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Counselling and Psychological Services

Do I have a drinking problem?

Recently I’ve realised I may have a drinking problem. I drink at least 3 drinks a night and suspect they are more than ‘one standard drink’. I think I’ve become dependent on the drink to get me to sleep. I don’t get drunk and have no problems due to the drinking. I’ve moved this year into a share house after 2 years in College and my house mates don’t drink as much as I do or as much as my college friends did. I don’t feel comfortable talking about this to friends as most drink as much, if not more, than me. Do I need to do something?

Well done for thinking about this and for having the courage to ask about it. The National Health and Medical Research Council determined that for a healthy adult, an acceptable drinking level is 2 drinks a day with a couple of alcohol free days each week and drinking no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion. This level is deemed to reduce the risk of alcohol related harm. For your information a stubbie of full strength beer is 1.4 standard drinks, a can of premixed spirits is 1.5 to 2.1 standard drinks, 100 ml of wine = 1 standard drink and I doubt many people at home measure the amount they pour. That’s the technical stuff.

Of more concern to you is possible problems that are caused by drinking, even if they’re not obvious. It’s very likely that your drinking is affecting your functioning at home and during the next day while you’re studying – even without a hangover you will have ‘dulled’ your brain. Click here for a self-assessment tool to test the impact of your drinking. Regarding your concerns that you depend on drinking to sleep, while it can cause you to fall asleep, it isn’t a good quality sleep. You are more prone to waking and snoring and don’t feel as rested when you wake, and as the body is dealing with the alcohol in the system, it may not have done all the other work it needs to do to keep you functioning at your best.

Trying to take some time off from drinking can be a useful way of determining how different things are when you’re not drinking, consider taking a month off to see how you feel. Another option is to start measuring and recording your drinks to make sure you’re accurately assessing your alcohol intake, and to slowly start reducing the amount you drink. Get a shot glass if you drink spirits, only drink two stubbies of light beer a night [equals 2 standard drinks] and try to have a couple of alcohol free nights a week. Drink water between each of your drinks to help the liver out. Stop drinking well before you go to bed. Click here for some more tips on drinking responsibly.

You can also download audio recordings from our website on relaxation, guided imagery to aid sleep and other useful topics. Talking to your mates could be good if one or more have the same concerns as you and are also afraid to discuss it but be aware they might also be scared of the idea and so not be very supportive. It might be useful to come to Counselling and Psychological Services to get support for your efforts and tips to help you along the way – especially if you feel unable to talk to your mates.

Cripping assessment anxiety!

What are some “emergency” strategies for coping with sudden and crippling anxiety or panic during an important exam or presentation when there is no time to use breathing techniques?

Exam situations and oral presentations are very common sources of anxiety for students. During any situation where you are experiencing a sudden burst of anxiety, your body goes into overdrive – you may notice yourself breathing more quickly and becoming short of breath, you may begin to sweat more, feel like you are going ‘blank’ and have difficulty remembering what you were planning to say. Whatever your particular exam stress reaction, we do know that generally it is a combination of thoughts and feelings that contributes to our anxiety response, and this can occur within a very short time frame, and sometimes without us being fully aware of it. The following tips might be useful in learning ways to cope with anxiety.

1. Although you may not have time to do a full 20 minute breathing technique (though these are helpful to do prior to your exam), there are some brief strategies which you can learn to use and practice in your exam or presentation. For example, when you begin to feel panic rising, remember to breathe! Part of the problem with panic is that our breathing gets very short and shallow, and our brain then interprets this as ‘something wrong’, which of course makes us panic even more! Taking a couple of moments to take a deep breath in, and a slightly longer breath out, can help the body to calm down at times of stress, and also can help to focus our attention on the task at hand. Click here to read the Calming Technique.

2. Be aware of any of your negative self-talk. For example; thoughts such as, ‘I can’t do this’, or, ‘I’m going to fail’, can increase anxiety and panic. Try replacing negative thoughts with calming and encouraging thoughts, such as; ‘This is just anxiety, it can’t harm me’, ‘This too will pass’, ‘Relax – everything will be OK’, and ‘Everyone in my class is in the same boat’. By thinking more positively our confidence to engage in the task is boosted and we feel better about our abilities to complete the exam or presentation.

3. Before the exam, it is important to feel adequately prepared by knowing your subject. Be mindful of getting enough sleep and nutritious food – give your brain its best chance. Expect and accept you’ll be nervous thereby not getting nervous about being nervous! Do your Breathing Techniques on the way to the exam or arrive with enough time to do them there, and have realistic, positive self-talk. Taking a few minutes in the exam to do some slow deep breathing is well worth the time it taken to do it.

