Mental health | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Mental health

UniSC has face-to-face and online support to help you if you are struggling with your mental health. Don't be afraid to reach out. It is ok to not be ok.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to any kind of demand or pressure. It is experienced by most people at some stage in their life and although it is normally perceived as having a negative influence, it can be positive if you are in physical danger. Too much stress can impact your daily functioning, including relationships, health, and mental well-being.

What are the signs/symptoms?
Some common signs are
  • Lack of motivation
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping
  • Moodiness – anger, irritability, depression
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Stomach upsets
  • High blood pressure
  • Concentration or memory difficulties
  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  • Using alcohol or other substances to cope
  • Increased eating, drinking or nervous
What can cause stress?

Stress is experienced when the demands of a situation eg study or work pressures, financial problems, relationship difficulties, etc) outweigh your perceived capacity to meet those demands. Risk factors which interact and contribute to experiencing stress include:

  • biological factors, e.g .genes, poor health, or some medications;
  • social factors, e.g. lack of social support
  • psychological factors, e.g. low self-esteem, negative beliefs and thinking style, unhelpful coping strategies; and
  • person-environment fit, e.g. a creative person working in a job that is very structured and systematic may be more prone to experiencing stress
Things that can help
Quick fixes
  • Breathe deeply
  • Relax your muscles by stretching or standing/sitting up straight
  • Step back from what you're doing and/or what’s stressing you
  • Laugh
Examine the stressful situation
  • If the stress is due to factors in the environment that can be changed, be assertive and change them 
Lifestyle changes
  • Exercise regularly
  • Have low or no intake of alcohol and caffeine
  • Engage in enjoyable activities
  • Have adequate sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Include relaxation and meditation exercises in your daily routine
  • Helps release negative feelings
Cognitive strategies
  • Recognise and challenge unhelpful thoughts (e.g. "I can’t cope", "I can’t handle this")
  • Find evidence for when you have coped in the past
  • Identify alternate more helpful (but realistic) thoughts to what’s going for you
  • Using milder wording can help neutralise your experience (e.g. "I don’t like traffic. It makes me annoyed," is a lot milder than "I hate traffic! It makes me so angry!")
Managing Stress - Brainsmart - BBC

Stress is all too natural. But here are some tips for keeping it under control.

Managing Stress - Brainsmart - BBC

How do I know when I need professional help?

When stress is affecting your studies, work, home life or relationships, psychological assistance should be considered. Free counselling services are offered through Student Wellbeing to all USC students.

Alternatively, your GP can provide you with a referral to a private psychologist in the community and for more information on this process, visit the Better Access Initiative.

Audio clips and apps
The following links have relaxation audio clips to help you de-stress


More information

Contact Student Wellbeing

General enquiries
Tel: +61 7 5430 1226

Opening hours
Monday–Friday: 8.30am–4:30pm

What is Depression?

Depression is a word that is used in everyday language to describe sadness, frustration, and disappointment. These symptoms are experienced by everyone at some time in their life, however, this is different from the clinical condition also known as depression. This condition is more intense, pervasive and long-lasting and interferes with day-to-day functioning.

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people experience significantly depressed mood at some time in their life. Any kind of person can be affected by depression – introvert/extrovert, young/old, male/female. So this means that anyone can experience depression and that you are not alone.

What are the signs/symptoms?

The key symptoms that last for at least two weeks include one or both of:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or lowered mood that lasts for most of the day, nearly every day
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable, like going out, seeing friends, or pursuing interests and hobbies
 Other symptoms can include
  • Significant changes in appetite and/or weight in the absence of dieting
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness, or excessive guilt
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Thoughts of suicide or a feeling that life is not worth living
What can cause depression?

For some people, stressful life events might trigger depression. For others, there is no obvious cause. However, depression is never caused by only one thing – it is thought that a combination of factors must interact for a person to experience depression. These include biological factors (such as genetics, hormones, and brain chemicals) and psychological factors (such as thinking patterns and stress).

Things that can help
  • Making lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, having low or no intake of alcohol and caffeine, engaging in enjoyable activities, improving time-management skills, and having adequate sleep
  • Understanding how you experience depression personally
  • Actively challenging the symptoms of depression to improve coping strategies
  • Using support networks – friends, family, treating doctor, or community service
  • Mindfulness techniques that help redirect your attention to the present moment, rather than focusing on the past
How do I know when I need professional help?

If low mood persists for over two weeks and is affecting your studies and personal life, psychological assistance should be considered. Student Wellbeing offers free counselling sessions to USC students . Alternatively, your GP can provide you with a referral to a private psychologist in the community and for more information on this process,  visit Better Access Initiative.

Where do I go for more info?
  • beyondblue — Telephone: 1300 224 636
  • headspace — Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing assistance for individuals aged 12-25
  • Lifeline — A 24-hour counselling, suicide prevention and mental health support service. Telephone: 131 114
  • sane — Provides information on depression and other disorders. Telephone: 1800 187 263
  • Reach Out — Online youth mental health service that provides factsheets, tools, apps, community forums, stories, videos etc.
What is anxiety?

At some stage in their life, everybody has experienced feeling nervous and/or has worried about something. This is a normal response when under pressure. However, for some people, these anxious feelings, thoughts, and physical symptoms are overwhelming and persist to the point that they significantly interfere with their daily life.

Any kind of person can be affected by anxiety – introvert/extrovert, young/old, male/female. So this means that anyone can experience anxiety and that you are not alone.

What are the signs/symptoms?

Although people’s experience of anxiety may differ, a common feature is a feeling of stress or worry that is excessive or uncontrollable. Other symptoms may include:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • shallow breathing
  • restlessness
  • avoidance behaviour
  • rapid heartbeat
  • trembling or shaking
  • feeling lightheaded or faint
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • upset stomach or nausea
  • sweating
  • physical tension
  • sleep disturbance
What can cause anxiety?

Although the causes of anxiety are not clearly understood, there are many factors that may increase your chance of developing anxiety. These include:

  • Biological factors, such as genetic predispositions or poor physical health.
  • Psychological factors, including low self-esteem, unhelpful coping strategies (eg avoidance), or direct or indirect messages from others that the world is threatening or that worry is useful.
  • Social-environmental factors, such as marriage breakdowns, study deadlines, financial hardship, or past experiences of traumatic events.
When does anxiety turn into an anxiety disorder?

Although anxiety is a normal reaction to a stressful situation, it can become severe and cause significant distress or interfere with daily living. If this happens frequently or persists over a long period of time, it is important to see a mental health practitioner to be assessed for an anxiety disorder. There are many different forms of anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, specific phobia, panic disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Things that can help
  • Making lifestyle changes, eg regular exercise, low or no intake of alcohol and caffeine, engaging in enjoyable activities, improving time-management and sleep routines.
  • Understanding how you experience anxiety personally.
  • Actively challenging the symptoms of anxiety to improve coping strategies.
  • Using support networks – friends, family, treating doctor, or community service.
  • Mindfulness techniques that help redirect your attention to the present moment.
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques.
How do I know when I need professional help?

When anxiety is affecting your everyday living activities, psychological assistance should be considered. Free counselling services are offered through Student Wellbeing to all USC students. Alternatively, your GP can provide you with a referral to a private psychologist in the community, to learn more visit Australian Government, Department of Health, Better access to mental health care: fact sheet for patients.

Where can I go for more info?
  • beyondblue — Telephone: 1300 224 636
  • headspace — Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing assistance for individuals aged 12–25
  • Lifeline — A 24-hour counselling, suicide prevention and mental health support service Telephone: 131 114
  • sane — Provides information on depression and other disorders Telephone: 1800 187 263
  • Reach Out — Online youth mental health service that provides fact sheets, tools, apps, community forums, stories, videos etc.
  • e-couch

    A free self-help interactive program offering information about emotional problems – what causes them, how to prevent them and how to treat them. It provides a set of evidence-based online interventions designed to equip the user with strategies to improve their mood and emotional state. Modules include depression, social anxiety, generalised anxiety and worry, relationship breakdown and grief and loss.

  • Mental Health On-line
    A comprehensive online mental health service offering information about anxiety disorders, free online assessments and self-help programs, plus a low-cost therapy–assisted treatment program.
Useful Apps

Reframing your thinking

Mind-body connection

Our brains are capable of processing hundreds of separate pieces of information every second. This information is processed at multiple levels of consciousness by the brain, the outcome of which produces a thought.

It has been estimated that the human brain has between 50,000 and 65,000 thoughts per day. These thoughts are shaped and conditioned by our past experiences, our perspectives on life and our emotional states at the time.

Thinking—emotion connection

Positive thoughts give rise to happy, contented emotions and negative thoughts result in sad and depressive emotions. These emotions then affect biological changes in the body. Basically, the quality of our thinking affects the emotions we experience and the state of our physical health.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if we think positive and healthy thoughts, then we'll feel healthy and be healthy. In fact, a considerable body of research suggests that the quality of an individual's thinking impacts on their levels of happiness, health, vitality and quality and length of life.

Automatic thoughts

Have you ever noticed that 'little voice' in your head that always seems to be there, describing your world, creating ideas, forming opinions, making comments or even criticising your decisions, actions or outcomes? This running commentary or "mind chatter" is what we call self-talk or automatic thinking.

Automatic self-talk affects the way we experience life and is coloured by our perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. It affects the way we feel, the decisions we make, and the actions we take. This then affects the way we think about ourselves (self-image) and feel about ourselves (self-esteem). Ultimately, thoughts are either empowering or limiting.

Automatic thoughts

Positive vs negative thinking

The quality of our automatic self-talk can be viewed in two ways: Optimistic (+ve) or Pessimistic (-ve).

When our automatic self-talk is optimistic (positive, complimentary and kind) we generally have good self-esteem, a healthy self-image and we deal well with criticism, setback or disaster. Our problem solving is more effective and our levels of commitment and persistence to a task are higher—which is the foundation for the most success.

However, problems arise when our self-talk takes on a pessimistic tone (negative, critical and self-abusive). This style of automatic self-talk affects us because we forecast doom and gloom for ourselves and those around us.

Negative thinking causes us to stop trying and often sees us talk ourselves out of opportunities to succeed before we even start. This is called self-sabotage. Unfortunately, negative self-talk is so powerful it erodes our self-confidence and can lead to anxiety and depression. It also affects our self-esteem and ability to learn.

But do you know what? It's easy to change negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Why? Because negative self-talk is nothing more than a nasty little habit and, through deliberate change and rehearsal, new functional habits can replace old, dysfunctional ones.

Changing your self-talk

Deliberate, positive self-talk is the fastest and most effective ways to replace the negative 'mind chatter' that limits us and makes us feel bad. Positive self-talk (in the form of short, positive statements) reprograms our thinking about ourselves, our abilities, and our situation, which flows on to improve our mood and general sense of well-being.

Thought monitoring

The first step to changing your automatic thoughts is to start taking particular notice of the themes and emotional tone of your self-talk. Listen out for your internal comments, challenge those comments that are negative, defeatist or abusive, and intentionally and deliberately reframe those thoughts so they are positive, supportive and encouraging.

Example: "This assignment is too big, I'll never get it finished".
Reframe: "If I relax and focus, break down the assignment into smaller bits and manage my time well, I'll finish by the deadline"; "Just making a start is one step closer to completion".

Example: "I've never done something this big before, what if I can't do it"?
Reframe: "I love a challenge. This assignment is simply a bigger version of my past successes—time to step up".

Example: "I've bombed the exam and now I'm going to fail this subject".
Reframe: "It's too early to tell yet, maybe I did better than I expected, let's wait and see".

It is important to note that positive self-talk is not self-delusion. Psychologically, it is known as Cognitive Reprogramming and acts to correct our faulty thinking. Faulty thinking is a bad habit that limits our chances for success and happiness.

'Silver Lining' thinking

This strategy comes quite naturally to positive, optimistic people. It simply involves seeing each event in our lives in a positive light—always looking for the good in people, situations and events—it's an attitude thing. By maintaining a positive attitude or perspective we inoculate ourselves from negative emotions and bounce back from hardship and disappointment easier. Most importantly, we develop resilience to an emotional setback.


Circumstantial events trigger your thoughts, which then produce your feelings, which may then determine your behaviours. Events do not directly produce your emotions. Rather, it's the thoughts that we have about the event that affects our emotions. These emotions then influence our behaviour. Therefore, appraising things that happen to us using a 'Silver Lining Thinking' strategy is more likely to trigger a positive or neutral emotion rather than a negative, upsetting one.

Practise reframing negative thinking daily

When you notice a negative thought pattern occurring, consciously and deliberately interrupt that thought and replace it with a positive alternative. Good habits require practise, patience and commitment to become well established.

Positive affirmations

These are short, positive, empowering statements that make things happen.

They are truisms about yourself or personal changes you'd like to make.

To make them work, positive affirmations should be
  1. rehearsed regularly
  2. phrased positively
  3. framed in the present
  4. used in the first person—'I' statements
  5. focused on self-improvement, rather than compared to others
  6. descriptive, action words that generate emotion and feeling
  7. accurate, realistic and achievable
  8. aimed at developing personal traits, e.g. concentration, self-control, patience etc
  9. focused on eliciting specific behaviours, e.g. "I manage my time efficiently and effectively now"; "I'm fit and healthy and I really enjoy exercising on a daily basis"; "By setting regular goals and organizing my time I am becoming a more confident student".

Potter, A 1998, Putting the positive thinker to work, Berkley Books, New York.

Whittaker, N 2002, Getting it together, Simon and Shuster, Australia.