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How to look after your mental health at university

By Anna Whitehouse on 08-01-2018
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82% of university students suffer from stress and anxiety, according to recent research by UniHealth. Participants named academic pressures, financial worries and social expectations as their biggest concerns.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Over the last ten years, there’s been a fivefold increase in the number of university students who admit that they’re suffering. Increased awareness and a lessening of the stigma associated with mental health problems means that more people are getting the help they need.

So if you’re a student, make sure you know how to access your university’s support services. However, there are also plenty of things you can do to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed.


Here’s our handy guide to looking after your mental health at university.


Know the signs

Feeling low, withdrawing from everyone, not eating, experiencing insomnia and struggling to look after your appearance are all common symptoms of depression.

Alternatively, anxiety sufferers may experience agitation, a racing heart, sweating, shaking, headaches and over-breathing.

If you’re suffering from any combination of these symptoms, the first step is to tell someone you trust. This could be a friend, a tutor, a family member or a university counsellor.

If you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious for more than a few weeks and it’s affecting your daily life, a visit to the GP is in order. Take a friend if you need to and be as open and as honest as you can.

However, if your symptoms are mild, here some tips that could make a big difference to how you feel.


Enjoy some exercise

Regular exercise is a simple way to kick-start those endorphins, helping you to feel more positive and relaxed.

According to mental health adviser Stephen Bradford, taking 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times a week can have a significant effect on your mood.

How about taking up running, hopping on your bike or getting involved with a team sport? If you prefer a more relaxed approach, try toning up with Pilates or Yoga. Alternatively, you could simply go for a brisk walk and bask in the beauty of nature.

Whatever activity you choose, it needs to raise your heartbeat and leave you feeling out of breath.


Balance your diet

Cooking nutritious and delicious food is a great way to care for yourself (and sharing the results will make you very popular with your flatmates!). You’ll find a huge selection of tasty recipes online, but don’t forget to allow yourself the occasional naughty treat.

While you’re out and about during the day, make sure you eat enough slow-release carbs to keep you going and drink plenty of water.

When you’re facing tight deadlines and exams it can be tempting to opt for sugary food and drinks packed with caffeine. However, that initial burst of energy won’t last long and you’ll be left feeling tired and irritable.

 

Do something you love

Socialising on Facebook may be fun but it’s no substitute for a network of reliable friends. When you’re starting out at university, it’s easy to feel pressured into pub crawls and drinking games.  But once the fresher’s week antics are over, you’re more likely to make friends by getting involved with an activity you genuinely enjoy.

If you’re full of pent-up energy, joining a drama club, an orchestra or a political society will give you plenty of opportunity for self-expression.

It’s also worth checking out your student volunteer hub or approaching your local volunteer centre. Helping others will boost your confidence, force you to socialise and look great on your CV.

Feeling a little overwhelmed by student life? Why not try a gentle creative activity like knitting, scrapbooking or painting? There’s nothing wrong with just relaxing while you read a favourite novel or watch a film either. Listening to upbeat music can also help to lift your mood, as can enjoying a simple cuppa with a friend.

 

Manage your work load

Thinking about your entire term’s workload could leave you feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. Instead, break larger tasks down into achievable chunks and prioritize the ones that need to be done first.

Once you’ve done this, plan a realistic work schedule for yourself and try to stick to it, as doing this will help you to take each day as it comes. 

Our top tip? Don’t leave things until the last minute. It only leads to panic and too much caffeine!

 

Make time to relax

Learning to relax properly will have a positive impact on your quality of life and the quality of your sleep. Mindfulness, a Buddhist relaxation technique based on deep breathing and guided meditation, has been shown to improve people’s physical and mental health.

It’s so effective that doctors recommend it, so if you fancy learning the ropes; check out the free apps Calm and headspace.

Getting a good night’s sleep is a simple but powerful way to keep you feeling energised and positive. Routine can help, so try going to bed at a regular time. To relax your mind properly, avoid staring at a screen before bed.

That might mean leaving your phone out of reach and using an alarm clock instead!

Three quarters of the students surveyed by UniHealth said they don’t ask for help because they’re embarrassed, they don’t know how to access it or they think it’s a waste of time. Don’t let this be you!

If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed most of the time and the tips we’ve shared just aren’t helping, take that first step towards getting help and speak to someone.

Anna Whitehousewrites for Inspiring Interns, which helps career starters find the perfect job, in everything from sales jobs to marketing internships. To browse their graduate jobs London listings, visit their website.

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