Monday, November 11, 2019

What is Anxiety: An Overview

It is quite normal to feel nervous, tense, worried or afraid. Feeling such discomfort does not necessarily mean you suffer from an anxiety disorder as normal feelings of apprehension are not the same as anxiety. One of the major features of an anxiety disorder is the feeling of a nonspecific discomfort that can occur without a real reason.

How Common Is Anxiety?

The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that anxiety disorders will become the second most common cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Around 275 million people suffered from anxiety disorders in 2016 globally.

NoPanic.org states that 7.8% of the British population suffer from some form of anxiety or depression.  That’s roughly 1 in every 13 people in the UK.

Females are twice as likely to experience generalised anxiety disorder than males.

Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety refers to a spectrum of mental health disorders. The most common forms of anxiety include:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is anxiety: An overview of the symptoms

Anxiety symptoms may be severe to the extent where they affect our emotions, thinking, and ability to perform day-to-day tasks. Also, anxiety can manifest through physical symptoms. If your emotional, cognitive and behavioral reactions are out of proportion with what is normally expected in a given situation, you may be experiencing anxiety.

Some of the most common emotional and cognitive symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Extreme worry and fear
  • Feeling agitated and irritated
  • Fatigue
  • A generalised fear of pending trouble
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Attention and focus difficulties
  • A tendency to avoid situations or people that trigger anxiety

At the same time, you may be experiencing a variety of physical symptoms. Some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach aches
  • Legs and arms numbness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling constantly worn-out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Anxiety Causes and Risk Factors

Research shows that many different factors or a combination of these can cause anxiety. Factors that may trigger anxiety include genetics, environmental factors, brain changes, other medical conditions and a person’s own thinking patterns.

Genetics

In a way, anxiety runs in the family. This mental health condition is more common in people whose blood relatives also have anxiety. This NHS article looks into this further.

Environmental factors

Studies show that ongoing day-to-day stress can significantly contribute to anxiety disorders.

Other Illnesses

Other serious underlying medical conditions can cause anxiety disorder.

Brain Changes

Research shows that in some cases, anxiety may result from changes in the brain structure and function as well as from disturbances of hormones that occur as a reaction to stressful or traumatic life events.

Distorted Thinking Patterns

The above were all external factors on anxiety but anxiety symptoms often also develop internally as a result of a person’s insecurity, low self-esteem, self-criticism, and negative thinking patterns.

different-types-of-anxiety-disorders

Anxiety Treatment

While it is not a life-threatening condition, anxiety can be very unpleasant and it can severely interfere with our everyday life. However, anxiety disorders are also highly treatable. The most effective treatments for anxiety are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There is much scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in treating anxiety. CBT is a short-term and goal-oriented therapy with a focus on specific problems. It has proven to be successful in helping people with anxiety by changing their dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors

Exposure Therapy

This form of therapy is effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias. During therapeutic sessions, a person is gradually exposed to a situation or object that triggers fear. By the end of the treatment, the person learns to become less sensitive to a feared object/situation.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an approach based on cognitive behavioural therapy. It was originally developed as a treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. However, EMDR has lately been used to treat a wide spectrum of mental health issues such as generalised anxiety disorder, phobias, panic attacks, and other mental health conditions.

Self-Help Strategies and Lifestyle Changes

The first step in overcoming anxiety is understanding what you are dealing with. To effectively manage anxiety, you need to understand what is causing it. Learn to recognise the circumstances or people that usually cause feelings of discomfort. Set clear personal boundaries, learn to assertively express your needs and feelings and make positive shifts in your lifestyle.

Practice mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Studies show that mindfulness can ease anxiety symptoms, boost your optimism, and improve your self-esteem. Also, relaxation techniques like deep breathing or tightening and relaxing your body muscles that can help you feel relaxed and composed. Check out our blog post on Meditation for stress and anxiety or watch our video on 7 ways to relieve stress below…

There is also research to show that social media can affect your mental health and increase feelings of anxiety.  Try to limit your time on apps like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. For further reading on this check out our post on how social media affects your mental health

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Monday, November 4, 2019

Time Management Tips For Students

Students are often juggling a complex variety of tasks in their lives which can become overwhelming.

Time management is the key.

We all only have twenty-four hours in each day, and it’s critical that we get a full eight hours of sleep in order to have our brain work quickly and efficiently. That leaves us with sixteen hours to manage. The more efficiently we can map out our day, the less stress we experience, the more energy we have, and the more free time we have to do the things we love.

