How to take care of yourself while studying
Attending university can be one of the most exciting times in one’s life, however, we are all familiar with the pressures it can place on our lives. Keeping up with all the assignments, classes, exams and not to mention financial commitments can all become overwhelming and stress-inducing. There is nothing worse than that dreaded feeling when you’re not quite coping. If you don’t find ways to manage the stress and keep a balance in your life, then your mental health could start to suffer. Looking after your mental health at university will help you to perform at your best during your studies and make sure you keep that all-important balance in your student life.
Why is mental health so important?
According to the Randstad student, mental health report 2020 over a quarter of UK students (37%) are experiencing their state of mental wellbeing has changed for the worse since starting higher education.
64% of respondents claim that their studies and university lifestyle impact their state of wellbeing negatively.
The report also discovered that over half (55%) have considered leaving their course. Of those that have considered leaving, many said that access to DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) and the support they received, encouraged them to continue with their studies.
In a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2021, More than a third of first-year students in England who started university in 2021 were reported to have shown symptoms of depression and anxiety.
And almost two in five (38%) new students surveyed in 2021 said they felt unprepared for studying at university because of the loss of face-to-face learning as a result of the Covid pandemic.
So, as we can see the pandemic further exacerbated an already very concerning situation.
Students are particularly vulnerable to mental health struggles as they’re often living away from home and dealing with the stresses of adult life for the first time. The pandemic, which started in 2020, has added an extra layer of anxiety to their everyday stress.
Making sure that students have good mental health allows them to adapt and effectively manage the changes and stresses that come with university life.
Mental health and wellbeing are so important because they impact our ability to engage with the world around us. They affect the way we think and behave. Therefore, looking after your mental health and wellbeing is of primary importance.
There is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to mental health difficulties, which there shouldn’t be. If you are feeling down the best thing you can do is get help as soon as possible. The longer you refrain from getting the help and support you need, the more likely it is that you will get into an unhealthy cycle.
Someone with balanced mental health can:
- Recognise and meet their potential
- Cope with the stresses of daily life
- Work successfully at jobs and hobbies
- Contribute to their community
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health
We all know how to look after our physical health – eat healthily, do exercise – but we often neglect our mental health.
Our mental well-being isn’t always consistent, it can change depending on what’s going on in our lives and how well we’re able to look after ourselves. When we’re at university, we are so
busy that we can start to neglect ourselves. Handing in that all-important assignment means that we often skip meals and sleep and that can have a detrimental effect on our overall wellbeing.
So we have to think about our mental health in the same way as our physical health. If you had a bad cough or aching stomach you would go to the doctor and you need to do the same thing when it comes to your mental health.
How to identify mental health difficulties
Students can experience struggles with all aspects of emotional and mental health. These range from difficulties in managing stress, change and pressure, right through to more serious mental ill-health issues.
The change to independent living and study can be a huge trigger for mental health problems. Rates of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and suicide are high.
The Mind organisation website is very helpful and can explain more about the different types of mental health conditions that can come about as a result of stress.
More students than ever before are disclosing mental illnesses to their universities, and students report higher levels of mental distress than their non-student peers. Triggers include study and work pressures, relationship trouble, homesickness and loneliness, money worries and bullying.
If you start to experience some of the following conditions while studying at university then you should seek help:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Bipolar disorder
- Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- Dissociation and dissociative disorders
- Drugs – recreational drugs & alcohol
- Eating problems
- Hearing voices
- Hypomania and mania
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic attacks
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Sleep problems
- Suicidal feelings
How to identify the warning signs
The NHS website lists some common signs of depression and anxiety, including feeling low or more anxious or agitated than usual or losing interest in life or motivation.
While you may still be getting to know the friends you’ve made at university, look out for these signs:
Not going to lectures
Looking tired or being unable to sleep
Putting on or losing weight
Becoming withdrawn and avoiding social events or being unusually quiet or antisocial Not maintaining appearance to the same standard
Disengaging from university and other activities and commitments
Problems with motivation and concentration
Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
Indulging in addictive behaviours such as using drugs or alcohol
Low mood or increased irritability
Lack of energy and motivation
Constantly feeling tearful, angry or on edge
Where can I get help?
