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Alumni Takeover: Building your own Circle of Strength

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Paddy Melville of Thank And Praise and Melville Solutions provides us with some wellbeing tips for our latest alumni takeover.

Like me, I am sure you are trying to adapt to the changes happening all around us. I live down in Hampshire with my wife (who is also an alum of Newcastle Uni) and 3 young kids. The challenges for us now involve the isolation, changes of schedules and the work vs. life balance. For some reason, my kids don’t always accept my email invitation for ‘Fun with Dad’ every weekday at 5pm for 25 mins…

When things don’t go as you expect or you don’t know what to expect, this can lead to stress. Part of my work is to provide mental health expertise and support - I am an instructor for Mental Health First Aid England (www.MHFAEngland.org) and run my own mental health programmes. COVID19 has impacted my schedule due to the changes that businesses and individuals need to manage through: time, priorities and finances. I am sure you agree with me when I point out the irony that while it is now as important as ever to manage your own wellbeing, in many instances it ends up being put even further back on the ‘To Do’ list. 

But I don’t mind. Thankfully, I am safe, healthy, closer to my family, and still doing some positive work. I want to share with you some of the techniques that have helped me, and why.

I’d like to start with the science and academic angle: Dopamine. Did you know that Dopamine is one of the key drivers in ourselves for happiness? It is a neurotransmitter that connects our brain and cells through nerve signals. Dopamine comes alive in our body when we get rewards and enjoyment. It involves how we think, behave, and connects with our feelings of motivation.  It is a positive action and helps us to calm our mind and manage our stress.

To actively drive Dopamine in ourselves, we need to find the actions that we enjoy. Each of these actions have 6 Cs: 1) Celebration, 2) Certainty/Stability, 3) Confidence, 4) Connection, 5) Contribution and 6) Control/Choice.

When I look back at my uni days, I realise that Newcastle University provided a lot of Dopamine for me, either allowing me to continue what I enjoyed, or getting me started in the first place. A simple but strong way to do this is what I call your ‘Circle of Strength’. Find the things that you enjoy and put them into your Cs. Here are some examples of what your ‘C’s could be:

  1. Celebration through the power of music.  I remember music being a positive part of my uni life, either on the revolving dance floor on the Boat, or playing and singing the piano with 30 friends at a restaurant on the Quayside. Music allows me to celebrate my skill and love of music, remember positive events in the past or enjoy the Now which helps to reduce/obliterate my stress! Each song has a different story and benefit.
    Action: Find a song that you enjoy and think why.

  2. Control/Choice through nutrition.I am not saying don’t go to Munchies 1 or 2 at 2am but nutrition is a way to give you control and choice. Did you know that we are the only animal that drinks other animals’ milk? Is that healthy? I found the change in my diet has helped – low intake of alcohol, no added sugar, no red meat, no dairy. I also recently did a barista coffee course and am now an expert on coffee!
    Action – have a go to find a healthy dish perhaps through cooking OR avoiding something in your diet.

  3. Contribution through random acts of kindness.  At uni I was part of the SCAN community, working in Kids Kabin, and also ran a fun event during RAG Week: Blind Date.  This is a power that we have to help others.  It also brings a smile to many faces.
    Action – think about someone you want to thank or acknowledge for the work they are doing and get in touch. You don’t have to know them.  It can take seconds to do through social media, email, pick up the phone… but it can make them feel stronger; and you as well!

  4. Connection through finding friends or contacts to chat to.  I am still close to many friends from my uni days as I was able to connect and ride the life wave with them, including my wife and best man. Isolation is a hard place to keep our confidence as we think about what is happening around us and what we are missing out on. Just talking to someone can articulate your issue; get a new viewpoint, receive re-assurance and contextualization and give you time to think.  You will probably find it’s not that bad, or find the ways to move forward.
    Action – Think of someone who you want to speak to and drop them a line.  You don’t have to mention anything specific but just a catch up can be positive.

  5. Certainty/Stability. Newcastle Uni was the perfect place for me to explore Christianity. I joined the uni’s Christian group and Jesmond Church. I still have a strong faith thanks to the certainty and stability it gives me – either at church or alone in prayer.
    Action – find something that gives you certainty/stability. Perhaps read a book one evening in the week instead of watching TV, listen to a podcast (Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations on Spotify are good), talking (with a mental health specialist or friend), meditation and mindfulness (the apps: Headspace, Calm are good).

  6. Confidence through breathing/meditation.  Confidence is: "the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something". How do you think our mind is affected when we DON'T have confidence? A lot of the time – the negative thoughts that come with low confidence are not true so you have to calm the mind and replace these thoughts.
    Action – Breathing. Sit down and close your eyes. Breath in 10 times slowly, with longer breaths OUT than IN. Remember a time when you did something that succeeded - perhaps cooking for your friends/family, winning a game, overtaking a fast car on the motorway, receiving thanks for a service you provided. These should help you calm your mind and help you say 'I am confident'.

I hope that you find these stories and exercises relevant. I would like to end on a phrase that I heard at my local church which has helped me: ‘disruption is a gift’. Like the phrase: my glass is half full – it reclassifies how the mind approaches everything linked to COVID19 as a negative experience; and helps us to acknowledge and appreciate the positive experiences around us.

Take care and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!

Patrick Melville is Marketing Director of Thank and Praise and Melville Solutions. Do you have a message for healthcare professionals, education organisations or other key workers? Visit Thank and Praise to let them know. You can find Patrick on LinkedIn, or get in touch at patrick@melville-solutions.comor.

published on: 19 May 2020