World Mental Health Day

BY NICHOLAS WILKES

When someone tell you they are sick, what’s the first thought coming across your mind? Even as a medical student, many of us may automatically think of a physical illness, like a flu, a stomachache, a broken arm, something that is visible to the naked eye that you are more likely to notice and understand how it can impact someone’s activities and life. But there’s more to health than just the physical health that we all refer to when we wish someone good health, that is the health of our minds – our mental health.


World Mental Health Day is coming up on October 10th and occurs every year to raise awareness of mental health issues and promote greater support for mental wellbeing on both an individual level as well as on a larger scale. While the significance of physical health to one’s life quality and expectancy is increasingly appreciated, unfortunately, we tend to pay less attention to our mental wellbeing, which is undoubtedly becoming more important than ever in this pandemic. The detrimental impact of physical isolation and countless disruptions to normal life may have different impacts on each of us, but one certain thing among all these undesirable uncertainties is that we all have to experience this to some degree, and our mental health is all potentially at higher risk of being compromised during these difficult times.


This time of the year when exams are imminent, even without the presence of the COVID situation, it is undeniably stressful for everyone no matter what year levels you are in, and it can be hard to avoid feeling down, overwhelmed, worried or anxious all the time, but remember that you are not lonely. As how we will never judge our patients or loved ones because they are having a hard time with their mental issues, we all can support others who are in need, as well as reach out for help when we need to. Mental problems should never be stigmatized, it is not a sign of weakness, and it applies to everyone including us, who are expected to be the professional carers for our future patients. We do not have to be perfectly
healthy mentally and physically to fulfil this job, but we need to understand that our own wellbeing should always be the first priority over anything else.


Just as how throughout the course of medicine, we have been taught that prevention is always better than treatment, make sure to take steps from this very minute to give yourself a moment to think about your current mental state, and what you can do to prevent it from getting worse, because every day should be a day when you care about your mental wellbeing. Try all the self-help advice to adjust yourself to this current pandemic situation, establish a routine schedule to optimize your productivity and sense of self-control, find a friend or family member when you are feeling blue, but don’t forget that sometimes even with your best efforts, there are things which can still be out of your control, and that’s totally OK. Take one step at a time, things may be very tough now no matter how you look at it, but looking back on
the paths you have been through to realize how far you have come to this point, and one day these difficult times can be another past that your future self will be so proud of. Please do not hesitate to seek for professional help when you need to, just like how you would hope you future patients to look for your help when they are really in need. I wish you all to be healthy today and every day, mentally and physically and best of luck with your exams.

“I’m not a procrastinator. I’m just extremely productive at unimportant things”.

BY NATASHA RASARATNAM

There is nothing more satisfying than binging a TV show with a deadline looming. It’s funny how in the face of exams or an assignment due date, everything, and anything but the task at hand becomes a thousand times more appealing. After all, “I’m not a procrastinator. I’m just extremely productive at unimportant things”. It’s within a generic line straight from Pinterest, that I find comfort towards my procrastinating tendencies.

It’s a process many of us are familiar with; procrastinating an assessment by pretending it doesn’t exist until we realise it’s too late and pull an all-nighter to make the deadline. We regret and vow to never do this again only for the cycle to repeat. We all know that procrastination is the bane of every student’s existence, so why is it so appealing despite the onset of stress that it inevitably brings on?

A common misconception surrounding procrastination is that it’s driven by laziness and poor time management. In fact, procrastination is the manifestation of a complex psychological process that has been unravelled and examined within a whole body of research. The key to procrastination is that we are aware of the consequences that come from delaying the task at hand. So, if we know it’s bad, why do we still procrastinate?

Procrastination is driven by negative emotions of anxiety, frustration, or self-doubt about the task at hand. These emotions have been exacerbated during the pandemic where loss of routine and our usual coping mechanisms has sent procrastination to an all new high. Driven by an instinct akin to “flight or fight”, we seek to combat the negative emotions associated with the task rather than the task itself. These feelings of anxiety and frustration cloud our judgement and leave us more vulnerable to impulsive commands.  The result is mindless scrolling through Facebook or binging a TV show to secure short-term happiness, and offset the discomfort associated with the assignment. This moment of relief is perceived as a reward for procrastinating and is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to break the cycle.

