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Counselling and Psychological Services

How do I deal with noisy housemates?

My house mates have been playing loud music, partying and staying up late all the time, even when I am trying to study. I am getting sick of their behaviour, what can I do?

Share houses can be very tough and they often challenge our communication and negotiation skills. In normal social contexts we often avoid conflict. This can be harder with housemates where issues may impact more areas of your life and it’s harder to escape. This is also harder if the people you are living with are not interesting in changing or compromising. If there is a chance that they are happy to listen and consider your needs, then it is important to be able to talk to them openly, honestly and fairly.

Having a weekly house meeting over dinner often works well with share houses. This may seem a bit forced, but it can be very useful, as it acknowledges that problems are common and that everyone needs to consider how to ensure the situation works for everyone. Within that you might also have a structure where people say what is going well and what is a problem, otherwise things get discussed only when you are very angry or upset. If you raise the problem and there is no real agreement or change, consider another house, and don’t feel obliged to remain where you are.

It might be worth having a think about how you deal with conflict in your relationships. You may already have the skills to deal with this and just need to adapt them to this situation, or you may need to learn how to communicate effectively when there is a conflict.

Good information on dealing with housemates can be found here. You can also find some resources on assertiveness here, and check out our webinars for some more help on effective communication.

How can I reduce my anxiety?

Lately I find myself waking up in the morning and immediately feeling overwhelmed by the feeling of anxiety. I don’t know why because there is no work or assignment that is very urgent for me to get done. Nevertheless as soon as I am awake I feel the urge to start watching lecture recordings and to start on an assignment that will be due next month. Lately, everything I do in every day is pure studying, because I can’t go out due to Covid. I want some help to reduce this pointless anxiety attacks. Thanks.

Thanks for your question. Anxiety can be a very powerful emotion that drives a lot of behaviour, and motivates us to do whatever we think will reduce anxious feelings. Sometimes this is a good thing, such as in a life threatening situation, or when we urgent work that needs to be done. At other times, anxiety can feel out of proportion to the situation we are in, and can lead to unhelpful behaviours and get in the way of our enjoyment.

Even though your anxiety is telling you that you have to work hard all day, it sounds like there is another part of you that knows this is not the case. Sometimes when we are feeling anxious and helpless about one area of our life, like Covid, we respond to this by focusing on an area that we can do something about, like study. Doing this can be distracting, and can provide a sense of purpose and control, which may reduce the feeling of anxiety in the short term. In the longer term however, it is tiring and not helping.

There are a number of ways to reduce anxiety. These include:
• Acknowledging and challenging unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts
• Getting more balance in your days by including engaging and enjoyable activities
• Staying connected with people in your life
• Practicing breathing and relaxation exercises, or meditation
• Regular physical exercise

You can also check out our webinars for some more strategies, or book an appointment with one of our counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services.

How do I build my confidence?

In many contexts I feel like I lack self-esteem and self-confidence. Whenever anyone asks me for my notes, I always say yes even though I really don’t want to give it to them – I just don’t want to upset them. My friend wanted me to be in his soccer team even though I hate soccer, but I said yes because I didn’t want to let him down. Any tips on how I can build my confidence?

We draw on a range of sources to feel OK about ourselves, and you may have become too reliant on the reassurance and acceptance of those around you. This is very common. Perhaps there is a growing gap between what you want inside and what you want to stand for, as well as how you express yourself in your relationships with others. Asserting oneself can mean running the risk of rejection by the other person (parent or friend). While we do need some validation and reassurance from those close to us, the risk is that you end up always acting in accord with what they “seem” to want and they never see the real you. They may actually love and respect the real you, if you asserted yourself. Right now they may not be seeing much of the real you.

Another major source of support is internal, from feeling that you are acting and speaking in a manner which is in tune with your values. What has been your experience doing that, and how has it affected your feelings of self esteem and confidence? It sounds like you have a clear sense of what some of those values are and what actions or words they may lead to.

This is a major, vital and challenging struggle on the way to becoming your own person. You may need some help on this journey. That could be through attending counselling. It could also be through reading and using tools like a diary. This could help you to monitor and reflect on times when, either, you have been lead by your guess of what others want, or, you have responded to your own internal compass. If you would like to read more try the following links on assertiveness and self esteem and check out our workshops page for some tips on communication.

What can I do to get better sleep?

I haven’t been getting much sleep lately. It takes ages to fall asleep and often I’m awake till about 4 am. I’m so tired in the morning that I can’t get out of bed and I often sleep in late. It’s making it hard to study and go to work, especially in the mornings. What can I do to get better sleep?

Most of us experience problems with sleep from time to time, but some of us will experience insomnia, a more chronic form of sleep problem characterised by a period of more than a month of difficulty falling or staying asleep. Common causes of sleep problems include stressful life events, anxiety, caffeine, smoking, persistent worry, shift work, and habits such as daytime napping.

