The difficulties of making the transition to university life are often obscured by the anticipated freedom and anticipation of what such a student life offers. In addition to juggling tutorial timetables students also face a myriad of stressors that are part and parcel of being a would-be graduate’s life: adjusting to being independent and away from home, struggling with academic obligations like writing dissertations and sitting exams, and balancing studies with a part-time job or just getting used to a new geographical area.
Real challenges that relate to mental ill health
Depending on how long one has been at university the levels of stressful triggers vary; students having to cope with parental expectation, mounting student debt and finding a job after graduation among the range of contributing stressors as revealed by a joint research study by YouGov and the University of Southampton.
It’s widely experienced but the stigma attached to university students experiencing mental health issues means that many do not seek the support and help needed to cope. In a National Union of Students (NUS) survey 78 percent of students surveyed admitted to having suffered from mental health issues with a third declaring they had suicidal thoughts. An alarming 54 percent of those who spoke of experiencing mental health problems said that they did not seek required help. Reasons cited included not knowing where to go to for support from the university and feelings of anxiousness over the support offered.
Coping mechanisms to ease the stress of university life and boost well-being
If you’re struggling to cope with adjusting to university life then the following coping mechanisms may help:
Release ‘feel good’ hormones through exercise
Any sort of exercise will do as long as it is a minimum of 20 minutes long (and 5 times a week) and focuses on increasing your heart rate. A brisk walk from residence to lecture halls or a bike ride around campus is a simple way to include more physical activity into your routine.
The magic of meditation to improve mental health
Stephen Bradford, a senior mental health adviser at Birkbeck University, encourages mindfulness meditation as a relaxation technique that effectively lowers stress levels. The calming practice works by focusing on deep breathing and on the present moment. Students can join meditation classes for a guided experience; listen to meditation practice exercises on CDs or YouTube videos or on smartphone-enabled meditation apps.
Eat right for your wellbeing
A balanced diet works towards three main goals: supporting optimum physical health, promoting the ‘feel good’ factor and providing proper nutrition to work and study harder for longer. Study-friendly foods include flax seeds, salmon, tuna, blueberries and whole grains.
Use the support services at your university
Universities provide students with student support services aimed at supporting students academically as well as emotionally. These support networks are wide-ranging and can include drop-in clinics, well-being groups, student-run nightlines, Chaplaincies, personal tutors, student-run nightlines and hall tutors.
Good mental health is one of the most fundamental of conditions that need to be met to empower and enable you to reach your potential. Reaching out and seeking help is critical to managing high stress levels. A rich and rewarding university experience depends on how well you take care of and protect your well-being.
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