Coping with Starting University

Another from our level 4 assignment posts


Starting university is a big change; moving away from your home, family, friends and pretty much everything you know – so starting a new stage in life, in a new place, can feel quite daunting. If that wasn’t enough to worry about… the idea of moving into halls with random people may just do that. Will you like them? Will they like you? Will you get on? Will they be the messiest people known to man? Probably. To add to all this, you have no idea what to expect from your course and find yourself wondering around campus feeling like a year 7 all over again. What more could you want from a university experience right?
Yes, it can be scary, overwhelming and most certainly awkward at the beginning but REMEMBER everyone is in the same situation as you – just some know how to deal with it better. This blog will help you learn to generally cope with university but also can be applied to other aspects of life such as work but most importantly, your mental health.


With many changes happening in your life it’s important to take a step back and have a little time just for you. Neglecting your wellbeing could make you feel worse, making you feel lonely, isolated, anxious and depressed

Click here  to self-assess your psychological wellbeing.




zTX4XqpTB (1).pngWe all love to sleep, especially students, but with fresher’s week and late night assignment writing it can be a struggle to find a balance. Most people would think that lack of sleep has no effect other than being tired however, it actually effects both the mind and body. Research suggests it can negatively impact emotional
processing and mood for the following day leaving you feeling down. If uni has already made you slightly nocturnal and you have trouble getting the recommended 8 hours here are some tipsand a video that could help you.



Not only are you in a weird new place you are also surrounded by weird new people. This can be very overwhelming and its easy to just shy away and not branch out to anyone, but remember everyone is in the same situation and are probably as scared as you are. Even though we tend to hide away in our rooms glued to our phones believe it or not humans are actually social creatures and we get many benefits from interacting with others. Having a healthy and balanced social life will prevent you from feeling lonely and isolated – once you are feeling low, it is easy to neglect social contact therefore influences your psychological wellbeing.

calling.jpgIts useful to not isolate yourself from people and try to get involved in as much as you can. You meet so many people during freshers week, most of whom you’ll not speak to again only, bumping into them occasionally and having awkward eye contact. Student reps will be going on and on and on at you to join their societies and won’t
stop hassling you until you sign away your soul and join them. Even though it is borderline harassment it is one of the best ways to meet new people from all over the place and not just people from your campus.

So don’t panic if you don’t make friends straight away, no doubt your lecturers will force you to work in groups.

Aside from uni, don’t forget about your friends and family back home (they haven’t forgot about you) sometimes all you need is a home comfort.


cartoon-bad-mannered-boy-eating-a-sloppy-sandwich-by-ron-leishman-6176.jpgThe glorious moment when your student loan finally comes in and you can eat like a king for a week but then back to student basics. Pot noodles, baked beans, enough pasta to feed 500, vodka and the last slice of mouldy bread. In all seriousness, although you’d probably want to save money for jager bombs than spend it on veg, its important to try and maintain a balanced diet. A healthy and varied diet will result in feeling positive, calm, energised and thinking clearly.

When you’re running late to your 9am lecture its easy to skip a decent breakfast, this should be avoided as its seen as the most important meal of the day. Try to eat a variety of fruits and veg as they contain many minerals, vitamins and fibre needed to keep us physically and mentally healthy. As well as eating correctly, you should try to drink 2 pints of fluid a day (preferably water not caffeinated drinks) as it helps you concentrate and stay focused. If you feel like you don’t eat well clickhere for some more information.

If you’re not part of some society, its likely that the only exercise you get is running for the bus. Scientifically it is shown that exercise is very beneficial not only to your physical health but your mental wellbeing too. This can help in a number of ways; protecting against anxiety, positively change our mood through chemical changes in the brain and brings a higher sense of self-esteem.9155015-Cartoon-teen-relaxing-on-the-sofa-He-is-eating-a-snack-and-has-a-soft-drink-handy-Stock-Vector.jpg

Easy exercises that can fit into your everyday student life could be walking, Pilates, swimming, cycling and even dancing. It is recommended to aim for 150 minutes of exercise weekly but even a little bit here and there will have a positive effect. This is also a good opportunity to increase social aspects too as you could organise or take part in group activities such as football, rounder’s, cheerleading and paint balling.


stock-vector-sad-man-drinking-at-a-bar-isolated-on-white-cartoon-illustration-214483042.jpgWhen you’re feeling down its tempting to find some easy escape and to forget about everything, getting drunk and doing drugs is a quick getaway but you aren’t actually dealing with your problems you’re just burying them. Substance abuse negatively impacts emotional wellbeing. Some major neurological and emotional effects of substance abuse include; depression,anxiety, memory loss, aggression, mood swings and paranoia.