4. Click here, here and here for more information about preparing for exams.

5. If you find that you’re frequently stressed, consider practicing relaxation on a daily basis. The aim of these techniques is to bring down your overall anxiety level. The Counselling Service webpage has a range of applied relaxation and breathing audio tracks you can download and listen to. Practicing mindfulness can also assist you to check in and let go of negative emotions. Exercise can be a useful way of relaxing for some people. Counselling and Psychological Services also regularly runs workshops throughout semester on a variety of topics including stress management, so check out our website for updates.

Best of luck with your exams!

Loss of motivation

I feel lack of motivation, I know there is lots of things I can do, but I just cannot think and focus. I forced myself to library everyday however I cannot focus on study. My brain is just not working, but I have lots of things need to catch up, what should I do? I always want to sleep during studying, and as a result I eat a lot but I don’t want to. And at night, I always spend a long time to sleep and I wake up earlier and earlier these days, what can I do?

This can be a very common problem, but the good news is there are a number of things that can help increase focus and motivation. Initially it can be useful to attempt to remember the initial motivation for approaching study. Whatever motivated you then is being tested by the daily grind of long hours, and sometimes it’s important to remind yourself why you’re doing this.

Sometimes motivation decreases due to fatigue and a lack of self-care, and it sounds like your diet and sleep schedule could definitely be contributing to this. Click here for some sleep hygiene tips to help improve your sleep. Oddly enough, we learn when we are asleep, so taking the time is better for your studies anyway! Planning regular meals and snacks can help keep you energised and less likely to eat mindlessly, and making sure your diet is filling and nutritious will also help you focus. Regular exercise will help both your sleep and your ability to concentrate.

Anxiety about our workload can also cause our minds to wander, as it feels like there’s so much to do we don’t know where to start. Planning your time effectively will help you feel more confident and productive:
• Establish a routine as if you were in the paid workforce – go to bed, rise and go to uni at the same times most days.
• Select very small, meaningful, achievable goals that flow into each other.
• Try to achieve a balance, and focus on what tasks you have completed, not just the tasks you still need to do. Energise yourself with scheduled downtime, relationship time, recreation time, and enjoyment with friends. The aforementioned will leave your brain readier to work at a high level for longer, rather than blankly staring at a screen.

Finally, Counselling and Psychological Services and Academic Skills Unit run regular workshops on a range of topics that can help with motivation and focus. These workshops not only give practical skills, but attending them in person around other students who are having similar struggles can provide a much needed boost in motivation. Good luck!

Not depression?

I am writing and not attending counselling because, no some days I feel quite normal. I don’t have and I feel like I don’t need too many close friends, I’m OK going many places on my own, reading, writing. My academic performance is also alright. However, I have binge-drank and self-cut in the past when I strongly dislike myself. There’s also a bit of perfectionism in me, and it goes with procrastination and anxiety. Today, I also realise that even with good grades, not much positive feelings arise. I’m actually unsure what I’m trying to achieve here by writing these but, thanks for reading.

Most people who are experiencing mental health problems will have ups and downs, and will often have stretches of time when they feel normal. As a result many people delay reaching out for help when they are feeling ok, which ends up prolonging this cycle. It’s good that you have asked this question, as it sounds like there are some issues that are important to address even if they’re not bothering you as much right now.

Firstly, regarding your procrastination habits and some level of anxiety you relate to perfectionist traits. This is quite common amongst students and is certainly something worth addressing so that you can reduce your anxiety, and potentially feel better about yourself. Check out our tip sheets regarding these topics as a first and easy step, and then decide if you would like to talk about it with one of our counsellors.

You also mention a lack of positive feelings, self-destructive drinking and self-harming behaviour, as well as strong dislike of yourself. All of these can be symptoms of depression, however even if you don’t suffer from depression these are issues that may have an impact on your quality of life, as well as being possible risks to your health. It’s a good idea to see a counsellor even if you are feeling normal on most days, in order to address any underlying reasons for these issues and prevent them for recurring.

Counselling and Psychological Services offers free, confidential counselling for all students, click here for information on making an appointment.

How do I get closer friends?

I’m a first year student from interstate, and threw myself into a few clubs last semester in order to meet people, and while I’ve become friends with quite a few, and have people I know to sit with and talk to in classes, there is no-one I’m close to. All of my friends are from different walks of life so I don’t have a single group to hang out with, and feel that they all have closer friends already. This makes me feel unable to suggest we meet up outside of uni, so I still spend a lot of time alone. I’m also very slow to open up, which doesn’t help. How can I make close friends??

Having a close and supportive friendship network is an important part of our wellbeing and enjoyment of life, and it’s great that you’ve taken steps to meet new people in order to make this happen. The transition from acquaintance to friend to close friend can be slow in some cases, and this is frustrating, especially if you’ve come from another state so are naturally feeling a greater need for new friendships.

