Who’s looking after you?

During this hectic time as students return, Mel Loizou looks at ways to keep smiling and calm in a crisis

It’s a busy time up and down the country as universities welcome back students.  Having worked in the sector for many years I know what a manic time this can be.  Why is it that despite Start of Session being an annual event we can’t improve our planning to reduce the workload or pressure that inevitably plagues us? For my team and I, it seemed that the more we tried to plan the more we wanted to do which was great for our students but not necessarily our sanity.

My question is… whilst you are running yourself ragged, ensuring your students receive a warm welcome who is looking after you?  The answer is… probably no- one, so here are my top ten tips (in no particular order) for taking care of yourself during this crazy time.

Tip 1 – smile
When things are tough, we start to take things more seriously and forget to exercise our facial muscles.  We stop smiling, which isn’t good because smiling: 

  • Boosts your mood and your immune system
  • Relieves stress
  • Is contagious, so those around you can’t help but smile too

Tip 2 – breathe
Of course we breathe because let’s face it if we stopped breathing we wouldn’t be much use to anyone. There are different ways to breathe and when we are overwhelmed and feeling under pressure our breathing becomes shallow and we start to breathe from our chest.  If this happens take deeper ‘belly breaths’ and make your exhale (out-breath) double the length of your inhale (in-breath).  For example if you breathe in for a count of three, breathe out for a count of six.  Just a few breaths like this and you will feel calmer.

Tip 3 – prioritise
You want to give your students the best experience you can but you need to be realistic about what you can achieve.  Prioritising what you need to do will give you focus and a great sense of achievement when you can cross the item off your ‘to do’ list.

Tip 4 – say no
Saying no is not easy but sometimes it is what we need to do.  Remember when you say no it doesn’t have to be absolutely definitive, it can be “unfortunately I can’t do X right now, but I have some time next week.”

Tip 5 – take a break
When we’re busy, we convince ourselves that we can’t possibly stop, not even for a few minutes, because we HAVE TO keep working. Yet we know that the longer we work the less effective we become so be sure to take regular breaks.  Short frequent breaks are better than one longer one but in all honesty any break is better than none.  And please, leave all technology behind so that your mind and body can be free to wonder at will.

Tip 6 – eat well
At times of great pressure, it’s much easier to grab food on the go (often high fat, high sugar and empty calories).  It may serve us well in the moment but not for long when it can have a detrimental effect on our energy levels and overall performance.  My downfall is chocolate.  If I’m hard at work do I really want a piece of fruit or some nuts? NO! NO! NO! I want chocolate.  Don’t do what I do, take care of yourself by eating the right food.  After all you wouldn’t intentionally put diesel into your ‘petrol’ car, so why would you treat your body differently?

Tip 7 – sleep
How many of us have found that when we are working hard we sleep less and yet bizarrely sleep is what we need most.  Often, it’s because we just can’t switch off.  If this is the case, here are some suggestions you might want to try: 

  • Resist the temptation to look at any form of technology once you’re in bed
  • Keep a pen and pad by your bed.  If you have lots going on in your head, write down your thoughts and they will leave your mind giving you the peace you crave
  • Try the deep breathing exercise in tip two

Tip 8 – listen to music
I have never liked music playing whilst I’m working.  However I recently discovered ‘meditative’ music, which definitely helps me find my inner calm when I’m feeling stressed.  Nowadays, I also have the music playing in the background when I am working because it helps my creativity and focus (hence this blog!).  Don’t believe me? Just give it a go.

Tip 9 – ask for help
It can be tough to ask for help.  There are so many reasons that stop us: pride, fear of it seeming like we can’t cope and not wishing to burden others.  As human beings, helping others makes us feel good about ourselves so next time you know you need some help, put aside all those negative messages and reframe it. By asking for help you are really helping other people.

Tip 10 – keep moving
When we’re busy it is all too tempting to stay put and not move around.  Keeping moving doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or running 10K: it can be as simple as a 20-minute walk in the fresh air.  Combine movement with being outdoors and you will get the best results in terms of your wellbeing.

So these are my top tips – simple but effective.  I’m sure I haven’t said anything you don’t know but how easy is it to forget when we’re busy.  Over the next two weeks I will be doing a daily blog considering each of the tips in more detail.  You will find the information on my website.  Alternatively email me at mel@fishclimbtrees.co.uk if you would like to receive the information direct to your inbox.

Having worked in Universities for over 18 years, Mel set up Fish Climb Trees in 2015, to help individuals and teams working in HE achieve their goals and fulfil their potential, through a fusion of coaching, consultancy, training and facilitation. 



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