This can be a serious problem and if you or anyone else feels as though they are heading this way, it is important to seek help. Ideally contact your GP but telling anyone will help. You can find out more information here.



cartoon-image-woman-med-w-computer.jpgWhilst avoiding your responsibilities and pretending that you have no work to do, its valuable to take some actual time out and relax. relaxation can be used to prevent high levels of stress. There are many things you can do to help you relax and the more you practise the easier it will be such as colouring, going for a walk, breathing techniques,meditation and having a massage.


Here are some simple yet effective activities that practise mindfulness. Mindfulness is essentially experiential, there’s formal practice such as meditation and informal practicewhich is being aware of bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions during daily life.

These are general activities which are designed for everyone however, these exercises are more effective if you do ones that you enjoy.

1) Here is a short meditation video to start you out and test to practice positive energy towards yourself and others. If you found this useful or want to know more there are more in depth guides on youtube.

2) Try to write 10 things that you are grateful for in your life – this puts into focus the positives rather than only looking at what is wrong.

3) Keeping a dairy, writing down about your day and how you feel can be a good sense of relief rather than keeping it al inside. In this you can write down your most important values in life without feeling pressured to talk to someone about it.

4) Think about who you are grateful for in your life and try expressing why you are grateful for them in a letter. Don’t worry you don’t actually have to give them the letter but again can be eye opening  to the positives in your life.

5) Simply helping someone can make you feel better about yourself.

6) Here is aonline activity which will try and help you overcome any unwanted thoughts and feelings. This 5 step process will allow to identify your current emotions and how to look at the bigger picture.


475672376.jpgThese and other mindfulness exercises directly target the risk factors that are associated with mental disorders as mentioned previously. The British Psychological Societyhas demonstrated that mindfulness exercises protects against depression as it creates a different more positive outlook.  Psychological therapies such as MBCT and MBSR are based from mindfulness techniques and are used to treat a wide range of illnesses from cancer to anxiety.

Writing diaries and about your feelings, goals and achievements help by interrupting rumination. By writing things down could allow you to make links between your feelings and the context you were in so you could identify possible triggers which made you feel like that. Meditation also interrupts rumination through disengagement.

Mindfulness increases cognitive flexibility by making you more aware of yourself and your surroundings for example, meditation promotes general metacognitive awareness. From this being more cognitively aware will aid your coping processes and so being able to deal with similar emotions throughout your life.


– Starting uni might seem overwhelming but remember that everyone feels the same and see it as a fresh start to meet new people rather than a negative

– Detox from the shots and forget about the free dominos vouchers from the fresher’s fair and look after yourself by eating and sleeping properly

– Mindfulness activities help to improve your psychological wellbeing, the more you practice mindfulness the easier it gets

– Remember looking after your mind is as important as looking after your body









How to Cope with Exam Stress

Another example from our level 4 assignments…

How to Cope with Exam Stress

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Stress is a feeling experienced when under pressure of being unable to cope. People experience it in many different forms, for many different reasons. This blog will look at methods of coping with exam stress, which is common for 16-21 year olds, although can affect all ages.

There are a variety of factors which can help minimise stress levels for example time managementexercise and dietsleep and mindfulness which we will investigate further.

The first step to tackling exam stress is to recognise you are suffering. Some noticeable signs of stress are:

  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Low mood
  • Negative thinking
  • Lack of sleep
  • Inability to concentrate

These can all make the idea of exams even more daunting, and cause you to actually perform worse due to the extra strains on your body.

Time Management

cliparti1_watch-clip-art_10.jpg.pngTime management is where you effectively organise your time, allowing yourself to dedicate adequate time and prioritise tasks. Utilising your time as best you can reduces the stress caused by workload.


How to improve?

1. Set yourself goals – this way you’re aware of what you’re working towards which will motivate you to keep working.

2. Make an action plan – prioritise tasks in order of what needs to be completed soonest, and tick off as you complete them.