These time management tips for students should help:

Write a Daily Task List

Each morning, write down a daily task list. Do it by hand. Apps and online calendars are handy, but study after study finds that the act of writing something helps it stick more firmly in the brain. Also, writing it means you are reminded, each day, of something that hasn’t gotten done. The more you have to re-write it, the more you get motivated to just do it and get it off your list.

Use Short Term Milestones

If you have a large project, like reading an entire book in a week, don’t just put that on your list. It will seem too daunting and also like something that can be put off. Come up with a reasonable milestone to tackle for today. Read Ten Pages. Put that down. Make sure your tasks are things you actually think could be done in a day.

Strive to always use concrete terms for your tasks. Be able to measure them. Say “revise for half an hour” rather than just “revise”. To boost productivity when doing work you could try the pomodoro technique.

Have Tasks of Different Lengths and Difficulties

Sometimes you’ll have a large block of time become available. Other times, it’s all you can do to find five minutes to breathe. By having a variety of task options on your list, you can work to find what fits where. Similarly, sometimes you’ll be full of energy and at other times you’ll be worn out. By having some easy tasks in there, you’ll have something you can do which is fairly mindless and low stress.

Write Down How Long Tasks Take

A common challenge people have is they underestimate how long a task will take. They figure they can whip through a task in fifteen minutes when in reality it takes a full hour to get it done. That is part of the learning process here. The more you keep track of what the task was and how long it took, the better your estimates will be going forward. That makes your future time planning that much better.

If Tasks Crop Up, Add Them To The List

If something gets added to your work load for the day, add that onto your list. That way you maintain that sense of how much you can realistically do in a given day and how much time it takes. It’s wise to always build in some buffer time to account for those kinds of situations. Life rarely runs exactly the way you plan for it to.

time-management-tips

Review Your List At The End Of The Day

When you finish off your day, take a look down your list and be grateful for the things you were able to get done. This is the time to count your blessings. Yes, not everything gets done – that’s the way life runs. You do your best. You learn and become better.

Then put the list aside. Evening is not the time to be plotting out the details for tomorrow – that’s likely to keep you up at night thinking about what to do and how to do it. Instead, know that your day is now done. Be grateful for all you have learned from today. Dedicate yourself to getting a solid night’s sleep.

If thoughts come up while you are trying to fall asleep that you do have to remember, write them down on a pad by your bed. Tell yourself that you will handle that when you wake up. Then refocus yourself on falling asleep as fully and deeply as you can. Getting a solid night’s sleep is absolutely critical for your energy levels and health.

Every person on this planet, whether they’re young or old, has only twenty-four hours to work with in each day. We all have obligations and responsibilities which need to be handled during those twenty-four hours. And we all have to sleep to maintain our energy and health. We can each take steps to understand our time options, optimise how well we use that time available to us, and improve our time usage from week to week. This lowers our stress levels, raises our contentment, and uncovers the free time we need to do the things we really love.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health

It’s rare to meet a person today who doesn’t use either Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp or similar apps. Some surveys show that almost 3 billion people use them every day. These applications are fun, useful, and informative. They help us connect with friends, stay in the loop with the latest updates, learn, share, and entertain ourselves. It seems as if we are never alone, as long as we have our smartphones or laptops with us.

However, research shows.  social media can affect your mental health, triggering feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, anxiety or depression. One study found that people who use social media excessively tend to experience frequent mood swings, neglect their personal life, and withdraw from real-life social interactions.

Recognising how and why you use social media and how you feel about it may help you balance your needs and stay mentally fit.

Social Media and Loneliness

We live in the age of social media and filtered reality. While you may feel like socialising with a lot of people while online, studies suggest that that social media use actually leads to feelings of social isolation. A recent study showed the epidemic of loneliness among young adults in the United States. The results indicate that young people 18-24 years old struggle with extreme loneliness and isolation. Namely, 49 percent of them say they sometimes or always feel alone while 43 percent feel their relationships are not meaningful.

A large number of friends or followers on social media doesn’t mean a richer social life. Research shows that it takes an actual social interaction, rather than a virtual one, to keep up our relationships.