The first step to improve your sleep is to ensure good sleep habits.

These include:
• Go to bed and get out of bed at around the same time every day (even on weekends!). Regular bedtime hours trains your body and brain to know when it is time to fall asleep and wake up, as does letting early morning sunlight directly into your eyes.
• Get regular exercise, but avoid strenuous exercise immediately before bed.
• Avoid stimulants, including caffeine and nicotine, in the evening.
• Remove all non-sleep devices from your room (e.g., TV, laptop, phone).
• Ensure your room and bed are comfortable and not too warm or cold.
• Don’t take naps during the day.
• Don’t lie there for more than 40mins if you can’t fall to sleep. Worrying about NOT getting to sleep will only keep you awake. If after a little while you’re tossing and turning, get up, get a warm drink, read some light material (nothing too stimulating), and then go back to bed and try again.
• Establish a relaxing nightly routine. Many students make the mistake of studying, working, getting on the Net, or playing games right up until going to bed. How does our brain know to switch off if we’re asking it to be active and alert right up until sleep time? So, take time to unwind before bed: this signals to your brain that it’s time to start the process of falling asleep. (Try setting a reminder on your phone about an hour before bedtime to remember to stop any stimulating activity and do something calm, such as having a bath/shower, turning down the lights and music, have a cup of non-caffeinated tea, or read a book).

Try not to get too stressed about sleep difficulties. Worrying about not sleeping can lead to a vicious cycle of not being able to get off to sleep. Try some of our relaxation strategies to be found on our website, you will not only rest deeply, you may even fall off to sleep whilst practicing them! Check out our workshops page as we often run webinars on better sleep, and if you wish to come in and talk to someone at Counselling and Psychological Services, we have plenty of experience in this area.

Moving out of home

My dad died 2 years ago and my mum and I have supported each other through this and we are very close. Now I would like to move out into a share house. I have spoken with my mum but she cries when I try and talk with her about it. I love my mum a lot and I don’t want to hurt her but I really need to have some space.

It is good that you have supported your Mum and been supported by her with the loss of your father. However, it sounds like you are ready to leave home and develop your independence. This is a natural progression and development in your life. This will be hard for your mother, and for you also, as you love her, and her grief would touch you. Now you are creating yourself as a young adult, making decisions about what you want in your life and what is important to you.

Perhaps one way to think about it is as a continuum, rather than as polarities. You are not leaving your mother forever, and can have regular time together and make contact by phone, etc. If you are not living with your mother, are there ways that you can be together, favourite activities that you can both look forward to doing together?

It is part of being a parent to meet the challenges of children leaving home. In these circumstances your Mum is being challenged. I hope she has good friends and loved ones who will support her through this transition in her life. Similarly for you good friends and loved ones can provide support through this transition in your life. Counsellors at Counselling and Psychological Services are available if you would like to explore this further.

How can I cope with exam stress?

I’m a good student most of the time, go to all lectures and tutes, do the written work but I really stuff up exams. I get really stressed and can’t remember what I am trying to learn and then don’t do so well. I’ve got two exams coming up and I don’t want to stuff up again. What can I do?

Being anxious about exams is a common experience for students, often made worse when you can’t switch off from these anxious thoughts. Some students describe feeling like they are in some kind of a mind block, where one anxious thought leads to another, often attached to physical symptoms like racing heart, dry mouth, sweating excessively and shallow breathing, which in turn re-enforces anxious thoughts.

In order to deal with the anxiety, you could start with breathing exercises every time you tense up by taking a short break and just focussing on your breath for a few minutes, then making it slower and deeper (breathing down to your abdomen). Performing these exercises frequently teaches your body and mind how to relax. Leave a bit of time just before you go to the exam to do your exercise in a quiet place.

Another strategy involves saying “stop” (even aloud if possible) to your anxious, negative thoughts and replacing them with positive messages like reminding yourself of previous successes/ encouragements.

A good counter-balance to anxiety is keeping up with your physical and pleasurable activities in the stressful lead-up period to exams. Remind yourself that your general wellbeing is a necessary ingredient to efficient study and not wasted time.

Check out some of our webinars on managing stress and exam anxiety, as well as our guided relaxation exercises.

If none of the suggested strategies work for you, book an appointment with a counsellor or a medical practitioner.

How do I motivate myself?

My personal motivation has been decreasing over the years and is now depleted to nothing. The only motivation I have comes from fear of public humiliation. If it weren’t for this fear, I would stay at home every day and have very little to do with anyone.
What can I do to genuinely motivate myself?

Personal motivation is a tough one to muster all by ourselves and it sounds like you’ve been struggling to do this for some time alone! Personal motivation is affected by many other factors like energy levels, personal confidence, social relationships, enjoyment in activities, and outlook in life. When motivation is low we can feel like everything is difficult, and yes, it would feel easier to just stay at home.