3. Make a timetable – having a timetable for a whole day means you’re more likely to stick to the timings spent on revision and not spend too long on breaks. It’s best to work in short spells of about 30 minutes at a time

4. Test yourself – if you set out what you need to know for each topic of revision, and test yourself on them after each day of revising then you’ll be able to compare how you’re improving and what needs extra work on.

sicko-clipart-to-do-list-clip-art.pngAllow yourself breaks of about 10 minutes after half an hour to help keep concentration levels most effective.

Try to be aware of bad habits you might slip in to such as procrastination, what causes this to happen and how to avoid it.

Be organised, set alarms, stick to plans, and you’ll get more done in one day than before.

Doing all these techniques will help you to spread out your workload to avoid last minute cramming which is a massive don’t!

Exercise and Diet

Healthy eating includes eating a variety of food which provides the body with nutrients you need to maintain your health, feel good and have energy to carry out activities. Exercise is any physical activity which helps to improve health and maintain fitness and weight.

The brain requires nutrients just like other vital organs do. A healthy diet creates a healthy heart, as well as reducing a person’s blood pressure and cholesterol level, resulting in reducing illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Throughplate obtaining a healthy diet, such as high calcium foods and fat-free dairy products, it will provide your organs and tissues with the correct nutrition in order for them to work most effectively.

Exercise is a key component to a persons lifestyle, especially around exams period. This is because it helps get the blood flowing to the brain which helps to enhance thought processes, as well as helping to bring nutrients to the brain which makes studying more effective.

How to improve?


There are a number of ways in which you can improve both your exercise and diet. Firstly, it is advised that you eat breakfast in the morning before sitting an exam, as the nutrients in food helps provide the brain with more energy, therefore helping a person to keep focused. Some suggested foods to eat before exams are ‘Brain Boosting foods’ which are rich in protein allowing a greater mental alertness. For example, eggs, nuts and yoghurt.

In addition, its advised to avoid foods with flour in as these can be seen as ‘brain blocking’ foods as they require time and energy to digest. Some food has a L-tryptophan amino acid in them which is a chemical that makes you sleepy, which can be found in foods such as turkey so it’s advised to avoid these.

It is essential to drink water before and during exams in order to help keep yourself hydrated which helps to keep concentration. It’s recommended to drink around 8 glasses of water per day.

Exercising throughout the exam period is easier than it sounds. It is suggested that a person should spend 2.5 hours a week exercising, as this helps you feel more calm. Walking is recommended as it provides you with fresh air, resulting in a mood boost and the release of endorphins. Other simple ways to exercise is by participating in simple daily workouts, or joining a local club or a society at University.

The benefits?

  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts self-esteem
  • Improves sleep


  • Strengthens heart
  • Increases energy levels
  • Improves muscle tone and strength
  • Strengthens bones

It’s often hard to judge how much sleep we are actually getting. The NHS has a sleep self-assessment activity, which can help you to determine whether or not you are getting the right amount of sleep.

Getting enough sleep when revising and taking exams is crucial. Not doing so can mean that you won’t work at your best. The occasional bad night of sleep won’t do you too much harm, but if it becomes a regular thing, then it can start to have a serious effect on how you’re functioning. It will become more and more difficult to concentrate, something you don’t want around exam time.

How to improve?

It has been found that if you are looking at a screen in the hour before going to bed then it’s likely it will take you longer to fall asleep, and you will feel like you need more sleep than you were able to get. Therefore it would be advisable to avoid using screens in the hour before going to bedto ensure that you get a better nights sleep, and instead do activities to wind down, such as taking a warm bath.

clockAnother important factor iscreating a regular bedtime routine. Trying to go to bed at the same time and following the same routine every night will enable your body clock to settle into a pattern, making it easier to fall asleep at the right time and wake up at the right time. By working out when you have to get up in the morning you can start to build a nighttime routine. The average teenager needs around 9 hours of sleep a night, so you can work backwards to determine when you need to start getting ready for bed.

Another important area to consider is – is your bedroom a good place to sleep in? It should be dark, a good temperature, comfortable, and quiet, which will help you to get a better nights sleep.