Eventually, when the deadline is looming, we return to the task at hand. Except our initial anxiety and stress is even greater than before due to the time lost whilst procrastinating. These feelings are often accompanied by self-blame and regret which further exacerbate the initial distress we were trying to avoid in the first place. Over time as this cycle continues to repeat, it not only affects overall productivity but has a damaging impact on mental and physical health.

So how do we break the cycle of procrastination? There are many self-help books that talk about starting tasks early, setting goals, and removing distractions. Solutions I’m sure we have all heard of before. The one solution that I was surprised to read about was the importance of self-forgiveness and self-compassion. Much of the stress that results from procrastination is the guilt and shame of having wasted time, for not starting earlier, for sabotaging yourself. This negativity we direct toward ourselves is the most harmful.

A study following over 100 first year University students found that students who were able to forgive themselves for procrastinating on the first exam, were less likely to engage in procrastination on subsequent exams during the assessment period. The researchers postulated self-forgiveness increased student motivation due to a drive for self-improvement, in turn increasing productivity.

The benefits of self-forgiveness and self-compassion extend beyond procrastination and have been associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety. Of course, these two concepts are easier said than done. It can be easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves, after all we are often our harshest critics. At the end of the day, it’s important to recognise that there are many people who procrastinate (I say this as a self-confessed master of procrastination) and it’s not something to bash oneself about. I’m sure you wouldn’t be so hard on a friend who procrastinates as you are on yourself. So as the dreaded end of year exam season approaches, please remember to be kind to yourself.

Helpful links:

Self-forgiveness and self-compassion: https://melbournecentreforwomensmentalhealth.com.au/articles/179

General tips to prevent procrastination: https://time.com/5322514/stop-procrastinating-tips/

References:

Sirois, Fuschia, Kitner, Ryan, Hirsch, Jameson. Self-Compassion, Affect, and Health-Promoting Behaviors. Health Psychol. 2015;34(6):661-669. doi:10.1037/hea0000158.

Wohl MJA, Pychyl TA, Bennett SH. I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences. 2010;48(7):803-8.

Haupt A. Why do we procrastinate, and how can we stop? Experts have answers. [Internet]. The Washington Post; 2021 Jul 09 [cited 2021 Sep 17]. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/procrastinate-why-stop-advice/2021/07/09/13b7dc2c-e00e-11eb-9f54-7eee10b5fcd2_story.html

Are you OK?

BY TRACY NGUYEN

Are you OK?

Extensive research has shown the amazing impact of communication and its positive impacts on people’s mental state. Being genuinely listened to may be all one needs in his/her darkest day, and conversations can really save lives. This year national R U OK Day was on Thursday the 9th of September. I am sure we have all heard of, if not been very familiar with, this day every year, which is dedicated to be a reminder for all of us to have a conversation with someone we are worried about and offer support to people who are struggling with their life’s challenges.

However, to be able to look out for other people, it is very important to make sure that you are OK first. Before asking anyone that question, give a moment every day to check in with yourself:

  • Be an understanding, patient and kind listener to your own body and mind as how you would be to someone you care about who is going through hard times
  • Give yourself complements for keeping up until now through the tough days; tell yourself that it is fine to be unproductive, upset, frustrated and imperfect today.
  • Remember your presence alone is a blessing, and as long as you are still breathing, there will always be hope at the end of the tunnel, and tomorrow will definitely be a better day awaiting ahead.

In this pandemic with all the uncertainties and challenges, especially during multiple periods of lockdown when you may be physically separated from your loved ones or your normal sources of comfort, it is normal to feel lonely, as if there is only you left struggling all by yourselves in this world. But remember that you are not alone.

If no one has asked you R U OK today, let me be the one who asks. “R U OK? What’s been happening?”. Let me remind you that there’s always someone out there who have been thinking about you and want to hear your stories and know how they can help. Let me remind you that sometimes there are conversations that may be too hard for you to share with family and friends, and if you ever feel concerned about your own safety or the safety of other, please contact a professional as soon as you can. And let me remind all of you who are reading this, no matter how tough things may seem now, that I am confident that you WILL BE OK. Take care!