Healthy living

This article focuses on the importance of healthy habits for wellbeing. The article provides useful tips and information regarding physical wellbeing, diet, responsible alcohol use, exercise and sleep.


When you apply for, and start a new job, you will encounter many new experiences. Some you will enjoy, others you may not. Adapting to a new environment can be challenging to some people. This article focuses on how to build the foundations of emotional balance and mental wellbeing. It will guide you through making a plan to make small changes that can increase your emotional resilience (the ability to adapt to stressful situations) and mental wellbeing.

How may this affect me?

You may be in the job searching process, or you may have secured a job and be looking forward to starting your new job. Both of these may feel like very daunting tasks. Or you may be looking forward to the opportunity to build your financial and personal independence, or a mix of both. 

All of the above are normal and understandable. It may be that you are looking forward to utilising your skills in a new environment and hoping that you meet new people at work.

When applying for, or starting a new job, you are likely to feel different emotions, both positive and negative. Common challenges can include:

Social aspects:

  • Uncertainty about what will happen or what is expected of you, both in the application and interview process, and when starting a new job
  • Not knowing what to say to people or how to start a conversation, both in the application and interview process, and when starting a new job
  • Anxiety around meeting new people during the application and interview process
  • Feeling under pressure to socialise with colleagues in a new job
  • Anxiety around forming new friendships and relationships with your colleagues

Sensory considerations:

  • Other people’s noise, 
  • Possible environmental triggers to sensory overload – offices, staff rooms, cafeterias

Cognitive overload:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with the job application process
  • Feeling overwhelmed by your workload when in work
  • Having to travel to a new place for job interviews or when starting a new job
  • All the new experiences and information that you are taking in can be exhausting

Practical considerations:

  • Learning how to search and apply for jobs
  • Learning to look after yourself including work life balance, physical and mental health
  • Being responsible for your finances
  • Travelling to an interview location
  • Commuting to work
  • Change of routine from that of university to that of work
  • Learning your way around a new workplace
  • Uncertainty about what tasks you are meant to be completing and when
  • Managing deadlines
  • Managing priorities
  • Uncertainty about how much time to spend on a given task
  • Working with other colleagues

What can I do next?

Use the PIEASE model to keep your body and mind healthy during the transition into the workplace.

To meet the challenges we face in life, we need to keep our bodies and minds healthy. A simple model for this, based on Marsha Linehan’s research, is the PIEASE model: treat Physical Illness, balance Eating, use Alcohol responsibly, balance Sleep, and get Exercise.

Practical tips

Physical Illness

When we are ill, it becomes harder for us to think clearly and we may find ourselves getting upset or angry. It is important that you see a GP straight away if you feel ill. However, it can be daunting to phone the GP surgery and talk to the receptionist.

There are a few things you can do yo make GP appointments work better for you:

  • You could familiarise yourself with the GP surgery prior to any illness so that you are familiar with the layout. If you feel you could do with some extra support, take a family member or friend with you.
  • Find out if you can book appointments online.
  • Write down what you need to say to the receptionist or GP before you go.
  • Complete a hospital passport, which explains how you like to be communicated with, how you express pain and what people can do to reduce your distress. This can be useful for both the GP and hospital staff.

It may be possible to ask for the following reasonable adjustments:

  • Early/late or longer appointments
  • Somewhere quiet to wait, or waiting outside and being called in from there
  • Seeing the same clinician if at all possible (recognising that in an emergency this may not be possible)
  • Accessible information in a formar you understand about how and when appointments are available and how to get prescriptions or access services like cancer-screening tests.

Balanced eating

Our energy levels and emotions are directly affected by the food we eat and what we drink. When you start work, try avoiding fast food, chocolate and crisps. Although the can initially provide some comfort, using them as a main source of energy can lead to us feeling run down and exhausted.

It is a good idea to plan ahead for how you will ensure you have a balanced diet while you are at work. Learn about what nutrients you need to keep your energy levels up, so that you can remain focussed and motivated throughout the work day. Consider preparing a lunch the night before which you can take to work, especially if you aren’t aware of the catering facilities or local amenities at your workplace.

Responsible alcohol use

Many people use alcohol to try and reduce the feelings of anxiety. In the short term, alcohol can appear to reduce anxiety/distress, which is why some people use it. However, in the longer term it creates increased distress and anxiety, so does the opposite of what is intended.