It seems that the false impression of a connection that we get from social media increases our feelings of loneliness and isolation. While willing to share the intimate details of our lives online, we often forget how to have a meaningful conversation with a family member, friend on campus or colleague at work.

social-media-bad-for-mental-health

Social Media and Self-Esteem

There is an ongoing pressure to filter every aspect of your life, at the same time comparing your own with other people’s lives that often seem better, prettier, happier. A constant need to compare ourselves with others may lead to feelings of profound isolation, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and depression.

One study on 1,500 people found that 60 percent of people who use social media perceive its negative effects on their self-esteem, causing them to feel inadequate and imperfect. Also, the gap between how we present ourselves online and who we really are can cause feelings of depression, loneliness, irritation and low self-esteem.

Social Media and Anxiety and Depression

Media multitasking is associated with higher depression and social anxiety symptoms among university students, another study shows.

Also, a study published in Computers and Human Behavior found that people who use three or more use social media platforms are three times as likely as people using up to two platforms to develop general anxiety symptoms such as feelings of apprehension, difficulties concentrating and sleep troubles. Additionally, the artificial lighting on your devices can inhibit the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep. 

social-media-depression

How to Balance Social Media

1.     Take Breaks

To successfully balance the use of social media, you need to learn to take healthy breaks from it. Start by reflecting on how much time do you spend following someone, getting lost in the feed or looking at other people’s posts that bring you down. For example, you can practice taking a break from your phone 15 minutes in the morning when you start your day or right before bed.

Even if you don’t feel like you have the problem with the internet overuse, taking breaks from your devices can be healthy and positive. Our previous blog post on Forest can help with this. 

2.     Practice Mindfulness

Most social apps are designated to have an endless feed that keeps you scrolling down infinitely and mindlessly. So, try the opposite and learn mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a skill that empowers you to focus on the present without trying to interpret or self-judge. In other words, mindfulness allows you to notice what’s going on while you spend time on social media. For example, try reflecting on why you are on your phone or what motivates you to keep scrolling through the feed. For further reading on Mindfulness check our blog post here.

 3.     Set the Boundaries

It is important that you use social media responsibly and thoughtfully. In other words, pay attention to the ways in which you share your thoughts, feelings, posts, and photos online and be mindful of the content you share. Much like in the real world, we need to set healthy boundaries between ourselves and others on the internet as well.

These boundaries will help you feel safe and comfortable. For example, if you’re sharing your opinion about something that happened at the university, be mindful of how do you feel about sharing it, who will see it, what kind of reactions it may bring about and how those would make you feel. The same goes for sharing your pictures and emotional states.

No one can deny that social media has brought numerous advantages to our lives. So, we can’t consider it generally a bad thing. However, research and everyday experience show us that social media has the power to affect our mental health and interpersonal relationships if we don’t find a healthy way to balance it.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Dragon Dictate DSA Software

Dragon Dictate DSA Software allows you to carry out a range of tasks on your computer (Windows OS only) using verbal dictation. 

Features

You can use Dragon for many actions that you normally would have to use a touchscreen or a mouse for. There are a few basic commands which help you start up, like “open”, “send an email” or “close this webpage”. But there are also many more advanced voice commands that allow you to control many other aspects of your computer. (click here for full voice command list) 

Beyond using Dragon for commands and controlling the functions of your computer, you can also use it to dictate text. For example, if you had to write an essay or an email. Studies show that your average person can dictate up to 3x faster than typing and Dragon is 99% accurate.

Another big feature of Dragon is its learning ability. When you speak, it learns to recognise your voice and the way you pronounce certain words. This means the more you speak and the software learns the more accurate it becomes.

Dragon Dictation Software and disabilities

If you have Dyslexia or another disability that affects your ability to write or sit at a computer then Dragon can be immensely helpful:

  • If you find it easier to articulate your ideas rather than write them down then Dragon will allow you to do this.
  • If you have slow typing speed then Dragon will allow you to compose work with speeds up to 120 words per minute (the average typer only does 40 words per minute).
  • Using Dragon means spelling errors are completely eliminated.
  • If you are dictating and you pause naturally while talking then this is where punctuation should go. Being aware of this can help with sentence structure when composing your work.
  • If you sometimes use the wrong word e.g they, their and they’re, when dictating Dragon will use the correct word for the sentence.
  • Dragon is also very helpful in alleviating ergonomic issues. If sitting in front of your computer for too long or typing on a keyboard causes you pain, then dictating will allow you to continue working from any position and without having to type.
  • Using voice recognition, you also don’t need to be looking at your screen, allowing you to rest your eyes or pace around while dictating a document or email.

