Manreet Birdi

Manreet Birdi
Marketing and Communications Specialist

I realized the importance of regulating my mental health when I entered university.

In first-year, moving to a new city and living with new people made my anxiety kick in harder than ever. It was hard to make friends and talk to new people, it was hard to keep up with my new courses and it was hard to keep myself on-task alone because I didn’t know how.

However, with the right push, I reached out for professional help. In the Winter Term of my first-year, I was encouraged by my friends to make an appointment with Counselling Services at the University of Waterloo. Since receiving help, I am thriving better than ever. While my low points haven’t disappeared, I was given the right resources to manage them and figure out how to balance my mental health on my own.

As a co-op student at Waterloo both for Spring and Fall Terms, I’ve had the privilege to work with fantastic supervisors that have always encouraged me to use techniques for a healthy mental state. They have always understood my situation when I had low days or felt anxious about a project. With such understanding people and an environment that emphasizes wellness, I have been able to do some amazing things during my co-op terms. I encourage other co-op students to let their supervisors know how they are doing because they often just want the best for us.

As you begin or continue your co-op journey, here are some of the amazing tips my mental health counsellor gave me to manage my anxiety:

1. Mindful breathing

I know, deep breathing is something you have probably been told your whole life. I never understood it personally, but I figured out a way that works for me.

If you are feeling anxious or stressed, try mindful breathing. Allow yourself to be completely consumed by the action of your breathing. Focus all your attention on it and feel your heartbeat regulate again. Notice your body inhale and exhale and the sound of your breath.

Mindful breathing has helped me calm down in situations where I felt an anxiety attack coming, or where my mind felt too chaotic to focus on one thing. It requires some practice, so here’s a quick video created by Campus Wellness that shows you how to do it. 

2. Get your body moving

As Ryan emphasized in his blog post, being physically active helps him clear his mind. This is important when you’re feeling anxious, which often makes you feel like everything is going wrong.

When I feel anxious, I like to go on a run or bike ride to get my blood pumping while also clearing my head. However, this doesn’t always mean doing a fully-fledged workout. Going on a walk or just doing some chores counts, too. Exercise has often been linked to stress reduction and managing anxiety — it has definitely helped me feel less stressed and see my priorities more clearly.

I encourage you to check out the Waterloo Warriors website which has some great advice on staying physically active at home.

3. The 5-4-3-2-1 method

This is something that has helped me during anxiety attacks ever since my counsellor introduced the method to me. It really helps me ground myself and come back to the present moment. When you’re having an anxiety attack, acknowledge:

  • Five things you see,
  • Four things you can touch,
  • Three things you can hear,
  • Two things you can smell, and
  • One thing you can taste

This technique brings me back to reality when my mind is in a chaotic place as it allows me to only focus on my senses. This method, accompanied with deep breathing, has saved me from many looming anxiety attacks or low points, and I hope it helps you too.

4. Reach out!

I think this one is the most important and one of the hardest. In first-year, I got to a point where I thought talking about my feelings would burden the people I love. I was proven wrong when my counsellor reminded me that I’d want my loved ones to confide in me if they were feeling the same way. If I want them to talk to me, why should I not talk to them?

Reaching out also means getting professional help. While talking about it with your loved ones can be really helpful to get your feelings off your chest, they are not mental health professionals that can give you the best information. Counselling Services is always there to help you, just as they helped me.

While campus is closed, Counselling Services is doing appointments virtually. They strive to help students lead a healthy and balanced life, so take the leap and reach out!

Where to go for help

University of Waterloo offers a wide range of mental health supports across its campuses.

  • In addition to individual, group and peer support counselling, Counselling and Psychological Services provides coping skills seminars and workshops.
  • Counselling services are covered under student fees.
  • Appointments may be made by calling the Counselling Services and Health Services office contact numbers.
  • Emergency contacts can be found here.