Think about different things you can do around work/job searching to help you feel calm and relaxed. This may involve socialising with friends, colleagues or family or may involve having some time to yourself to unwind and focus on your hobbies.

Balanced sleep

Autism can make getting a good night’s sleep more difficult. Research has shown that many different factors contribute to this, including irregular sleep-wake cycles (circadian rhythms), physical health issues such as gastrointestinal problems and epilepsy, or anxiety and depression (which affect sleep because the brain is constantly trying to sort through the day’s events or other worries).

All of these factors can mean that it takes longer to fall asleep, it is harder to stay asleep and the depth and quality of sleep is lower than average. Being constantly tired can, of course, make your daily activities much more difficult.

Thankfully, there are many things that can help you get a good night’s sleep. These include; balanced diet, regular exercise. It also helps to have a clear daily structure, with consistent times for going to sleep and getting up. Consider what time you need to wake up to get to work on time, and try to go to sleep at least 8 hours before this.

If necessary, it may also help to talk to your GP about how to get a good night’s sleep. 


We all know that we should exercise regularly but sometimes it can be very hard to do, especially if you are feeling low or anxious about what others may think. It may help to remind yourself about the benefits exercise can bring you, such as:

  • Using up adrenaline (produced by anxiety)
  • Releasing endorphins and other chemicals which are good for the body and mind
  • Helping the body repair itself better, with quicker recovery from infection
  • Reduced anxiety and improved mood
  • Helping to clear the head and think more clearly

If you are unsure about exercise, make small changes to your routine e.g. getting off the bus a few stops early or parking further away so you can walk part way to work, or maybe consider going for a walk on your lunch break.

Questions to think about

Physical illness

Before you get ill you may want to consider the following questions:

  • Do you think you need any adjustments regarding timing of appointments
  • How would you like the GP surgery to communicate with you?
  • Would you need to see the same clinician every time?
  • Are you comfortable making appointments on the phone or would you prefer to make them online?

Once you have the answers to these questions, contact the GP surgery and ask them to make any necessary adjustments. You can ask for a key named contact person who will navigate the system for you.

Balanced eating

A balanced diet requires planning as you need to allow time both for shopping and cooking, so you need to allow time for this around work. Here are some questions you may want to think about regarding your preferences:

  • Do you think it would work better for you to devote one day (e.g. Sunday) to shop and cook for the week or do you think it would be better for you to introduce cooking as part of your daily routine.
  • Which vegetables and fruit do you most like? Can you find recipes that include them? In what other ways can you include them in your diet?
  • Do you have anyone to share cooking responsibilities with e.g. housemates? Would you want to do this?

Responsible alcohol use

Think about the situations in which you may find yourself tempted to drink more than you would like to:

  • Do you find it more comfortable to go out in small groups or larger groups?
  • What sort of places do you find easier to go to?
  • Do you like loud places or quiet places, bright lights or gentle lighting?

Once you know what makes things more comfortable for you, think about how you can explain this to new friends or work colleagues. It may feel hard to explain this to others, but most people want the people they are with to feel happy and have a good time.

Balanced sleep

Before you start your new job, it may be helpful to think about your current bedtime routine and what helps you sleep well. Once you have a clear idea of what works for you, then the next stage is to think how you can replicate this when preparing for work.


It is sometimes hard to get into a routine to exercise regularly. Here are some things you may want to think about to get you started:

  • Do you like team sports or group classes or do you prefer to exercise alone?
  • Do you enjoy outdoor activities or prefer a gym?
  • If you are not one for active sports, have you considered walking? Try walking to work, parking further away or getting off the bus a few stops earlier to get some exercise on your way to work.
  • Look at your working hours, are there any times you could dedicate to going to the gym, taking exercise classes or going for a walk?

Additional information and links

Physical illness

Balanced eating

Responsible alcohol use

  • If you are worried about your own, or others’ drinking habits, you can find advice and support here.


  • This link gives advice on how to set up a good bedtime routine.
  • Smiling Mind is a free mindfulness meditation resource and once you have registered, you can use all the resources. There is a module on sleep. You can find it here.
  • This app gives relaxing melodies to aid sleep: Relaxing melodies app for iPhone and for Google Play.


The Mental Health Foundation has an article outlining the benefits of exercise and gives some ideas about how to start it. You can find it here.


This article was originally written by Dr Abigail Tolland, a clinical psychologist working in the University of Portsmouth’s Student Wellbeing Service. It was adapted for the IMAGE toolkit by Rachael Maun.