Don't let anyone tell you otherwise - being a student is stressful.
From the outside, it can seem like nothing but parties, new experiences and sleeping in until 3 pm. But anyone who's ever been to university can tell you just how stressful, lonely and challenging a period it can be.
Balancing your degree with the trials of growing up (or going back to school if you're taking the mature student route)? Much harder than it looks.
We live in a society where mental health has for the most part had its stigma removed. While it's easier than ever to have a conversation, it can still be extremely difficult to get the right support. With that in mind, we've put together this guide for any struggling students out there, this is how you can prioritize your mental health while studying.
Conditions and symptoms
First, let's explore some common forms of mental health conditions students face, and signs you or a peer may be struggling with them.
Common mental health conditions among students
Mental health can take many forms, but many students may experience these issues throughout their time at university:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
These are just a few of the conditions that students can be afflicted with during their studies, these are the most common - either manifesting at a younger age and developing throughout university or as a result of a stressful new environment.
Common mental health symptoms among students
Common signs you or another person may be suffering from mental health concerns include:
- Feelings of lack of energy, listlessness or irritation
- Excessive worrying
- Concentration issues
- Extreme emotional highs and lows
- Withdrawal from social activities and previously loved hobbies
- An impending sense of doom
- Struggles with everyday tasks and routines
- Addictive behaviour
As we'll go into more detail about later in the article, if you believe you may have any of the conditions listed above, consider consulting your local GP. Potential mental health concerns are not limited to these symptoms. If you are struggling don't be afraid to seek help.
Create a healthy schedule
As wild and reckless as your time at university might be, humans thrive on schedules.
It's not just a way of making sure you get your assignments in on time , a solid schedule can help protect your mental health and stop you spiraling in dark times.
One of the first signs you might be struggling with your mental health is a loss of interest in basic things and an avoidance of everyday tasks.
Not showering, having a poor diet and regularly staying in bed for extended periods are all potential signs of depression and other mental health issues. Consider giving yourself a simple, healthy schedule to follow each day to ensure you don’t develop bad habits and keep yourself off this path.
Not only will this ensure you’re keeping yourself up to date with your university work (as falling behind can cause further stress issues) but it will help keep your mind focused on the day and ensure your body and mind are getting the stimulation and fuel they need. If you’re the kind of person that forgets to write in their diary and acts on whims, try using a student schedule app recommended by Top Universities. You’ve probably got your phone on you most of the time, so why not let it do the heavy lifting when it comes to remembering to hand in homework or make a study session.
Consider medication and counselling
In some cases, it’s worth going down a more direct route to help manage stress, anxiety and negative feelings.
Fortunately, there are a few options present for students.
Many universities have their own on-campus counselling services or provide access to anonymous online counselling. If that’s not an option, you can also consider going private if you feel talking therapies would help you get through the more difficult periods of university life.
Alternatively, there are medical solutions. However, before prescribing yourself with any medication please consult your doctor first and see what they suggest is appropriate for you.
Whatever you do end up taking, ensure you’re taking proper precautions and following expert advice. If you’re worried about mixing prescription drugs and alcohol make sure you’re aware fully of the risks. The Independent Pharmacy discusses Propranolol and alcohol in detail in this guide. It’s important to fully understand a drug before taking it to ensure you’re not causing yourself unnecessary panic.
Though not for everyone, medication and counselling can have a huge impact on your mental health. It can be used to get you through a particularly stressful period, or as a long-term solution for lingering mental health problems.
Consider moving back home
In the age of COVID, enjoying your university experience from the comfort of your parent's home doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
Of course, for many, this is not a possibility, due to family and personal circumstances. However, there is a good degree of students who will enjoy a happier and more focused university experience by staying put.
Moving to a new city or town at such a young age can be challenging on the mind, especially in the current climate, so having the option to avoid extra debt and learn surrounded by home comforts and support systems is appealing.
If you’re studying from home, ensure you don’t become a hermit and try and enjoy some of the socialising university offers (even if it is virtual). Being around people who know and love you can radically improve your mental health, and you should look to protect yourself by doing so.
Throw yourself into your hobbies
To the extent that you aren’t neglecting your studies of course.
Yes, university is a time for learning, but it’s also a time to find the things that round out your personality and make you you!
Diving into a new hobby or reconnecting with an old passion is a brilliant way to ward off negative feelings and make yourself feel more in tune with the world. Not only are hobbies a brilliant social activity to keep your mind sharp and show there are people who care about you, they can help you blow off steam and step away from the pressures of studying.
Art can be a brilliant way of expressing your hopes, dreams and fears (whether it’s drawing, painting or something more demanding like a sculpture). Regular exercise forces you to get outside and releases essential hormones that boost your moods such as endorphins and dopamine.
So often, it's the things we do outside of our core lessons that make a university experience so special and help us make the connections we need to excel later in life. The campus rugby team or radio show might just help earn you a job one day or introduce you to a passion you'll hang onto for the rest of your life.
Prioritizing your mental health when you're surrounded by new people, far from home and faced with impending deadlines isn't easy, but it's essential. Follow these tips and know-how to notice the signs, not just in other people, but yourself.