The benefits?sleep2

Sleep is extremely important to help you get good results in exams, and has been shown that students who are sleep deprived will get worse results in exams. This video talks through reasons why sleep is so important and expands on some of the points already made here on how to improve sleep.


meditateMindfulness is a mental state achieved by being present in the current moment, whilst observing and accepting all current thoughts, feelings and emotions. As you learn to accept your thoughts as they come and go, you become aware that your thoughts do not have to control you and you can choose those you do and don’t act on, naturally leading to a more relaxed mental state.

How to achieve?mindful

Mindfulness is an art and just like all skills it needs to be practised. It can be achieved either through sitting meditationfollowing breathbody scanmindful hatha yoga or informal daily practices which we will talk about. Try this ‘5 senses drill’ to quickly reduce stress!

1. Stop what you are doing and take two deep breaths to help bring you into the present moment

2. Look around you and silently name 3 things you see

3. Open to the sounds around you and silently name 3 things you can hear

4. Bring attention to your body, silently name 3 sensations you can feel in this moment (for example tingling, warmth, coolness)

5. Bring attention to smell and taste, name 3 senses you can notice at that time. Take two deep breaths to finish this mindfulness exercise

Repeat this process to practice and build up resilience for dealing with anxiety and stress in exam periods.


As you can see there are many ways of reducing exam stress. If you have any further concerns visit the NHS Choices website or the Mind Charity website for further help and support.

And good luck!

Knowledge on the Internet

You’ll hear us say at various times that you shouldn’t rely on web sites as sources to reference in coursework, though some sites are useful starting points to get your head round a question. Wikipedia’s particularly good, and particularly popular (too popular sometimes), but it has its problems. A study in Nature found that the accuracy of wikipedia articles wasn’t far short of Encyclopaedia Britannica articles. This is sound, but at degree level we expect knowledge beyond what you find in an encyclopaedia, no matter how good. More to the point, this level of quality comes about because anyone can contribute to wikipedia, but this is also its downfall – anyone can edit a wikipedia article to say whatever they want. The system is self correcting, in that people can flag disagreement and make changes to articles, and eventually articles tend to settle down to a sound position. Whenever you look up something in wikipedia though, there’s always a chance that you catch it at an intermediate stage where someone’s written any old nonsense.

The above is all true, and widely recognised. For most people, wikipedia is an excellent source, provided you bear in mind the fact that some material may be in dispute. For others, however, wikipedia is the front line in a dastardly plot by left wingers. Check out this Guardian article about Conservapedia, an online “encyclopaedia” set up to counteract the alleged left wing propaganda promulgated by wikipedia and the like:
(For the Conservapedia web site:

This development tells us something about the nature of knowledge. The people who set up conservapedia are dissatisfied with the knowledge presented on wikipedia, because it doesn’t fit in with what they, for whatever reasons, believe to be true. This is revealed nicely by their comments about the Democratic party – whatever your political views, any fair minded person would find it hard to believe that one of the two mainstream US parties has a ‘true agenda’ of cowering to terrorism.

The conservapedia site would seem to many to be politics presented as knowledge. The trouble is, this is usually true to some extent. It’s not always so blatant, but knowledge is fundamentally socially constructed, such that a given group comes to some agreement about what counts as “true” and what doesn’t. In some cases the given group is a clear subset of society with a clear agenda behind what they believe to be true. More widely though, any particular culture or society will have its own ways of agreeing what’s acceptable knowledge. In general in the West we prefer the scientific method as a way of finding ‘truth’, but the scientific method has its own flaws that means that just because some claim is widely accepted, doesn’t mean its true. In the 1940s most psychologists accepted behaviourism as a ‘true’ theory of human behaviour, but now we know better😉 The lesson is always be sceptical about the truth claims of others. Including those on wikipedia.

Don’t Always Believe Scientists

A few years ago Channel 4 showed a programme that presented an alternative view of climate change, “The Great Global Warming Swindle”. In this, various scientists presented claims that global warming isn’t the result of human activity (“anthropogenic”), but rather the result of natural forces. The programme generated a fair bit of controversy, which is probably what Channel 4 wanted. I won’t address the claims of the programme directly, but rather what the programme, and the controversy, teaches us about science, and about the way the media deals with science issues.