A few factors that influence how close friendships can become include:
• Frequency of contact over time – we’re more likely to become close to people we see on a regular basis such as in class or at work as we have time to build up the friendship
• Shared experiences – sharing an activity or a new experience together opens up new avenues of conversation
• Interacting with people in a variety of contexts so we can get to know different parts of each others’ lives, such as meeting mutual friends, or seeing each other outside of class or work
• Opening up about deeper topics and feelings, moving away from superficial topics of conversation

It sounds like there are a few things that are preventing you from taking steps to develop these friendships. You’ve said it feels like they all have closer friends already, I’m wondering if this is true, and if so does that mean there is no room to become close with you? Sometimes feeling that we need friendships more than somebody else does can make us feel vulnerable which makes taking the initiative scary.

You’ve also mentioned that you take time to open up, this is natural, and a reason that having lots of contact with other people without time pressure can be helpful, but I’m also wondering if there are any particular fears about opening up that it may be helpful to address?

If you’d like to talk to someone about any of these fears that may be barriers to becoming closer to people, feel free to make an appointment at Counselling and Psychological Services. In the meantime, remember that even small steps and interactions can make a difference, asking some a question about their lives, suggesting a coffee after class etc, can indicate to the other person that you are open to developing the friendship and may make you feel more comfortable taking further steps down the track.

Am I depressed?

I have been very unhappy lately, am not sure why, I don’t seem to have any reason to. I’ve been avoiding my friends and family and find myself crying over unexpected little things. Everything seems such an effort, studies, money, remembering to eat properly, even watching my favourite shows. What is wrong with me?

It sounds like your unhappiness has some of the qualities we associate with depression. Depression can occur after a particular event or problem, but it can also feel as though it’s come out of nowhere.

When assessing whether unhappiness has become depression health professionals look for a number of signs, some of which include:
• Reduced capacity to experience pleasure: you can’t enjoy what’s happening now, nor look forward to anything with pleasure. Hobbies and interests drop off.
• Reduced motivation: it doesn’t seem worth the effort to do anything, things seem meaningless.
• Lowered energy levels.
• Change in sleep patterns, that is, insomnia, or broken sleep.
• Lowered self-esteem (or self-worth)
• Changes in appetite or weight
• Less ability to control emotions such as pessimism, anger, guilt, irritability and anxiety
• Poor concentration and memory

Treatment is recommended especially if the mood state is severe, has lasted over a couple of weeks and is interfering with ones ability to function at home or at uni/work.

If you think you are depressed, it is important to go and speak with your doctor. If your doctor diagnoses depression then together you can discuss treatment options which may include counselling and in some cases medication.

It is great that you have taken this first step of contacting us. If you are finding it difficult to cope or motivate yourself, you can also make an appointment to see one of our counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services and work through what might be helpful and how to manage what’s going on in your life.

Phone support is also provided on:
Beyondblue info line: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline (24 hour telephone counselling): 131 114

If you would like to know more about depression you can check out:
YBBLUE a youth related section of Beyond Blue
Am I depressed?

Difficulty creating a social life at uni

I’m a first year student and I’ve found it difficult to adjust to uni life. I’m not enjoying myself as much as I thought I would because I haven’t made many friends and developed a good social life. I want to go out and do things on the weekends with uni friends but I’m too shy to do that with people I’m not very close with.

Transition from High School to University is often a tough time socially as there’s usually not that constant exposure to the same people every day that allows you to get to know them without really trying. Given the huge size of a lot of uni classes – especially in first year – you are unlikely to quickly get to know people there. However, tutorials are smaller and would offer you a better chance to make friends over the semester.

You could try joining groups related to your course, for example, some departments have very active social groups. Otherwise there are numerous clubs and societies running across the campus. Doing an activity with others provides a focus so you have a task to both do, and to talk about. Your shyness may not be such a problem in this context, but only you can get out and take the first step.

If you feel some you need some extra help to overcome your shyness, you can also come in to talk to one of the Counsellors here to discuss options that are more specific to your needs and interests. Counselling and Psychological Services usually runs free workshops on topics such as anxiety, communication or making connections, check out our website to find more details.

Losing motivation in final semester

I’m in the final semester of my 1st degree. However, my lack of motivation is at its peak now and I procrastinate so much. I don’t bother attending lectures and I’ve maxed out the allowed number of tute absences. I’ve even started work on an essay on the day of the deadline itself, and accrued late submission penalties. How do I work around this ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude towards my studies? I don’t want my first fail that will delay my graduation. NB: I’m happy with my friends, family, health and finances

It can be hard to maintain the necessary effort throughout your University degree, completing a degree is more like a marathon than a sprint and sometimes it can feel like you are crawling to the finish line! When the procrastination is ongoing the work and stress can build up to a point when motivation is even harder to maintain, but I am glad to hear that your troubles are limited to your studies and not the result of flow-on pressure from elsewhere in your life.

