Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Making time for mental health: discussions with Eve Bennett

CW: discussions of mental health

The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted many people’s mental health. However, as students, we are expected to plod along, as usual, making it difficult to find the time to look after ourselves and prioritise our wellbeing.

We are bombarded with so-called miracle wellbeing products, encouraging self-care and pamper sessions, but this can hard to make time for at the moment. Most of us have exams coming up. I can feel myself falling into the trap of feeling guilty whenever I take some time off. This commodification of wellness is hardly a cure or a productive way of managing a mental health disorder – it can be a momentary distraction. It does not have the power to make all our worries and general wellbeing struggles disappear.

I would rather get a few marks less and take the occasional evening off to have fun

This week, Dr Alex George announced his brand of bath bombs. Again, this is all well and good for encouraging people to take some time out. I think the pandemic has taught us that we live in a hustle culture, but there needs to be more emphasis on the measures that can create serious change. We are encouraged to take time out yet expected to produce work of the same quality as if the pandemic does not exist. So, being told to take a bath is frankly insulting.

However, if the pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me to prioritise my happiness. I’m in my final year, and I can honestly say that I would rather get a few marks less and take the occasional evening off to have fun than be miserable and stressed for the sake of a few extra points. I wish I could tell my first and second-year self this – the pandemic has truly put things in perspective. In my second year, I would turn down nights out because of university work. Now, like everyone, I would do absolutely anything to go to the club and have some time away from my studies.

For these reasons, I can appreciate taking time off, but it is unacceptable to associate bath bombs with a cure to mental illnesses. With that being said, I still think it is incredibly important to make time for ourselves. These little things can help for a few seconds and potentially get us through a stressful day in the library, but sadly are not miracle workers.

Honesty can go a long way for that one girl watching one of my YouTube videos

One student who has an incredibly busy schedule juggling YouTube, founding an online magazine, hosting a radio show, all while being at Oxford University, is Eve Bennett. To find out how she manages all of these extracurriculars and continues to take time for her wellbeing, I interviewed her in partnership with Warwick’s Mind Aware Society.

Online, Eve is known for being an incredibly productive student and being open about her mental health – she has shared her experiences with anxiety and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

When asked about why she has been willing to share her experiences with her audiences, Eve said, “my demographic is primarily young girls, so for me to lie and act like everything is peachy could be really damaging. I think honesty can go a long way for that one girl watching one of my YouTube videos hearing somebody else talk about their struggles with anxiety and depression. The amount of people who messaged me and said, ‘thank you so much, it made me feel less alone, it made me want to seek help myself’ makes me want to do it and helps with reducing the stigma and raising awareness”.

Eve provided some advice on how to manage the constant feelings of uncertainty many of us are facing

Eve’s experiences with counselling began at university. She opened up about how Oxford handled the situation, claiming the “main university board are so out of touch with reality it is a joke, and they just don’t show any empathy really” but her “individual tutors in my college have always been so incredibly supportive”.

She adds, “in my first year, when my mental health problems really started, well, they’ve been there since I was about 15-16, I reckon, but it was only when I got to uni and taken out of that school framework where you can kind of use coping mechanisms to push those problems down.  They really did start to stop me from being able to exist as a human being. They referred me straight to the nurse, and the nurse spoke to me and said, we have a pocket of money to fund counselling private counselling, so you don’t have to wait because the Oxford counselling service is good”.

Eve provided some advice on how to manage the constant feelings of uncertainty many of us are facing throughout the pandemic: “I make a list of things that happen every day, regardless of the pandemic, like I always do 30 minutes of exercise or university classes. I also schedule in some me-time, when shows are on like Gogglebox at 9 pm – this just helps me have more of a routine.”

The best and most practical option is undoubtedly to seek help

“My uncertainty can get worse when I’m sat by myself, and there’s a chain of hypotheticals going round in a circle for me – I used to get lost in that. Now, I think of things like I don’t know whether I’m going to get hit by a car, then imagine it and feel it, so why would I do the same mentally? If this does come true, I would get double the emotions, and I ask myself, ‘Is this actually happening now?’ I put these thoughts on paper or say them out loud to push them away and focus on the real mental energy wasted”.

With the current situation, as Eve suggested, creating a schedule and factoring in some me-time may help us prioritise our general well-being. However, for more severe issues that affect our day-to-day, the best and most practical option is undoubtedly to seek help. Making this step, like Eve, has the power to change your life and make situations more manageable.

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