Common problems

Here are some ideas for help with problems we have not covered in detail elsewhere on the site. This page contains extracts from another website - the Student Counselling Centre at Royal Holloway College in London [©]. They have written some secular resources offering help with common problems. These offer good advice, and though they sometimes miss the Christian angle, they are a good place to start. In other parts of the site, we have added to their explanations to show you how faith inter-relates.

Drug and Alcohol Problems:

There are many different ways people drink, but one classification is: Abstinent - No use is made. Controlled - People have made a conscious decision, have evaluated the risks and can stop if they want. Impulsive - Use is unpredictable and can lead to unexpected accidents and harm. However there is not continual use or dependency. Habitual - The use of alcohol or drugs have become a significant and important part of the person's life-style. Stopping would not be easy. Dependent - There is a high degree of physical and psychological addiction. Alcohol and drug use disrupts or rules the person's life. Stopping is not possible without considerable support.

Obviously abstinence and controlled use is the least worrying category and dependency the most problematic. However many people making impulsive or habitual use of drink and drugs are not totally happy with their situation. If you are wondering about your drink or drug use, have you considered the following consequences?

Psychological consequences:

* Are you using drink or drugs to escape from a problem which you might be able to solve if you faced it? If so you may be perpetuating your shyness, anxiety, depression, unhappiness etc. rather than dealing with it for once and all.
* Drink and drugs don't permanently change our world. They allow us to feel a temporary confidence or happiness, but the effect is usually one of borrowed time. Often the unhappiness or anxiety returns even more strongly once the effects wear off.
* Drink and drugs can cause psychological problems by themselves. Alcohol can commonly cause depression; drugs can also cause depression, or can trigger anxiety or even psychosis (loss of reality).

Social consequences

* Drink and drugs are often seriously expensive, so uncontrolled use can lead to financial problems.
* You can quite easily end up in trouble with the law. Although drinking alcohol is legal, it can lead to assault and driving when drunk which are not. Similarly, although the law may turn a blind eye to personal use of certain drugs, this attitude is not consistent. Sentences for any supplying can be heavy and unpredictable. Any conviction for drink or drugs offences may severely limit the opportunities open to you in the future.
* Pronounced use of drink or drugs tends to rigidly define social groups, so it may limit your circle of friends.
* Continual or large scale use of alcohol has a bad effect on most people's sex-life.

Physical Consequences

* Drink definitely lowers people's ability to resist harming themselves when they have problems.
* Drink can lower people's inhibitions against hurting others.
* Drink greatly lessens people's ability to say no to unwanted sexual encounters which they would have definitely avoided had they been sober.
* Many serious accidents are drink and drug related.
* There are long-term health risks.

All these things will not happen to everybody. You may be lucky and avoid any serious mishaps. However, all these consequences are seen routinely enough by anyone involved in welfare work to suggest they are not exaggerated or unusual.

Taking Control: If you want to take more control of your use of drink or drugs the following suggestions may help. Make a list of the advantages and drawbacks of your alcohol and drug use which are personally significant to you. The above list of possible consequences may help focus your mind. Then decide whether you would like to lessen the disadvantages.

* Keep a diary of your consumption over a week. Be honest about the amounts you are using. Consider whether you could limit your intake by changing your routine so as not to put you in tempting situations.
* Talk to someone whom you trust about your use. See if they feel you have cause for concern.
* Consider what you are using. In particular note when you use concentrated or particularly dangerous forms of drink and drugs. Can you substitute a less potent alternative?
* Consider the social pressures to consume. Can you limit your exposure to these - e.g. stop buying in rounds, meeting in pubs, partying late etc.?
* Consider what emotions trigger consumption. Are you using drink and drugs to help deal with certain feelings - frustration, anxiety, shyness, boredom etc. Can you find alternative means of dealing with these feelings?
* Try a month of abstinence. See whether you can do it, and if you can find different ways of dealing with problems. There may be distinct advantages to being able to bring your sober and unstoned self to look at various problems!

Anger Management

Just because you are angry does not necessarily mean you have a problem. Most people have been angered at times in their lives. It is after all part of the natural response that helps our survival and helps us to protect others. Here are some examples of when anger is helpful and healthy.

