Running for Wellbeing (part two) – The Five Ways

Sick of wellbeing? We don’t blame you!

Wellbeing is quite the topic right now and, because of that fact, wellbeing might possibly be a source of confusion, concern and annoyance for you. As something currently quite ill defined, tricky to grasp and without any consensus on actions or deliverables, I can really understand this. 

via GIPHY

Without being overly reductionist, let’s try in this short blog post to clear up the issue. 

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Running for Wellbeing

In this blog post our Pete Burrows, our University and Run Series and Wellbeing expert, ‘joins the dots’ between the activity of running and our individual wellbeing. It is for people whose ‘personal best’ has nothing to do with numbers – be that race time or distance – and everything to do with being your most authentic, happiest self and living your best life. 

COVID-19 and the Good News for Wellbeing 

Global perceptions of physical activities, like running, have been thoroughly shaken up and questioned during the pandemic. With so many of the more “traditional” forms of activity off-limits as a result of gyms and indoor sports facilities closing, more of us than ever have turned to running, as a free, always-open, option. This has presented a unique and very real opportunity to continue to break every stigma, stereotype, and general misunderstanding surrounding what running looks like, who running is for, why we choose running as an activity, and the overarching benefits it gives.

Whilst reported levels of physical activity have fluctuated due to the ongoing restrictionsoverall the perceived value of being active has grown significantly in the last year COVID-19.

Photo by Arek Adeoyea on Unsplash

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5 Tips for Managing Stress from our University ‘Healthy Minds’ Supervisor

There is no denying that 2020 has been a difficult year and we have – individually and collectively – faced more challenges this year than we might ever have expected. Feelings of stress and burnout are rife this year in particular and we want to support you in managing and overcoming them!

What is stress?

Stress is a response which occurs when a physical, mental, or emotion pressure placed on an individual. This results in what many people know as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response – a release of chemicals within the body that heightens our senses and prepares it for battle or escape. The Fight of Flight response evolved as a way to keep us safe from very real and imposing dangers in the past – such as wild animals.

Nowadays, the Fight or Flight responses can be triggered by perceived threats such as a full email inbox, an impending deadline or a change to our routine. These perceived threats are everywhere in the modern world and it is our ability to manage our individual responses to these situations that can keep us in a more calm and relaxed state, increasing our ability to cope, and protecting our health long-term. 

How to manage stress

We spoke to Andrew Ford, our University of Bristol Healthy Minds Supervisor. Healthy Minds is a programme led by University of Bristol Sport which supports students in taking positive steps towards improving their mental wellbeing, through a varied, social and structured timetable of physical activity opportunities. Mental wellbeing, achieved via physical wellbeing.

Using his professional expertise and his own personal experience, Andrew outline his top tips for managing stress, and staying well:

Keep active

Find what works for you in terms of exercise and participate as many times as you can during a week. I’d recommend 3-5 times if possible. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to exercise and movement, but there are plenty of options you can choose from. It could be going for a run, strength training, yoga, a long walk, going climbing, dancing, or so many others. The best one is the one that you enjoy – really!

Any and every form of physical activity helps to release endorphins (mood boosting hormones) in the brain which encourage a more positive mindset and help to combat stress hormone levels.

Get enough sleep

This is often quite a tough one to do during University life, but studies show that a better nights rest helps to reduce stress hormone levels and give you more energy the next day to tackle any tasks you may have

The recommend amount of sleep for an adult is 7 to 9 hours per night. This tip links nicely linked with exercise, as those who exercise tend to get to sleep earlier, have better quality sleep, and don’t wake up as frequently during the night. It is best to exercise whenever you feel most comfortable, so this could be early in the day, or in the evening where you may have more free time.

Reach out for support

Speaking out and asking for is hard, but can be safe in the knowledge that you won’t be the only person feeling this way, and there are people who can help and support you. It may seem like a difficult step, but talking to someone – whether about what is going on and how you’re feeling, or just in for a social chat – is great way to help regulate your feelings and emotions, develop relationships, and gain new perspectives to any problems. This could be with anyone who you feel comfortable with, such as friends or family, or even within our services at the University.

The University Student Well-being Advisors are a friendly and approachable team who are able to provide non-clinical advice and support to help you find the best way to tackle whatever it is that you’re feeling.

