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Coping with Difficult Times

Brighid Jamieson



At certain points in our lives, we all experience difficulties, stress and emotionally challenging times. University life is often associated with various struggles (e.g. academic pressure, financial worries, adjusting to a different social world). Of course, difficult situations impact each of us differently. How we cope is influenced by our current circumstances, past experiences, understandings of the world, and how we look after ourselves.
This article provides some suggestions for getting through these difficult times.
Self Care
Health care professionals agree that self care is the first port of call in difficult times. We can increase our stress tolerance and resilience by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is very easy to overlook these fundamental building blocks when we are not feeling good.
Self care questions to consider:
Are you:
Getting adequate nutrition and exercise?
Getting enough sleep? Sleep is very important. Talk to a GP for short term options and focus on rest if sleeping is difficult.
Making time to relax? Examples include physical exercise or other enjoyable activities.
Making time to socialise?
Keeping things in perspective?
Avoiding or limiting alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and stimulant drinks?
Being encouraging and supportive of yourself?
Listening to your own wisdom/advice – and advice from those you respect and trust?
Expressing yourself creatively?
Thinking about what has been helpful in difficult times in the past?
Remember that to be able to be there for others we first need to look after ourselves. Focus on today – one day at a time.
If you’re currently experiencing stress or distress, try the following:
Stop for a moment.
Take a few slow deep breaths (stress often causes us to breathe shallowly, which can create more stress).
As you breathe out, repeat the word ‘relax’ to yourself and feel your shoulders and muscles relax.
Bring your attention to the present. Where are you at this moment? What can you see? Hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?
Then consider: is there something that you need right now?
When you are feeling calmer:
Bring your attention to your situation. Work out exactly what is making you feel this way.
Remember your strengths and to be generous to yourself. Is there an action you can take to improve it? Who can support you? Plan any steps you need to take.
Focus again on relaxation
Take an action
Personal Supports
Don’t forget your friends, family/whanau and people you respect.
Consider who is already in your life. Who can be of support to you? And in what ways? For example, a certain friend might be fun to be around and provide distraction, while a certain family member might be a good listener.

Professional Supports
A range of free/low cost professional resources are available. Check out the Counselling Service website at www.vuw.ac.nz/st_services/counselling/
By Brighid Jamieson