It gives us the courage to defend ourselves or those we love.
It motivates us to improve the world by inspiring social action and justice.
It confirms our individuality, especially when we are children.
It warns others not to take advantage of us.
The person who is not able to admit any anger risks depression, low self-esteem and victimisation!
Frequent or excessive anger is not useful; in fact it is likely to have a negative effect on your health, to spoil your relationships with others and to limit your life experiences and ability to achieve happiness. Here is a guide which asks if you have any of the following symptoms of excessive unhealthy anger?
A pattern of repeating the same angry words or deeds in particular situations.
An inclination to shout at people or to use violent words
A tendency to brood or fantasise about angry scenes with people
An inability to deal with difficult situations without becoming angry
A temptation or recourse to violence, possibly resulting in trouble with the law
A reliance on getting angry to make you feel better
Substituting getting angry about a problem for solving or learning to live with that problem
Anger-linked health problems such as hypertension or digestive trouble
Being recognised as an angry person and so teased, appeased or feared by others
Having a strong prejudice against strangers because of their race, gender etc.
Avoiding situations because you fear your temper.

Explaining Anger

There is no simple explanation why some people are angrier than others; some of it might depend on our character or our early experiences. However the following contributory factors definitely act to maintain the situation.
Habit - anger can become an automatic response to certain situations - and this habit can be reinforced by others if they have become used to us getting angry
Fear - anger can be felt as a response to situations that we fear will overwhelm us if we do not go on the offensive.
Shame - anger can spring from the feeling that we have to fight to preserve our dignity and sense of self-worth
Loss - anger commonly accompanies the sadness which goes with a bereavement or severe set-back
Lack of assertiveness - if you cannot speak up for yourself and get some of your own way by negotiation you may find yourself exploding instead
Low frustration tolerance - when you go on the attack to deal with situations that most people would just put up with
Response to past trauma - if you have been badly hurt in the past you may understandably be reacting over-aggressively towards anything that seems threatening in the present
As a symptom of psychological or physical conditions - conditions that involve constant pain, changed hormone level or mental disturbance may trigger anger.

What Can I Do About Managing My Anger?

There are three steps to anger management: 1) Understand the pay-offs and the triggers, 2)Learn to calm yourself down in crisis situations and 3) Learn strategies to prevent anger arising in future.

1. Understanding the pay-offs and the triggers

Undoubtedly you will get some short-term benefits from your anger. Most of these can be gained more effectively by other means such as assertion. However, in the short-term you may have to experience some discomfort as you lose some of the immediate gains of anger such as-
I feel so much better afterwards
It makes people listen
I feel more like myself when I am angry
If I didn't get angry about things I'd just cry all the time
When I show my anger then people know where they stand and that's good
Anger stops me being afraid
If I don't show my anger then people will think I am a wimp
Probably even as you read this you will begin to see that some of these things can be achieved by other more healthy means.
Now decide what particular situations trigger your anger so that you can practice staying calm when they next arise.

2. Calming yourself down in crisis situations

The appropriate response depends on the situation - e.g. whether you get angry when alone or when in dispute with another.
Substitute activities
Describe the room to yourself around you in purely neutral terms.
Look at things, not people
Think of things you have to do today
Count to 10 (it does work!)
Repeat what the other person has said and ask for time to consider
Leave if you think you might otherwise lose your temper or be violent
Change brain rhythms
Play music to yourself and listen closely; if you don't have access to music, listen to it inside your head
Take exercise of some form
Alter your breathing, holding each breath for 5 seconds
Tense and relax muscles; tensing each in turn, holding for 5 seconds then releasing.
Massage yourself particularly on your stomach and chest
Change postures and roll shoulders
Imagine a relaxing scene
Imagine laughing at yourself and the situation later
Imagine neutral scenes, especially ones with people in them
3. Learning Strategies to prevent Anger arising in the Future
Decide whether your anger is healthy or unhealthy (see above)
Avoid stimulants such as alcohol or other drugs if you are working on a long term solution
Read about the subject
Ask others who get less angry than you how they do it and try their ideas
Develop a generally more relaxed lifestyle and try to manage stress better
Challenge your angry thoughts
Beware of disguised anger such as in sarcasm or cruel jokes
Learn to assert yourself, maybe even go on an Assertion Skills course
Consider the past origins of your anger
Share your concern with a Counsellor

Bereavement and Loss

Different culture groups have different ways of marking the death of someone they love. Some mourn in a way which celebrates the life of the deceased; others make a great and visible show of their grief. Traditionally, we in Britain are generally very low key in our response to death, marking it with a funeral and perhaps a gathering afterwards, but with no recognised period of mourning and often no great show of feeling. This can leave people feeling very alone in dealing with the intense personal emotions they may be experiencing.