In another post (“Knowledge on the internet”) I talk about the way in which knowledge is socially constructed, such that a given group in society will find some knowledge claims acceptable, and others unacceptable. What I didn’t talk about is where the knowledge claims come from in the first place. For many of the articles in Conservapedia (the subject of the other post) the knowledge claims come from faith. For most in modern society though, such claims have limited acceptability. Science is seen as a more acceptable way of producing knowledge claims. However, scientists can often be seen to disagree with one another, which makes us wonder why it is that science is regarded so highly. The kind of disagreement shown in the Channel 4 programme illustrate both the weaknesses, but also the strengths, of science as a way of knowing.

Simplistically put, science involves making observations of some phenomenon; generating theories to explain those observations, which then lead to predictions; and then testing those predictions. If the predictions are supported, then we can have some confidence in the theory. So, climate scientists observe an increase in global warming, and at the same time an increase in levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Some then theorise that release of CO2 through human activity leads directly to the global warming. (Obviously the situation is more complex, but this will do for our purposes.) If this is true, then we might predict that continuing increases in CO2 levels will lead to continued warming. This has been modelled on computers, and seen to work. Most climate scientists now believe that CO2 levels influence global warming.

That all sounds fine, so why the disagreement? The problem is that there are other possible explanations for the association between CO2 levels and global temperature. For example, some claim that increased temperatures lead in some way to increased CO2 levels, rather than vice versa. The Channel 4 programme presented some of these alternative theories. The weakness of science is that we can’t usually prove any particular theory as being correct, we can only accumulate evidence for or against particular theories and at any given point, believe one theory to be more likely than the others. This is the position we’re in with regards to global warming, though as it happens the great majority of climate scientists now believe that the evidence points to global warming as being human induced.

The debate about global warming seems striking in comparison to the certainty of other scientific knowledge. However, some ideas that now seem well known facts themselves went through the same phase of disagreement. The best example is probably the theory of heliocentrism, the idea that the earth moves around the sun. This was first proposed in Ancient India, around 900-800BCE, and rediscovered repeatedly over the following 2000 years in different cultures. In European terms, the debate was re-ignited by Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th-17th Century CE, but took some time to be widely accepted: the Catholic Church first allowed heliocentric books to be printed in Rome in 1822CE. These days, you’d look foolish suggesting that the earth didn’t move around the sun, although that doesn’t stop some ( The important point is that the heliocentric view became accepted gradually on the basis of an accumulation of evidence: it’s seldom the case that scientific ideas are suddenly accepted outright.

The weakness of the scientific method is also its strength. When science is done well, then people present their evidence and their reasoning when presenting a theory: this evidence and reasoning can then be checked and tested by others, and found to be valid or wanting. Science can be seen as self-correcting, such that eventually a consensus position is found that most people can agree on. This checking process is illustrated in the case of one of the scientists represented in the Channel 4 programme, Dr Eigil Friis-Christensen. He published three papers purporting to show that global warming was caused by non-human factors: each was shown to be wrong. The second and third papers responded to observed errors in earlier papers in order to provide a new theory for the same underlying idea, that global warming isn’t caused by humans.

Clearly, Dr Friis-Christensen is committed to the idea that humans don’t cause global warming, and clearly he’s eager to find some theory, somewhere, to justify this idea. It’s impossible to know why he’s so committed, whether it be a heartfelt belief; a desire to let humans “off the hook” for economic or political reasons; the result of funding from oil companies; or whatever. This commitment isn’t unusual though, a similar determination can be seen in attempts to “prove” racial differences in intelligence, as discussed in Gould’s excellent history of intelligence testing, The Mismeasure of Man. At the end of the day, scientists are human. They have pre-existing beliefs that they are committed to, and that they are reluctant to discard. They make mistakes, that can lead them to false conclusions. Most evidence scientists collect is ambiguous, and can’t be definitively interpreted. This is increasingly being recognised, particularly in the field of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (

The important point is that scientific knowledge claims aren’t purely empirical and rational, but are affected by social factors. When you see a single scientific claim, be sceptical. Look to see what the evidence is, and whether you find it believable. Look at the claims of other scientists in the same area, to see whether they’re compatible or competing, before deciding which claims you believe. And when you come to believe a claim, don’t over commit, because the claim may be disproved at some later date.

