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May 2, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Healthy Minds on Campus – Understanding Low Feelings

This is the first of four Salient articles in 2011 about feeling down. These articles are not, by and large, about being clinically depressed, but about feelings that most of us experience fairly often.

Most of us have times when we feel sad, unlikeable, pessimistic and unable to enjoy things. I want to consider those times. I believe we can use these feelings to our advantage, and gain control of them to get enjoyment
back again.

Many of us have a cycle to our feelings. The cycle may relate to the time of day or year. Women may find it relates to the time of the month. Recognising the cyclic nature of our mood reminds us that we will feel brighter again.

Outside such cycles, feeling low often relates to what is going on in our lives. It’s common for students to experience an anticlimax after all the excitement of arriving at university settles down, and the ordinariness of everyday life cuts in. I suggest that thinking about feelings can be useful in understanding what is working well and not so well in our lives, although it’s important not to have unrealistic expectations of unconstrained happiness.
If there are more down times than we would like in our lives it’s useful to ask why. We can then understand what makes us tick, and develop ideas about what might make us feel better. Even if the factors that make us sad can’t be easily changed, we can still address the issues. I’ll give three examples of common issues for students.


If home is distant you can think about who or what you miss, and bring that into your life in some way. You could email or phone people, or put pictures up. You might also realise as you reflect that there are similar things that Wellington could offer you haven’t been taking advantage of.

Relationship problems

Once a relationship moves beyond the first few weeks issues will crop up. S/he will not seem quite so exciting. You may wonder whether you want to be in a relationship with them. Even if the answer is yes, you’ll be moving to the stage of negotiating how the relationship will function in the longer term.
Thinking about your feelings may tell you it’s time to end a relationship, or to see whether it can be significantly changed. You may also realise that you’re attracted to people you hadn’t expected to be; take some time to understand this too.

Course issues

What is fun and what’s not about what you’re studying? Think about study skills you could develop to help with the hard stuff. It may be too late to change courses for this semester, but consider what will work best for next time. If you aren’t enjoying something, be cautious about committing yourself to more of the same.

In my next article, in two weeks’ time, I’ll discuss some strategies for lifting spirits.

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