Your Own Grief

The death of someone who is significant to you is one of the hardest things you will experience in your life. Whether it is expected or a shock, the enormity of loss is something that impacts on you in a very profound way.

Grief takes a long time to work through. There are no hard and fast guidelines for this. It takes as long as it takes, but as a general rule it will take longer than you expect. It is important not to try to 'get over it' too quickly, not to adopt a 'stiff upper lip' attitude. Grief is an inevitable and human response. If suppressed, it may well surface at some later, less appropriate stage. Sometimes there seems to be an expectation that you will have recovered after a certain time has elapsed, but everyone has their own recovery time which cannot be hurried. The first anniversary of the death is an important milestone and can be particularly difficult. Subsequent birthdays and anniversaries can be poignant reminders of your loss, and you may need to find your own way of dealing with such times by either marking them as special commemorative events or by ensuring you distract yourself while time passes.

Bereavement is an entirely individual experience. No one can tell you how you will or should feel. Everyone grieves in their own special way but there are some generally accepted and recognised reactions:
You may at first feel totally numb, as if paralysed
You may find yourself unable to believe the person really is dead
You may find yourself very angry at being deserted
You may feel an enormous sense of unfairness
You may find yourself crying uncontrollably and unable to function as normal
You may feel guilty about surviving, about not having said goodbye; about leaving things unresolved
You may feel an aching void, as if you have lost a limb, which you feel will never be filled again
You may be traumatised if the death has been in any way violent such as through an accident, suicide or murder.

The Reaction of Others

You will be aware that people around you will react in very different ways to your grief. There will be those who very much want to help in practical ways, or by giving you emotional support. It is up to you to guide them as to how they may best help you; whether you need a listening ear, or maybe need to be left alone for a while. Remember, they can't know what will help unless you tell them. Don't be afraid to take up offers of help; it is not a sign of weakness to lean on someone when you need support.

There will be others who are unable to cope with your grief, who may not be able to talk about the death or even acknowledge it. This is usually because it either raises profoundly difficult feelings in them, or because they simply don't know what to do or say. This can seem very hurtful if you don't understand what may be behind this seemingly unfeeling behaviour, but it is not uncommon.

How can you Help Yourself?
Recognise that mourning takes its time and you cannot hurry it along.
Allow yourself to cry, scream or shout and forgive yourself for doing so at 'inappropriate' moments if that is what you need to do. Don't feel guilty about doing so, even if you feel others are critical of you.
Accept whatever help you are offered from friends, relatives, religious ministers etc.
Recognise your need to talk about the deceased, even if you need to do so over and over again, and allow yourself to do so until the need lessens.
If you are worried about over-using friends, talk to a Student Counsellor or other professional helper.
If and when you feel ready,consider reading some of the literature on death and loss. Some books are suggested below. You may find this useful and comforting.
Think about concrete ways of doing something to ease your pain. Would it help to write a letter to the deceased saying what you perhaps didn't manage to say in their lifetime? Would you like to plant a tree or shrub in their memory and watch it blossom? Could you light a candle in remembrance on special days?
Do whatever you need to do, recognising that this is a most testing and difficult times in your life.

And Afterwards.........

The pain gradually lessens. It does happen even though you think it never will. But with that might come guilt and worry about forgetting or letting go of the dead person. At this stage it may become quite hard to let go of the grief because that is what links you to the deceased. It is important to allow yourself to let go. Along the years, although the pain lessens, the memories will never leave you as the death finds its place in your history and experience. The more easily you can accept the need to grieve, the more comfortably it will rest.

Feeling Homesick

Many students coming to college, and maybe leaving home for the first time, feel homesick. Even those who didn't ever expect to be hit by homesickness can suddenly find themselves missing the familiarity of home and friends, and don't know quite how to cope with the resulting emotions. This is entirely normal and passes, usually in the first term, and often within the first few weeks.

It is really important to realise that you are not the only one feeling homesick and that it doesn't in any way mean you are inadequate. Suddenly, you find that, instead of being a central person in a small unit with plenty of peripheral activities and friends, you have become an anonymous member of a five thousand plus community where you know no-one. Understandably you feel shaken and lonely and you long for the secure and the familiar. Sometimes the emotions are completely overwhelming.

What can you do to help yourself?