As an example of the above, think again about evolutionary theory. The ‘Theory of Evolution’ presented by Darwin in On the Origin of Species is specifically a theory of evolution by natural selection. Evolutionary theories had been around since the ancient Greeks, and particularly in Europe since the mid 18th Century. Before Darwin, many believed in Lamarck’s theory of evolution through inheritance of acquired characteristics, because it was then the best explanation for variation in scientific terms. However this theory had weaknesses, like, um, being wrong. Darwin’s theory won out because over time it became clear that it was better supported by evidence.

So, don’t trust the scientists just because they’re scientists: you’ll usually find others who disagree with them, which is an entirely healthy state of affairs. This insight is lost on the media however, who are usually happy to pass on the claims of anyone who seems to have the aura of scientific authority without actually thinking about it. This is clear with “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, where Channel 4 found some scientists who disagreed with the vast majority of climate scientists without bothering to look to see whether their ideas had any foundation. The fact that the programme would likely prove controversial undoubtedly added to the appeal, but in general Channel 4 is crap at doing science. Just look at their continued support for “Dr” Gillian McKeith.

For a good rebuttal of the claims of the programme, read this Guardian article:
One of the scientists who appeared on the programme as a denier of anthropogenic climate change is considering legal action against Channel 4 for allegedly duping him, and describes the programme as “grossly distorted”. The two main scientists on the programme were Professor Paul Reiter, whose Annapolis Centre for Science-Based Public Policy had received $763,500 in funding from ExxonMobil, the huge oil company; and Professor Ian Clark, whose Fraser Institute has received $120,000, also from ExxonMobil.

Don’t think I’m only getting at Channel 4 though: in general, the media presents science in a way that will maximise sales/coverage/viewing figures, with little understanding of the issues involved and even less attempt at reasoned analysis. The state of scientific journalism in this country is scandalous, mainly because ‘science journalists’ are journalists first, and very rarely scientists at all. For a considerably better example of science journalism, check out Bad Science ( which includes a couple of pieces on the Channel 4 programme.

Psychology in everyday language

I’ve said various things in various lectures about the relationship between the discipline of psychology and people’s everyday psychological thinking. These include that psychology (the discipline) creates concepts that change our everyday understanding of the psychological, and that our everyday psychological understanding is reflected in the language we use – what Graham Richards calls Folk Psychological Language. If these claims are true, then we might expect innovations and change in the discipline of psychology to be reflected in everyday language. I’ve long been interested in doing a piece of large-scale research on this, but other writing projects have taken priority. However, a new tool released by Google Labs, the Books Ngram Viewer, makes such a project much easier so I might revisit the idea. This project relies on the huge store of literature that Google Books has built up, and has made that store into a searchable database so that you can search for the occurrence of particular terms in books over time. Let’s look at a few examples.

I’ve claimed that the notion of “motivation”, which seems so fundamental a part of human psychology, is a relatively modern Western innovation, which has value and meaning only in particular socio-economic contexts. It first comes to psychology through psychoanalysis, but is given a different meaning by mainstream scientific psychology. If we search for occurrences of motivation in English books we get:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.08.03

(All images are static versions of the interactive charts the ngram tool generates; you can go to the tool itself by clicking on the link that follows the image: view ngram)

Basically nothing until Freud introduces the term at the start of the 20th century, then some growth, followed by a spurt with the rise of industrial/occupational psychology in the US from the 1940s. The trend is delayed in French language psychology:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.11.46

(View ngram)

Here, it’s only from the 1950s that motivation really takes off as a concept. I’ve written elsewhere about Western Europe adopting the forms of US psychology after the second world war, and this is perhaps evidence of it. One other example, this time from Russian psychology:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.15.13

(View ngram)

Russian psychology is interesting because under the Communist regime scientists were limited in what they could do by the ideological demands of the state apparatus. Clearly Stalin – who died in 1953 – wasn’t happy with the idea of motivation, as an import from Western capitalist societies. Later Communist regimes were more accepting of the concept, and it continues to grow as Russia becomes a capitalist society. (Russian is tricky because ‘motivation’ translates into multiple terms, but I think I’ve got the right one.)

What these examples seem to indicate is that the idea of “motivation” as a psychological construct is socially and historically dependent. What about some other concepts? Let’s try IQ:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.16.29

(View ngram)

The term is only developed in the 1910s, so you wouldn’t expect to see any mentions before that: those few that occur are likely noise arising from how the algorithm works, I need to tinker with the settings more to get cleaner data. Anyway, the concept of IQ was clearly very successful, very quickly, in the English speaking world. But of course, everyone knows that “IQ tests” were invented by the French psychologist, Binet, so how was the concept received in French psychology?

