De Mascia, Head Psychologist at Enlitened.

There’s no doubt that working in the HE sector comes with challenges these days. You’ve got increased accountability, government questionnaires, national benchmarking and larger classrooms sizes than days of yore, with many modern-day students seeing themselves more as consumers. Yet, all this fades into insignificance in light of the challenges that universities are currently facing.

The Coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have ever experienced before in peace times. It is an unknown quantity that poses a risk to all of us and to our families and loved ones. This means that, as well as coping with the practicalities of keeping a university running and maintaining student expectations, staff members are having to try and function in a changed and uncertain world, whilst worrying about and trying to manage their home lives to.

Of course, this is not easy, with restrictions on movement and shortages of basic household goods (who would have ever thought that toilet paper would generate such interest and envy?!). Combine this with trying to work in the same location as partners, offspring and pets, and it starts to sound like a recipe for disaster…

So, what can we do to retain our sanity for however long this may last?

Keep things in perspective

With all the bad news flying around, it is very easy to feel anxious and overwhelmed and that is why it is important to put Coronavirus in perspective. Yes, it is frightening and yes, it is has thrown all our lives into chaos. However, this is just a blip in our lives and although it is a significant one, it will pass in a relatively short time.

One of the important things now is to acknowledge that fact and that when the worst is over, our lives will go back to normal. Keep reminding yourself of this and it will help you to keep the current crisis in perspective.

Recognise that you are not a superhero

Unless you got dressed with your knickers on the outside today, you are probably not a superhero and that means you should not try to behave like one. You cannot possibly meet all the demands that are being made on you. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Set yourself reasonable goals every morning and remember that, generally speaking, everything takes longer than we expect it too.

Do not forget to allocate extra time to your friends and family during these trying circumstances, as they will probably need more support from you than usual. Make sure that you find a balance between looking after your family/friends, looking after yourself and doing your day job.

Just to be clear, ‘finding a balance’ means feeling that you are sharing time across your work and home demands and not running yourself ragged trying to be a superhero in both departments.


Forget perfection

We all work hard to do the best job that we can but, in these circumstances, be prepared to accept second or even third best. You are only human and there are only a limited number of hours in a day.

Give yourself permission to not seek perfection. Tell yourself that perfection is for later and for now you will concentrate on the best you can do in the time available, which is the closest that you can get to being a superhero at this point in time.

Allocate time for yourself

In trying to please everyone, make sure that you also leave time to look after yourself. As they say in the adverts: “you are worth it!”. Looking after yourself means taking the time to regularly check in with yourself and how your stress levels are doing.

Use simple, accessible techniques to keep your pressures under control and calm your mind e.g. use a mindfulness technique such as the ‘3-minute breathing space’, lasting just 3 minutes.Try it with the help of this video. It takes less time than making a cup of coffee or going to the loo, so lack of time is not a valid excuse not to use it!

Alternatively, if meditation is not for you, use 7/11 breathing, which also helps slow your breathing and calm your mind. 7/11 breathing is a simple technique:

  • Breathe in, counting (slowly) to 7
  • Breathe out, making the outward breath last to a count of 11
  • Repeat this several times
  • You should feel your shoulders relaxing away from your ears and some of your stress being released

Be mindful of what you’re absorbing

There is so much negativity around now that it is easy to be swamped by it. Be mindful of what you are paying attention to.

The well-known psychologist Barbara Fredrickson suggests that in order to thrive and be at our best, we must find a 3:1 ratio of positive things in our life. That means for every bad thing that you hear (whether it be on the news or from colleagues), you need to find 3 positive things to balance it. This is actually easier to do than it sounds because the positives are there, we just do not see them a lot of the time.

Our brains are hardwired to look for threats i.e. negatives, so we see them without apparently investing any effort in it. You will have to put a little bit of effort in to find the positives, but they will be there.

One way to find the positives is to remind yourself of the things that are important to you, the things that really matter. Try to make the time to write down 3 things that you are grateful for every day. This will help you put everything else into perspective.


Look after each other

We are all stronger together and just because you may no longer be co-located with your colleagues, that does not mean they are not there for you or that you cannot be there for them.

Touch base with your colleagues and see if they need any support from you. Equally, do not be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling. Asking for help is indicative of good self-awareness and can make the difference between surviving or drowning, so to speak.

Also try and keep in contact with family and friends – social connections are even more important during these difficult times.

Remember that this will pass

Lots of us have got more time on our hands now, so why not give some of these self-care tips a try? And above all else, just keep remembering that this blip will pass. In the meantime, what’s important for now is that we all work to keep ourselves – and each other – safe and sane while it lasts.

All the best,

Sharon De Mascia, Chartered Occupational Psychologist

Do you have any questions for Sharon? If so, don’t hesitate to get in touch.