Most importantly: acknowledge your feelings and accept them. Believe that they will pass. They almost always do.
Decide whether the best policy for you is to have frequent contact with home (because contact makes you feel better), or little contact (because contact makes you feel worse).
Think carefully about whether or not to go home at weekends (if this is possible). Some students find it helps to ease the transition; others find the constant readjustment makes them feel worse.
Make a real effort to join societies/activities and to make at least one or two friends. This might feel very difficult, but the more you feel part of campus life, the less homesick you will feel.
Familiarise yourself with the Student Union. Apart from all that it offers it is an excellent way to meet people in the early days before lectures and social events are really underway. Take a book and sit in a corner and read if you are afraid of seeming conspicuous.
Try to establish a routine as soon as possible. The fuller your days are, the less time you will have to feel homesick or lonely.
Volunteer to help with something - there are plenty of groups looking for volunteers. The Welfare Officers in the Student Union will put you in touch with them if you tell them you are looking for ways to get involved.
Sometimes it helps to share feelings of homesickness. Think about talking to the Welfare Officer at the SU or contacting one of the College Counsellors. Sharing these feelings may take you over the worst period.

Insomnia and Sleeplessness

You may find it odd that a feature of life with which everyone is familiar with, on occasion or from time to time, is listed as a problem. The truth is that lack of sleep may be a complicating factor in coping with times of stress. Additionally some people have developed styles and patterns which deny them sleep. The positive side of this dilemma is that now a great deal more is known about sleep and some of the things which improve or induce it without the use of medication. This page addresses a few concepts and remedial activities.

Forms of Insomnia
Normal - sometimes we all have a sleepless night
Waking early
Difficulty in getting to sleep for a period of time
Prolonged, disturbed and light sleep
Sleep which is interrupted by shock and fear on sudden waking (night terror)
Sleep which is interrupted by nightmares
Small amounts of sleep with cat napping at other times
Occasional complete absence of sleep
Jet Lag
Not so Normal - you may need to get help
Any of the above which becomes chronic (ie. lasts for an extended duration or occur in repeated bouts over a long time)
Sleep which has a radically disordered rhythm
Disturbance caused by shift work
Seasonally affected sleep e.g. excessive sleep in winter
Sleep disturbance associated with feeling depressed (or having Chronic Fatigue or ME)
Apnoea (a sort of snoring but with a breathing lapse involved)
Snoring problems
Teeth grinding

Strategies for Addressing Insomnia

Basically strategies to beat insomnia fall into these main categories: Getting help from others, 2) Changing your night-time routine, 3) Preparing the body for sleep, 4) Behaviour conducive to sleep

Getting Help from Others
Check with your doctor to assess whether you have a disordered pattern. This is particularly the case with abnormal sleep.
Talk with a counsellor about issues which impinge on your sleep
Consider referral to a sleep clinic if matters are advanced.
Changing your Night-time Routine
Noise - ear plugs, 'white noise' background distraction
Temperature - not too hot, not too cold
Don't go to bed hungry
Try to modify late night drinking and go to the toilet in order to avoid being woken by a full bladder
Make your bed as comfortable as possible
Reduce mental activity two hours before sleep
Reduce light levels two hours before sleep
Have a range of distractions available for use in the event of insomnia - relaxed area away from the bed plus hot water bottle - light reading - something mechanical
Create a sleeping environment which has a freedom from work and disturbance eg. screen off from essays!
Preparing the Body for Sleep

Use diet and herbs to provide you with the chemistry which encourages sleep, particularly foods containing melatonin may be helpful; oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas and barley all contain Melatonin. Oats contain most, barley least. Also carbohydrates broadly speaking affect the production of Tryptophan which is what effects the levels of Serotonin in the brain.
Temperature maintenance
Decrease caffeine intake before sleep
Decrease alcohol intake before sleep
Avoid respiratory stimulants before sleep (cigarettes)
Avoid exercise before bedtime (increases stress response chemistry in many people)
Check for general sleep deprivation (see reference to questionnaire below)
Behaviour Conducive to Sleep
Keep sleep to limits; don't oversleep
Avoid long daytime napping
Don't allow too much sleeplessness to occur in bed.
Get up and do light things until you feel drowsy again
Don't magnify or alarm yourself over your sleepless state, this may make it worse.
Keep a clutter free sleep area just for sleep (and sex!)
Consciously stop yourself worrying at night. Write concerns down and deal with them in the morning.
Royal Holloway College, 23/05/2008
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