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.17.43

(View ngram)

In French psychology, we see little increase in the use of the term when IQ tests are first developed – the French didn’t want anything to do with IQ it seems. This isn’t surprising, since IQ tests, and the concept of IQ as we understand it, are very much American innovations reflecting a specific socio-political context. Binet did develop tests of intellectual performance, but these were in no way IQ tests: they had a very different inspiration and purpose. The English speaking concept of IQ only gains widespread acceptance in French psychology after the second world war, reinforcing the point above.

It’s probably a little sad to admit, but I could play with this data set for hours. One more example will suffice for now though. I’ve talked about how when psychology introduces a term it changes our understanding of our own condition; and of the increasing medicalisation of psychology. I’ve used the example of the change from the concept of “melancholy” to the concept of “depression”, suggesting that the latter has replaced the former, and with it changed the way we understand mental health. Let’s have a look:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.19.54

(View ngram)

The pattern is pretty clear: the more ‘modern’, scientific term “depression” takes over at the start of the 20th Century, and receives a particular boost with the growth of clinical psychology as a profession.

This tool gives a quick and easy way to trace the history of a concept. What about psychology in Germany? It emerges in the mid-19th Century, grows to a certain extent, but then gets a massive boost when the nazi regime found it to be politically and practically useful:

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 20.21.15.png

(View ngram)

Which I hope corroborates the claims I make in Tyson, Jones & Elcock

Keeping your mind healthy at university.

As an assessment for one of our level 4 modules, we ask students to produce a blog post providing psychological knowledge to a general audience. This is one of the blog posts produced last year.

Keeping your mind healthy at university.

Becoming independent at University can be struggle for many students. It means spending less time with family and long term friends and more with new people. You will have to overcome new experiences such as learning how to budget and shop for yourself, pay rent and potentially find a part time job alongside your studies. All of this as well as completing assignments and sticking to deadlines can put your mind and body under strain.

Examples of psychological disorders that effect well being:

Nilda Hernandez suggests that students are more prone to mental illness. She found that more students are stating that they have a mental illness when registering for university and the number of students who are diagnosed increases throughout the year. It has been suggested that students have problems with their mental health because of their age and lack of preparation for university work. However Hernandez found that non-traditional students often face the same mental challenges as traditional students.

It has been suggested that depression and anxiety are more prevalent among university students but there is still stigma around the label. In a recent study it was found that one in four students feel to uncomfortable to reveal their mental health problems to people. However a study carried out by NUS found that 92% of respondents identified as feeling down, stressed and demotivated. The average reporting of these feeling were one a month or more and one third of people reported feeling this way every week. This suggests that mental distress among students is more common than people realise, so if you are worried about your own or a friends mental health it is best to talk to someone. This doesn’t have to be a professional, simply talking among friends can be beneficial. If you would like to support a friend who is suffering from depression, it may be worth reading this BPS digest about depression  to gain an insight into what they are experiencing.

Tips to keep good well being:

Once you have moved to university all the stresses could be too much for some and a coping mechanism can be useful. It is also worth trying a few of the following.


relax2relax1Those who feel guilty about taking breaks and having time away from university work are more likely to be mentally exhausted, so taking a break will improve their work as well as their psychological well being. It is important to not become completely immersed within university, you need to learn how to relax and should take time off to do things you enjoy to keep your mind happy. For example you could watch TV, read a book or go for a walk or run.



ExerciseThere has been research that shows exercise can elevate mood, this is known as the happiness effect. It has been suggested that daily workouts have a higher impact on a persons mood than working out every other day or only at weekends. This is because the chemicals released while a person is exercising causes feelings of euphoria. A positive effect of these chemicals is that it causes a sense of clarity, which is why problems seem more manageable after exercise. The benefits of exercise extends further than lifting a persons mood, it can even help to alleviate depression. There are a variety of different sports societies at the University of Gloucestershire, joining one of these club is a great way to stay active and make new friends at the same time.