Where can you buy Dragon?

If you are a student studying with a disability then it may be recommended for you during your study needs assessment and provided as part of your equipment allowance from your disabled students allowance.

Dragon can also be ordered online through the Nuance stores.

Getting Started With Dragon

The below video shows how to get started and some of the functions…

Dragon Alternatives

If you are using Windows 10 or above then you can use the built in speech to text function (learn more).

If you are an Apple user then unfortunately Dragon isn’t available. You can however use Apple’s Voice Control function which works well (learn more).

Google Dictate is another option that works very well on both Windows and Mac, however it can only be used with the Google Chrome browser and Google Docs (learn more).

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Meditation for Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are all around us in our modern world. News stations show negativity 24/7. Social media and mobile phones add to the chaos. And for students who have extra tasks on their shoulders, it can be hard sometimes just to get out of bed to face a new day.

Meditation for stress and anxiety can help. It’s the solution for a world which sometimes can seem to have gone wrong.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is like a personalised training session for the brain. We understand that to make an arm get stronger we do physical exercises such as push-ups or arm curls. Our brain needs that same kind of exercise to build its ability to function smoothly. By engaging in regular practice sessions, we reap a wealth of benefits not just for the brain but for the body as a whole.

What are the Benefits of Meditation?

Meditation is one of the most powerful investments you can make in yourself. That’s because the mind is not a separate entity that works in solitary isolation. Your mind literally interacts with and controls every other aspect of you, from how well you sleep at night to how well your stomach digests food.

That means a meditation practice brings:

Better mental functioning. From increased concentration to improved memory, from lowered stress to reduced depression, all aspects of how your mind works are lifted through meditation. Your sleep rhythms fall into better line. Better sleep leads to clearer thought. The benefits cascade into each other.

Better physical functioning. Your mind is tightly tied to every other aspect of your body. It controls how actively your immune system fights off colds and invaders. It controls how well your digestive system processes nutrients. At night, your mind sends out the legions of clean-up crews to repair and rebuild your muscles and tissues.

Better emotional functioning. When a body is stressed, the stress hormones which flood the system cause all sorts of damage to muscles, tissues, and organs. On the other hand, when the body is in a relaxed, calm state, they body is far better able to repair and heal itself. Meditation helps the mind deal with challenges and pressures in a calm, even-keeled manner. It lets the thoughts work through issues without adding the stress hormones into the mix.

Better compassion and empathy. Humans are trained by evolution to focus in on themselves when challenges appear. It is simply harder to invest energy in helping someone else when you can barely get yourself out of bed. Through meditation, you are able to get yourself into a better position where you can now be present for your family, friends, and larger community.

meditation-for-anxiety-and-stress

A Meditation for Stress and Anxiety

This meditation can be done anywhere at any time where you can pause for a few minutes. Practice this and add it to your toolkit of ways to deal with stress and anxiety.

If possible, sit or lie down. If you aren’t able to, stand with your feet hip-width apart and balance yourself evenly on both feet. Let your gaze go soft, so you’re not really looking at anything in particular. Let your hands relax.

Breathe.

Take in a long, slow, deep breath, filling your upper chest, mid chest, and lower abdomen. Let your abdomen fill out like a balloon. Feel the nourishing oxygen flowing into you, bringing its energy and health into every corner of your lungs.

Pause.

Breathe out, out, letting your body expel the toxins and negativity. Let your body release the carbon dioxide and waste. You don’t need that any more.

Pause.

Breathe in, slower, deeper, feeling the air move past your nostrils with a gentle movement. Focus on that sensation. On the oxygen-rich air flowing into you, revitalising you, nourishing you.

Pause.

Breathe out, out, out, releasing the used carbon dioxide from your system. You’re done with that. Your body releases all it no longer needs. Feel how the breath moves past your nostrils.

Pause.

As you continue to breathe in and out, fuller and deeper, pay attention to that sensation at the edge of your nostrils. Focus just on that feeling.

Thoughts will poke their way in. That’s how thoughts work. When they do, be aware of them as drifting clouds. The thoughts are not you. They are simply clouds which go past the sky of your mind. The thoughts do not define you. They are waves in your ocean. Watch them come, watch them go, and return your attention to your nostrils.

Breathe.