It may be helpful to consider what is dampening your motivation; are you doubting whether this degree will be helpful to you, finding the day to day content uninteresting, or are you just exhausted? Sometimes we know what our end goal is and are motivated by it, but it’s just so far away! We then need other strategies to keep us going day by day. Look to the past and to others: Everybody is motivated by different things. If you are in the final semester of your studies you must have previously been motivated. What strategies worked in the past? Have these been forgotten, or are they just not working for you any longer? Try resurrecting some of your old strategies and see if they help. You identify one major motivation as the desire to graduate on time. Put this to good use, if that’s what you want, what do you have to do to make it happen?

Plan ahead in detail: With only a few weeks to go before completion, one strategy is to plan in detail your schedule for the remaining weeks. List all the work you have outstanding and any exam preparation required. Schedule in the work over the coming weeks, but also remember to allocate some time-out, to reward yourself for your focus. It’s important to make sure your plan is realistic and sustainable. Keep that end goal in sight and what it is that you’re working towards and why.

Study groups: Studying with others can help address the boredom associated with studying alone. Either join an existing study group or create your own. Working with others can also give you fresh insights into course material, and assist with sharing the work associated with creating study notes for exams

You can find tip sheets on a range of topics such as motivation and procrastination on the Counselling and Psychological Service website and the Academic Skills Unit may also be able to assist with planning your remaining time, and exam preparation.

Good luck with your studies and remember a concerted effort now will save you from having to delay your graduation.

I get violent and throw things – please help

I get really violent and throw things. I’m scared I might harm someone. Please help me.

Thanks for your message. It can be very frightening when powerful feelings seem to take hold of us and we lose control leading to violent acts and throwing things. And yes, these behaviours can put others and ourselves at risk of harm. Such behaviours often come from intense feelings – like anger, frustration, pain, fear and hurt. It’s ok to have intense feelings, the problem is in how we express them – especially when they put others or ourselves at risk.

There are ways we can learn to develop awareness, acceptance and tolerance of difficult feelings that can help us manage violent impulses and behaviours. Here is a useful resource about anger, coping with anger, assertive communication and coping with stress, and another helpful resource on anger-management . Mindfulness practice can be useful as it can aid us to learn tolerance of our feelings and thoughts before we act. It might be helpful to discuss your concerns with a counsellor and have their professional support to help you find ways to safely manage your feelings. The counsellor may also be able to help you find an appropriate anger management course. Group courses can be a very effective way to learn. I really encourage you to work on this issue. Our relationships are important parts of our lives and are at their best when they are safe and we can invest trust ourselves and others.

What can I do about my insecurities?

I’ve recently realized that I’m a much more insecure person than I thought I was. A lot of things I’ve done up until now, especially those involved efforts (e.g. getting into a good university, choosing a hard major, working out, being drawn to combat sports), is at least partially to make up for that. But all of them have come to naught recently when someone rejected my feeling for them. What can I do about my insecurities?

Sorry to hear that you’ve had your feelings rejected by another – this is always hard to deal with and it’s not unusual to feel more insecure and conscious of what we consider to be our weaknesses, “unattractiveness” and flaws when we are rejected. Our brains seem to like delving into these perceptions of ourselves, regardless of their veracity in order to attempt to find an explanation for the rejection. A measured amount of this sort of reflection can be useful – we need to check if there was something we did or said that led the person to reject our feelings. It can also be helpful to seek feedback from the person directly to help us understand what has happened, although sometimes this isn’t possible or appropriate. Our trusted friends can sometimes offer a realist’s perspective that we cannot quite see for ourselves.

Often, it’s not possible to fully understand why our feelings have been rejected. When we are hurting and feeling insecure it can be helpful to do the following: take a reality check on how critically we are appraising ourselves; embrace non-comparison (ie. try not to compare self to others;) get present focused – try practicing mindfulness; shift focus to the things in life that bring enjoyment; reflect on personal strengths and qualities and think and act on things that help us feel good about ourselves in the present moment.

In our society, there is often a focus on attaining goals in order to feel good about ourselves. However, a form of ‘self-esteem’ such as this can let us down when we need it the most – when we fail or are rejected. An alternative approach is to develop self-compassion. Consider what you may say to a close friend who was rejected in this way? Can you try and direct that kindness to yourself? Insecurity, or vulnerability of spirit is a universal human experience. It’s essentially humility. By bringing self-compassion forward perhaps it is possible to appreciate ourselves more deeply.

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