Guest post by: Annie Button
They say your student days are the best years of your life but the shocking truth is that 1 in 4 students experience mental health problems while at uni. Depression and anxiety are among the most common issues experienced as many struggle to cope with the emotional strain and the stress they’re under.
There’s the intense pressure to do well on your course, worries about student debt, forming new friendships and uncertain futures beyond graduation – and all of this and more can hit you like a ten ton truck when you’re far from home with nowhere to turn.
1. Acknowledge the issue
The first step in looking after you mental health is to realise that there might be a problem. Do you recognise any of the following symptoms?
- Headaches, back pain, stomach cramps
- Inability to focus on your work
- Excessive worrying
- Inability to cope with problems or stress
- Feelings of sadness or lack of energy
- Extreme emotional highs and lows
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Too little or too much sleep
- Eating disorder
- Withdrawal from social activities
It’s not an exhaustive list since everyone experiences mental illness differently, but if you feel that your emotional state is dragging you down, it’s essential that you take action. Read this free guide on how to take care of your wellbeing at uni.
2. Seek professional help
Once you’ve admitted to yourself that you’re finding it increasingly difficult to cope, it’s time to stop suffering in silence and seek help to get better. You can go and see your GP who may refer you to see a specialist if necessary, or to an IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme, or prescribe medication.
There’s no shame in approaching the mental health advisers and counselling services at your uni, and you certainly won’t be the odd one out. In fact, 1 in 5 students make use of mental health resources in that way. Find out what services are available at your uni and make an appointment.
Also check out the student union; most will have a student advice centre that can share valuable resources and point you in the right direction. There are also online resources and apps that can help you look after your mental health and wellbeing.
3. Ringfence some ‘me’ time
In addition to getting the right professional help, there are plenty of things you can do yourself that will make a big difference to how you feel. Start by making your own mental wellbeing a priority and schedule time just for yourself.
Uni life is fast paced and busy; there’s always a deadline to meet, an exam to revise for or a social event to go to. As an antidote to all the stress, make a conscious effort to get some downtime that allows you to switch off completely and do something you really love to do.
You could go for a walk, lose yourself in a good book or do mindfulness exercises. The important thing is that you take the pressure off now and again and give yourself permission to do whatever you like.
4. Look after your body
‘Healthy body, healthy mind’ – there’s definitely something in the old adage. Even half an hour’s gentle exercise per day will heighten the level of happiness hormones in the body – endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. These are responsible for helping you feel good, sleep better and concentrate more.
While exercising is an excellent way of coping with stress, it doesn’t always have to happen in the gym. Why not head outdoors for a jog around the park or a bike ride in the countryside? You could go swimming, play football with your mates or do yoga in your room. Or you could join one of the many university societies and try out a new sport.
Also, don’t forget to fuel your body (and mind) properly. Try to keep coffee, energy drinks and alcohol to a minimum since they can actually increase your anxiety levels. And did you realise that a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and veg will give you more energy and strength in the longer term? Just saying.
5. Give yourself small achievable goals
Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. Structuring your days with simple routines and small, realistic goals can go a long way towards making you feel more productive and on top of things.
Give this tried and tested time management technique a go to help you break up what seems like a mammoth task. With the help of the Pomodoro timer, you can work through one section at a time, giving yourself a well earned break after 25 minutes’ focused work. Not only will this method make you feel less stressed, the sense of achievement when you get to the end of the last segment will be amazing!
Whether you use this technique to help you clean a messy room or tackle major exam revision, make a note of every small win and look back on them when you’re feeling low.
P.S. if you’re bogged down with financial worries, start taking the steps today to be more in control of your money.
Annie Button is an independent writer and a recent University graduate who enjoys sharing her passion for student well-being through her writing. She often works in conjunction with experience days provider Into The Blue. See what else she’s been up to on Twitter: @anniebutton1994