Simple strategies to increase your motivation include:
– having small realistic goals
– pursuing things that interest you
– rewarding yourself for even small gains and achievements
– writing a gratitude list
– revisiting your overall life values and dreams.

It might also be a good idea to talk about this with a professional for a number of reasons. Firstly, what you say about your fears about public humiliation sounds similar to social anxiety. Most people with social anxiety experience a preference to stay at home and avoid public places, however this can really reduce your enjoyment in life and your overall confidence and/or motivation. Secondly, loss of motivation and interest can be a symptom of depression, and it may be helpful to explore this possibility further. Free, short term, confidential counselling is available for all students from Counselling and Psychological Services.

How to stop negative thoughts?

When I was a kid I was a positive thinker. However, for a long time now, I notice I have really negative thoughts. I want to go back to being a positive person, because my negativity makes me very bad company and I do not want to make other people sad as well. How do I stop thinking negative thoughts?

There may be many reasons why you are experiencing more negative thoughts and you are feeling sad. It may be that negative and difficult things have happened to you, you may have been spending more time around a person or people who think negatively, you may have experienced criticism, or you may have become more critical of yourself in response to something that has happened. I’m wondering if you’ve also been experiencing feelings of low mood or depression? Negative thoughts can lead to low moods and can also be increased by them. What is encouraging is that you have noticed this change in yourself and are able to both articulate it and explore doing something about it.

A good way to learn about how to modify your thoughts is through Cognitive therapy. It teaches you to examine your thoughts and reframe them from being negative to more realistic (and often more positive). Other types of therapy can look at the underlying reasons why you might be thinking more negatively and feeling sad. Mindfulness can help you to respond to your thoughts with more curiosity and self-compassion.

Internet websites such as Moodgym are quite useful in learning to understand and manage negative thoughts and moods. Regular exercise, even a simple daily walk, can also make a difference to our mood. Our website has useful resources, and you can check out our workshops, many of which address ways to manage difficult thoughts and feelings. You can also see a Counsellor here at Counselling and Psychological Services to gain a greater understanding as to what this negative thinking means.

How do I improve my studies and social life as an International student?

I am masters engineering international student. Unfortunately I am feeling inferior or demotivated as I am not happy with my study performance and also my social life.

Thanks for your question. You have taken on two challenging things: studying at a post-graduate level and moving to a foreign country – both of these are challenging things to do and can take a period of adjustment. If you are not studying in your first language, this can increase the challenges.

It is important to remember that you have passed all the hurdle requirements in order to study at the University of Melbourne and you deserve your place here. It’s also useful to keep in mind that you are living in a culture that may be very different to the one you left. Sometimes it takes a year or longer to feel really comfortable in a foreign place; from learning how to get around and where to shop, to recognising and understanding the new jargon and ‘slang’ that local people use.

With all that going on, and the study as well, it can be hard to have the energy and time to go out and make friends. What can be useful is to join a group and meet people on a regular basis, so there is enough time to get to know people. You could join a group related to Engineering, or join a social group. There are groups for International students organised by UMSU International, who represent international students at the University. Also there are many specific interest groups on campus. More information on UMSU International can be found here.

If you need some more ideas or are concerned the social issues are more than a lack of opportunity to meet people, then please come in and speak to one of the Counsellors here at Counselling and Psychological Services. The service is free of charge, confidential and counsellors are experienced in helping students manage similar situations to what you describe.

Should I cut ties with my friend?

I recently met up with a friend. She spoke negatively about my relationship with my boyfriend (eg: listing all the mutual friends that apparently hated him). This friend of mine does not know my boyfriend well yet I have found out that she has been gossiping about my relationship with other people. If she was a true friend, she wouldn’t say things like that to me right? Should I cut ties with this person and end the friendship?

It certainly isn’t nice to realise that people are talking behind your back. I have a few questions about the situation though… Is this something this friend has done before? Can she often be hurtful or unkind in her comments? If yes, then you might want to consider what level of friendship you want with her – whether you cut her off entirely, or just see her less and expect less from her than you might now do.

However, if this is out of character for your friend, then it might be good to look at why she is acting this way, and why your mutual friends may dislike him (if they do). Is she worried about how this boyfriend treats you? Is she concerned you’ve become so involved with him that you are ignoring other friendships? Are you ignoring other responsibilities and this worries her? If the person is a good friend, then talking to her about why she is worried about your relationship might be a good idea. Do it at a time when you can truly listen to her and not get upset. See if she has some rationale behind what she is saying, or does she have no good reason behind her view of him and the relationship?

A true friend can actually care enough to risk telling you things you may not want to hear. So yes, sometimes a true friend will say ‘bad’ things to you, to try to help you. However, these should be said with kindness and respect, and not gossiping behind your back. These things need to be considered before you decide whether or not to cut your friendship off. Having a chat to her – even if awkward – might be the best thing to do first.

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