You’ll find again that you’ve been distracted by thoughts. That’s all right. The point of meditation to build your skill with returning from distraction. When you realise you’ve been pulled away again, compassionately smile and then let that cloud drift on. Return your attention to your breath. To the inflow of oxygen. To the outflow of all you no longer need.

Breathe.

Continue this for the time you have. Even just two or three minutes can bring an improvement, if you’re able to do it regularly. Find a way to work meditation into your normal routine. It will help every aspect of your health, from the physical to emotional to spiritual.

For other ways to relieve stress check out this article and video.

Thanks for reading,

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Friday, October 18, 2019

Upcoming Event: AccessHE University Info Day

Here at A2B Assessments we are always on the look out for great events that we can get involved with, help out and promote.

If you’re a school or college student studying with a disability then we have the perfect event for you. 

On Wednesday the 6th of November (11am-3pm) at London Metropolitan University, North Campus (Holloway Road) AccessHE will be hosting a one off event to answer any questions you may have about continuing your studies in higher education.

Attendees Will:

  • Visit a university campus and understand the support available for disabled and dyslexic students, including mental health & wellbeing support and those with hidden disabilities.
  • Hear a motivational talk on university life and study from disabled students/alumni 
  • We are getting involved and will be presenting a talk on the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), needs assessments, additional funding and more.
  • Ease concerns and ask questions during panel Q&A sessions for both students and parents/teachers 
  • Participate in an interactive workshop on assistive technologies.
  • Take part in an accessible campus tour with student ambassadors and/or a showcase of assistive technologies and equipment in the on-site centre
  • Be provided with a free lunch and refreshments

Captions for the event will be provided by AI Media.

How To Attend:

Please note, this is a ‘booking only’ event. Places are limited and allocated on a first come, first served basis so we encourage you to book on ASAP to avoid disappointment.

This event is for school (year 11+) or college students with a disability considering university.

Click here to book

If you have any questions about this event or are looking to book for a large group of people, please email accesshe@londonhigher.ac.uk

View the event flyer

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Guest Post: STAART

In this guest post we have invited Melanie from STAART to tell us more about what they do. STAART is a group for disabled and dyslexic people considering going to university, and current disabled students. The purpose of the group is to provide information and good practice concerning disabled students in further and higher education. Over to Melanie…

Hello everybody. My name is Melanie and I am a disability outreach officer at the University of Greenwich. There are two main aspects to my job – STAART Ambassadors and the overall STAART initiative.

STAART ambassadors are current disabled students at the University of Greenwich who have been through a rigorous (but gentle) application and interview process. If you do not have at least one disability, you cannot join our team. STAART ambassadors generally apply to become specialist ambassadors as they received little, or no sensible advice themselves when they applied for their university place. This is often as a result of being given the wrong advice – the main one being told not to tick the disability or learning difficulty’ box on their UCAS applications. Prospective students are continually told they will not get an interview and/or place if they tick the box. This is a blatant lie. In reality, admission officers have no idea about gender, race, disability, etc. of the applicants. We know that this situation is still happening as the STAART attend our Open Days and hear this bad practice is still ongoing.

The benefits of being STAART ambassador are numerous. They have the support of myself and each other; they can work around their studies; they get paid; and have opportunities they would never have experienced otherwise, such as representing STAART at conferences and welcoming disabled students from Zayed University in Dubai. I would say the biggest advantage is of the active STAART who graduate, 90% of them achieve a First Class or 2:1 degree – the highest possible classifications.

The STAART initiative was launched in summer 2016 but is the accumulation of ten years experience of supporting disabled students with their transition into university. As I am an outreach officer, rather than a recruitment officer, my role is to support disabled students going to any university. STAART provides workshops; external events; drop-ins; specialist transition days; and social media. Whilst we have only been in existence for three years, we would definitely say the initiative has been a success.  Below is a photo taken at our STAART end of year picnic in Greenwich park in August.

STAART

My personal journey through university has not been easy and I am very honest with prospective students. I nearly had to leave my BA Sociology due to my mental health having a bit of a breakdown and I had to interrupt my doctorate for two years when I was put on morphine patches. Aside from work, I love travelling, Dr. Martens, our cats, Scrabble and wildlife.

If you are considering university, myself and my team may be able to support you. Here is our webpage which has much more information – STAART Web page.

If you would like to join us on Facebook, here is the link: STAART Facebook Page

We’d like to thank Melanie for the guest post,
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