Most universities offer a well-being service, you should contact them if you are the slightest bit worried about your mental health.
Wellbeing teams can provide assistance and help and can signpost you to the most appropriate services such as appointments with dedicated mental health advisers, drop-in counselling or mindfulness sessions and support groups. To find out what support is available at your university contact student services or look on their website.
Outside of university, you can try contacting:
If you’re worried about your mental health it’s essential that you visit your GP. They can give you a medical diagnosis and can refer you to appropriate services.
If you feel you need immediate help, call 116 123, any time of day.
Family and friends
Talking about your struggles can be a huge relief. Don’t feel like a burden, your family and friends want to help.
Resources and helplines
Other organisations that can support your mental wellbeing include:
Nine steps that will help you alleviate stress and anxiety while studying
1. Get plenty of sleep
When you sleep, your brain assists your body in healing itself from the stressors you encountered during the day. Because many college students do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night, they begin feeling tired, worn down, and overwhelmed.
This mental health tip for college students is important because when you lack good sleep, your body is not able to produce enough serotonin, dopamine, and other chemicals to keep stress, anxiety, and depression at bay.
2. Check-in with a campus counsellor
Meeting with a campus counsellor, or a counsellor within the community, allows you to learn stress management techniques, how to calm yourself before a test, and how to combat other issues you may be facing such as peer pressure.
With counselling, you are given a set time just for you. You can vent to someone who will keep what you say confidential. They will give you objective advice and even help you with time management, goal setting, and building a support network.
3. Build a support network
Building a support network is a mental health tip for college students that should be done by everyone. Being a part of someone else’s support network can help too. Every college student feels overwhelmed, confused and disheartened at some point in their college life.
Being able to reach out to others for help can mean the difference between giving up and reaching success. Your support network should include professors, friends, family members, resident advisors, your counsellor, and anyone else you feel can help you rise above a problem.
4. Keep active
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem, help you concentrate and improve your sleep. Walk, cycle, dance or try something completely new. It’s a great way to make new friends too.
Exercise leads to a happier mood. When you are active, endorphins are released into your body, along with dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals boost your mood, suppress pain, and give you a feeling of reward. Sticking to an exercise routine, even if it is walking for thirty minutes each day, can elevate your mood. Exercise can also help you sleep better, have more energy during the day, and concentrate better on assignments and during tests.
5. Avoid drugs and alcohol
Many think party life is what college life is all about. What they may not understand is that you can party in college without using drugs or alcohol. You don’t need substances to help you meet new friends or to have a good time.
Avoiding drugs and alcohol is a mental health tip for college students that can prevent hangovers, being late for class, sleep issues, and making a fool of yourself.
There are plenty of sober activities taking place on your campus, as well as sober groups and peer mentors if you need extra help avoiding the party scene.
6. Eat a healthy diet
Just as important as avoiding drugs and alcohol, eating a healthy diet is one of the top mental health tips for college students. That’s because what you put into your body, will affect your mood. Chemicals that regulate moods such as happiness, anger, anxiety, and depression live in both your brain and your body.
The healthier the food and drinks you consume, the better regulated your mood will be and the better your body will be able to release the chemicals that make you feel good.
Don’t keep things bottled up. Talking about your feelings with friends, family or your college tutor is not a sign of weakness but of taking charge of your own wellbeing.
Switch off phones and social media for a short time each day. A change of scene is good for mental health. Go for a walk, sit, think and breathe. Enjoy some green space and visit one of the parks near St George’s Tower. Don’t get sucked into social media.
9. Nurture things that make you happy
Balance studying with other activities. Participate in societies and clubs, follow your passions and keep up your hobbies. You need a break from your studies.
Whether it’s a dose of your favourite Netflix show, baking something delicious to share with your flatmates, or spending some quality time with your guitar or sketchbook, it’s important to take time to do things that you know make you feel good.
If you are struggling with your emotions and negative thoughts or behaviours while studying at university it is always a good idea to reach out.
Find out what university support services offer before you need them.
Most university wellbeing teams will be on hand during open days so you can find out what’s available before you start your degree. Your university wellbeing team can offer 1-to-1 support, a mental health adviser, counselling, mindfulness workshops, and wellbeing events.