Take a break

We know it sounds cliché, but it does really work. If a particular problem is causing stress, take a step back from it for a small amount of time. Taking a physical and mental break is the best way to get a little respite from that pressure, to take some time to relax and refresh, and be able to return to it with a fresh mindset and a more pragmatic approach.

It is helpful to plan in advance for this time which can reduce stress proactively, especially if you are someone who knows that they suffer from stress and anxiety when under pressure. Allow time to take these breaks, and you will be able to perform the tasks better, with more focus.

Do what you enjoy

Everyone has a hobby. It could be exercise, but it could also be cooking, gaming, craft, singing, or DIY. Whatever it is, if it is what you enjoy then make sure to find time to do that activity during the week – every week if you can. It is one of the more effective ways of switching off and giving yourself time to relax and reduce feelings of stress.

Planning ahead slightly at the beginning of the day or week, to create this free time for yourself will allow you to break up your day and avoid allowing a problematic situation to dominate your emotions. 


There are many ways to help alleviate stress. The Sport, Exercise and Health department are here to help you identify the best ways to do that in a physical activity capacity. Please feel free to speak to one of the team for more information as to how we can help you, and support you in feeling your best.

Join us online for live and on-demand fitness and well-being sessions via the University of Bristol Sport app (available on iOS and Android). You can also find well-being information for University of Bristol Staff and Students online, including self-help resources, guided support services and advice for supporting others.

Bristol GBBO Star, Briony Williams, announced as Great Bristol 10k University Ambassador

The University is delighted to announce Briony Williams as their Ambassador for this year’s Great Bristol 10k in May.  

Briony, who lives in Bristol and studied for her post-graduate qualification in teaching at the University, became a household name when she starred in the 2018 series of the Great British Bake-Off, making it all the way to the semi-finals.  

Briony went on to win the 2019 edition of The Great Christmas Bake-Off, and it’s also been announced that she has joined the presenting team of Channel 4’s  ‘Food Unwrapped’. As well as her TV appearances, Briony writes regularly for food magazines and features at food-festivals around the country! 

So, where does running fit in? We wondered the same!  

When she’s not creating masterpieces in her kitchen, Briony admits be being a keen runner. To date, she has taken on several 10k races and a couple of half-marathons, with more lined up for this year.  

This year, the University Bristol 10k campaign is focusing on the benefits that running, and being more physically active in general, can bring to our mental health – something Briony is a huge advocate for.  

Announcing her ambassadorship on Instagram, Briony wrote, “I’m really excited to be championing two things I care about so deeply: running and mental health” 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B79Cb2whXid/

We are thrilled that Briony will be running alongside our students, staff and alumni in the gigantic University Wave, and working with us in the lead-up to the event to encourage everyone on campus – runners and non-runners alike – to get active to support more positive physical and mental health and wellbeing at the same time as raising awareness and funds for the University’s B:Active Healthy Minds initiative. 

Almost 500 students, staff and alumni has already signed up to this iconic Bristol event! Get up, get together, and get active by lacing up your trainers and joining #TeamUoBristol for this year’s Great Bristol 10k on Sunday 3 May.   
 

Sign up for the University Wave

If you are University of Bristol staff, Student or Alumni, you can sign up to run the Great Bristol 10k with discounted entry.

Get Active To Reduce Stress (Plus 7 More Top Tips)

Monday 4 – Friday 8 November 2019 is #InternationalStressAwarenessWeek. Stress is something that gets talked about a lot day-to-day but is commonly misunderstood. It’s normal to hear friends, peers and colleagues tell you that they are “feeling a bit stressed, but it’s okay”. Stress has become normalised in society and has both negative and positive impacts on the human experience. It is important for us all to understand the impact of stress in our own lives, and also how we can better manage any negative consequences that may arise.

One step that we can all take to reduce negative stress is to factor daily movement into our everyday lives. It is by far one of the most under-utilised stress-busting tools and we have lots of ways to help you stay active on campus this year! For more information about how Bristol Uni Sport can help, visit our website to see all the opportunities available.


What is stress?

