Gareth Hughesis the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well
When we experience negative things, we often wish they weren’t happening. Acknowledging your feelings can help but taking steps to manage your thoughts and feelings can help you to move forward and feel better.
When we go through negative experiences, we often wish they weren’t happening. However, it is inevitable that some negative things will happen to us during our life and while we are students. Learning to manage these experiences can help us maintain our wellbeing and recover. Acknowledging your feelings and taking steps to manage your thoughts and feelings can help you to move forward and feel better.
Negative experiences often have multiple impacts that can make them tricky to manage. They may result in feelings of disappointment, frustration, sadness or anger and may change what is possible in our future. This can be difficult to deal with if you had a clear vision for your future that now cannot occur.
The ‘if only’ thought loop
When something like this happens it is easy to find yourself on an ‘if only’ thought loop.
Wishing that things could go away is a perfectly normal response. It is ok to be disappointed, angry, frustrated or sad that your experiences aren’t what you’d expected or hoped for. Acknowledging that this is how you feel can help you to manage and feel better in time.
However, we also need to be aware that these thoughts won’t actually change things in the real world. We need to find a balance between allowing ourselves to acknowledge how we feel and planning for the actual circumstances we’re in. We have to work with reality as it is, to make things better.
Finding a balance between feeling and planning
Getting this balance right may be tricky at times. But with practice and perseverance, you will be able to find a better balance over time.
Here are some tips that you may find helpful:
1. Keep rumination in check
Be careful that acknowledging your emotions and thoughts doesn’t become rumination.
Rumination happens when lots of negative thoughts come together or you find yourself going round and round the same negative thoughts, without looking for any solutions. This generally leaves you feeling worse and makes it more difficult to think clearly and positively about the future.
It may be useful to check in with yourself and ask “How is this helping me?” If you do become overwhelmed by your emotions, it may help to take a break, change your environment or find ways to distract yourself until you feel calm. Then, you can try to plan what you might do going forward.
You might find it helpful to assign a window of time, each day or week, to acknowledge the things that are disappointing or upsetting. Setting a timed window can help to avoid your emotions taking complete control of your behaviour. If you try this, it may help to have another positive activity to go to afterwards.
You might also want to reach out to a friend to support you to reduce rumination. You could ask them to point out when they notice you are ruminating and ask them to encourage you to think about the situation differently, if you are worried about not noticing when rumination is happening on your own.
2. Acknowledge the positive
Think about what is still good in your life and about being a student. Whatever plans you have lost or disappointment you have experienced, there will still be things that haven’t been affected. Can you use these aspects of your life and future to build on?
Try to identify some aspects of your life that you can enjoy. This may be about socialising, learning, new experiences or finding yourself back in a familiar routine.
3. Make a plan
Be realistic about what you can do. Try to avoid plans that are really hoping to change the past and instead focus on practical steps you can take to make your day to day experience better.
Think broadly about your student life but also about how you manage yourself, your own thoughts and behaviours and what you can do for others.
4. Look after the basics
Looking after the basics of your wellbeing can help you feel better. This includes: