If you’ve been a Lightly We Go reader for any length of time, you might be aware of my complicated relationship with the gym. I’ve written before about feeling especially anxious at the idea of exercise, especially in a confined space with other (fitter) people, but also about how the act of working out often does wonders for my mood. Gym fear, though, was one of my anxiety’s last strongholds following my difficult first year at uni. Four our five months ago I couldn’t cope with the idea of working out in any way – but on returning to uni at the weekend getting back into the gym is one of the things I am most looking forward to. In fact, in the final few of weeks of last term, I was getting up and going to the gym almost every other day. I know that gym fear is something a lot of people struggle with, for a huge variety of reasons, so today I want to share just how I managed to rid myself of gym anxiety – hopefully for good.

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University can be absolutely brilliant. There are so many new people to meet and countless opportunities to grab hold of with both hands, often coupled with the amazing new-found independence of living away from home. However, all those things which can make uni so brilliant can also make it incredibly physically, emotionally and mentally straining. Sometimes in life this is just unavoidable – but there are ways to help you cope when things get difficult. Over the next five weeks on the blog I’ll be running a series entirely focused on keeping healthy at university. I’m not a health professional; these posts are based on my own experiences. Today I’m looking at improving your mental health during your studies.

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The #PrettyHealthyProject has always been, in part, an effort to regain my mental health following my difficult first year at university. This summer, and the project, has largely been a recovery and strengthening process to support me for my return to York this weekend(!). A number of things have aided me in this process, most notably spending so much time with my family, G, and friends, taking the pressure off, and working on my body image and confidence through this project – but I’ve realised that there has been one thing which has helped more than any other. This summer I was given the opportunity to part-loan a horse called Sooty, and the effect has been profound.

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I’ve loved walking since I first visited the Lake District aged 10. The revelation that my own two feet could take me to the top of fells and mountains, through valleys and woodland, was amazing to me. I could do anything and go anywhere just using the body I already had. In last week’s #PrettyHealthyProject post I set a goal for this week: to take at least 10,000 steps every day this week, keeping count with my FitBit. It was a really interesting challenge and much, much harder than I anticipated, but it really has made a difference.

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My first year at university is now over. Originally, I planned this post as a ‘highlights reel’ – listing off some of my favourite moments from what promised to be an extraordinary year. That isn’t what you’ll find below. Instead, following on from my recent comment piece about student mental health, I want to be entirely honest about my difficult university experience. This piece was written on the 8th May 2016, a little over a month before the end of the academic year.

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