Stress is the feeling we experience when: “Demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilise.” (Stress Management Society)

In other words, when lots of tasks pile up, or we perceive there to be a high level of expectation upon us that we are unable to cope with, we feel stressed.

It can be argued that a small amount of short-term stress can be a good thing. Short-term stress is sometimes referred to as the ‘Fight or Flight’ response which, bad in the day, would have ensured we escaped or fought off predators. However, these ‘predators’ now take the shape of deadlines or exams. Whilst in the short-term a small amount of stress might help you meet that looming deadline, to be in a state of stress for long periods of time can be detrimental to our overall physical and mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.


How to tell if you’re stressed

Signs and symptoms of stress can be physical, emotional, psychological, or behavioural. Only you will know how you are truly feeling, but you may find others who are close to you making comments that you seem ‘not yourself’ and these could be indicators that you are suffering from stress.

Examples of symptoms include; lack of concentration, excessive worrying, reduced confidence in your abilities, irritability, tearfulness or anger, weight-loss or weight-gain, aches and pains, greater susceptibility to illnesses like colds and the flu, increased intake of alcohol, and insomnia (Stress Management Society).


The Stress Bucket analogy
The Stress Bucket

Sometimes it is difficult to identify what is causing you to feel stressed on any given day, particularly if there you don’t feel there are any ‘big problems’ causing you to feel the way you do. The analogy of the stress bucket can help yo explain these unexpected feeling of stress and being overwhelmed.

Imagine all of the tasks, priorities, commitments and expectations you have to deal with day-to-day are pebbles being put into a bucket. Some are bigger than others and take up more space, for example maintaining healthy relationships with your friends and family whilst you’re busy. Some might be smaller, such as remembering to pack lunch for the next day.

If your stress bucket gets too full, it only takes one of these small pebbles (maybe you burned your toast at breakfast) to make the bucket spill over. This leads to you feeling overwhelmed and stressed, even though on another day you may have handled the same situation perfectly well.


Tips for Managing Stress

Stress management tools are habits or practices that you can implement in your every-day life to help drain your stress bucket, and stop it from getting too full. Our top tips are below, but there are lots more that you can discover for yourself.

  1. Get Active
    Exercise and physical movement released endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’ into your body! But it doesn’t have to be a hard-core gym session or tough sport – a 10 minute walk can be enough to boost your energy, clear your head and lift your mood (Active 10).
  2. Rest and Recovery
    Are you getting enough sleep? The average adult needs 7-9 hours per night to function optimally (Sleep Council). It may mean making some short-term sacrifices to your evening social plans, but concentrating on getting some decent shut-eye will benefit you hugely in the long-run.
  3. Nutrition
    Making sure you are eating a balanced diet can have a hugely positive impact on your overall wellbeing. Small things you can focus on are: getting a minimum of 5 fruits and veggie per day, drinking 2L of water, ensuring a mix of carbs, fats and proteins are included in every meal and cutting back on caffeine in the afternoons.
  4. Work/Life Balance
    Too much time at the pub and not enough time in the library can of course cause us to feel stressed about the amount of work that can pile up. But spending too much time in the library and not enough time with friends can be just as impactful. Find the balance that works for you to make sure you’re giving enough time to both.
  5. Practice Mindfulness
    Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean ‘meditation’ – we know that’s not for everyone. Mindfulness can be an activity that means you’re focused on the ‘here and now’ rather than past, present or future worries. Have a cup of tea, go for a walk or a run, or write a to-do list – it will all help.
  6. Digital Detox
    We’re all guilty of falling into a ‘scroll-hole’ when we should actually be focusing on work. Studies show even having your phone in the same room whilst you work can lower your problem-solving IQ (University of Texas)! Try 30 minutes of phone-free studying to get some focus back.
  7. Build Resilience
    Resilience isn’t just “toughen up and carry on”. Resilience is our ability to ‘bounce back’ from tough times and implement strategies based on past experience. It’s a skill that can be learned and developed – Off The Record have an online ‘Resilience Lab’ that can help you.
  8. Open Up
    Don’t suffer in silence, talk to someone. There are lots of places you can turn for support whilst at University, from friends, family, flatmates and course-mates, to more professional spaces such as Student Wellbeing Services.
Resources