However, it is important to remember than there is no perfect body shapeStudies have shown that men overestimate how highly women rate muscularity and women over estimate how attractive men find thinness. This suggest the aim of a ‘perfect’ body is not as important as we may think.

Keep in touch with family and friends:

Relationships play a significant role in peoples happiness and well-being. If you have moved away to go to University it is crucial you keep in touch with your family at home   and keep up to date with their lives. There are many ways of doing this such as, calling them, talking over Skype or visiting home when you have time off. However, even if you stay living at home it is important to maintain relationships with your family and friends by spending time with each other. It is equally important to make new friends as well so that you can share experiences and develop new life skills that you need for university.

Eating well:

appleDoing food shops for yourself, and not being monitored by parents can lead to unhealthy habits. If you do not have a healthy diet, you may experience short term negative impacts on your cognition, mood and sleep patterns. An example of an unhealthy diet is binge eating, this can put you at risk of developing diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as many other illnesses. On the other hand there are also negative effects of under eating on your psychological well-being include, depression, panic, anxieties and obsessive behaviours. eatwellThere is also evidence that  people who eat fewer healthy foods are more likely to report mental health problems. On the other hand, nearly two thirds of people who consume fresh fruit or fruit juice do not report daily mental health problems. There are also many other studies that show a healthy diet positively impacts your psychological well-being.

A video giving advice on eating well on a budget can be viewed here.


With lots of technology and worries it’s hard to get as much sleep as we really need so when you have the chance its best to sleep rather than scroll down Facebook or Twitter, it has been found  that a lack of self control around bed time procrastination is the highest cause of insufficient sleep and bad sleep patterns. This emphasises the importance of getting into a routine as a lack of sleep can stop you from getting to lectures, handing work in on time and doing work to the highest standard.

According the British Psychological society a study has found that people who establish a regular sleep pattern are less likely to be overwhelmed by negative thoughts. This means that students who go to sleep very late at night or only sleep for short periods of time are more likely to think in negative ways. If this applies to you, there are many tips on how to get a better nights sleep, for example not take long naps during the day instead limit it to an hour.

Managing Finances:

Money can be considered a large problem whilst at university. You may be worried about having enough money to live from or your worries may be about repaying loans in the future. There are systems in place that ensure you will be financially safe at university. Examples include Student Fiances Gov and the  student room which all provides advice on many problems linked in with this topic.

Becoming financially independent could be a big worry as well, as you may be used to parents helping with finances and paying for food shops. Budgeting is a great way to stay on top of money worries and will let you know what spare money you have to spend for the week.


Factors that make it worse:

Mood and substance disorders:


alcoholAlcohol is a depressant which means it can disrupt the balance of chemical in the body, which will alter a persons brain chemistry, changing thoughts, emotions and actions. In low quantities alcohol can make you feel more relaxed as the inhibitory part of the brain is depressed. On the other hand high quantities of alcohol can produce a negative emotional response such as feeling angry, anxious or aggressive. This will consequently lower a person psychological wellbeing. If a person is exposed to large limits of alcohol over a prolonged period of time studies have shown that there links to the person developing depression and other mental health problems                                                                    

Drugs directly affect the brain as they distort a persons perception, dull sensations and can cause emotions to be lower than before the drugs were used. Drug usage ultimately lowers psychological wellbeing in people as it only induces a temporary high. Clsely related to drugs are novel psychoactive substances.This is because the side effects are the same as illegal drugs but the chemicals are not monitored, meaning it is not known how a person will react. There is a very high risk that the effects of coming off some substances can change a persons mood and behaviour.


Activities to help:


meditate1Whether your in a group or on your own you can meditate. There is research behind minfulness meditation which doesn’t take much time or effort to complete but can leave you feeling psychologically well and improve decision making. meditate2


If you would like to know more about the breathing techniques/meditation that comes into mindfulness just click.


Well-being self assessment:

The NHS Choices website has a well-being self assessment tool that you can complete. The test uses a measure that is often used by psychologists to measure a persons mood. The test will give you a score out of 70  followed by some tips on how you can improve your psychological well-being.

Points to take away:

It seems as though it is quite easy to see and comprehend phyisical wellbeing but when it comes to your psychological/emotional wellbeing a lot of confusion comes into place. It’s good to rememeber that when we look after our bodies we should also look after our minds. Also try to keep in mind that university is important but it doesn’t need to be all that you do!