International Stress Management Association: https://isma.org.uk/nsad-free-downloads
Student Wellbeing Service: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/wellbeing/
Off The Record Resilience Lab: https://www.otrbristol.org.uk/the-resilience-lab/
Stress Management Society – Understanding Stress: https://www.stress.org.uk/how-stress-affects-your-body/
The Sleep Council: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/how-much-sleep-do-we-need/
University of Austin, Texas: “The Mere Presence of Your Smartphone Reduces Brain Power”: https://news.utexas.edu/2017/06/26/the-mere-presence-of-your-smartphone-reduces-brain-power/
It’s Time To Log Off: https://www.itstimetologoff.com/

Healthy Minds: Charlotte’s Story

When Charlotte Jones first stepped into her university’s gym two years ago, she had no idea that exercise would be the remedy to the depression and anxiety she’d been living with.


Charlotte and her mentor, Pete Burrows.

Charlotte experienced mental health difficulties following a series of personal issues which coincided with the pressure of her final year at the University of Bristol, where she was studying Neuroscience. 

The 23-year-old is shared her story on World Mental Health Day [10 October] to give hope to others who are going through a tough period, particularly whilst at University.

Charlotte had experienced low-level mental ill-health before coming to university in 2014, but was coping well. This was the case until her final year when her brother fell ill, a family member passed away and her relationship broke down. 

At the same time, Charlotte was having to manage her dissertation project and the looming prospect of her final exams. 

The cruel irony of her course teaching her how the brain works in situations of stress and overwhelm, whilst living the experiences first-hand, was not lost on her. 

Charlotte said: “Everything got on top of me. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was prescribed medication aimed at helping this about eight weeks into my final year. I was feeling really overwhelmed and behind. 

“I ended up writing my dissertation in four days and then realised I had no time left to revise for my final year exams. By March, I decided to defer my finals so that I could have longer to focus on them.” 

Although she had a whole year to focus on her exams, Charlotte knew she needed to get better first and reached out to the University’s Counselling Service. 

She soon spotted a leaflet for Healthy Minds – a programme run by the University’s Sport Exercise and Health Department (SEH) that provides mentored physical activity opportunities to improve student mental health.

Participants of the programme are guided by a professional fitness mentor and have free access to facilities during their engagement in the initiative, to support them in finding a way of being active that feels right for them. They receive a bespoke user-led activity plan which aims to foster new skills and interests, with the outcome of promoting recovery and better enabling them to stay well in the future.  

Despite never having set foot in a gym before, Charlotte enrolled in the summer of 2017 and has never looked back: “I really didn’t think I would get along with it. I have asthma and had never been sporty in my life, let alone entered a gym. I had to be shown how to use all the equipment. 

“Despite my reservations, I soon came to love it [exercise] and having regular catch-ups [with a mentor] alongside the physical goals was invaluable. I started coming off my medication eight weeks into the programme. I cannot imagine not going to the gym now and feel much more positive about the future.”

Charlotte went on to secure a paid role with SEH as a Student Sport Development Coordinator, helping the team to develop Healthy Minds so more students can benefit.

She was went on to pass her exams confidently and graduated from the university in July 2018 with a high 2.1. 


Charlotte’s advice for students in a similar situation:

  • “As everyone says, do not be afraid to seek support and try new things if one thing isn’t helping. For example, medication can help many people but wasn’t the solution for me. 
  • Try and get into a routine. I found the lack of routine associated with university in general to catalyse my depression, and only set on the road to recovery when the gym helped establish a regular routine. Try and spend nine to five in University, even if it’s just the library – sometimes it’s better to treat it as a full-time job. 
  • Be honest with your doctors and counsellors and the University so they can accommodate you with things like extenuating circumstances to give you extensions etc.
  • Be careful with alcohol and caffeine consumption.
  • Always, always talk to someone – whether it’s your department, counsellor, a family member or housemate.  

Helpful contacts for advice and support:

Student Wellbeing Service

Student Counselling Service

Bristol Nightline – student confidential listening and information service

Off The Record – Mental Health support for people aged 11-25 living in Bristol

Changes Bristol – Peer Support Groups running in Bristol

Bristol MIND – mental health resource for people in Bristol and surrounding areas