A mini guide to protect your mental health whilst being a full-time student.
I am Jade, a full-time student, and I would like to give some new university students some tips and tricks on how they can improve their mental health at university and not feel underwhelmed. Currently 1 in 5 students has a diagnosed mental health problem.
As a student myself who suffered from anxiety, I completely understand how challenging it is to be a student and the pressures of balancing work, studies, and social life all whilst trying to not feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Starting university can be exciting as you’re starting your adult life away from family and you’re meeting new people, but it can also be scary as there’s additional pressures such as finances, meeting deadlines, making friends, feeling homesick etc.
The tips I am going to give you today are scientifically proven but also some are from personal experience that helped me to manage in my first year of university.
1) Plan! Plan! Plan!
The first topic we are going to investigate is planning. I know planning may sound completely terrifying, but planning is very beneficial and can help to reduce stress related to studies in the long term. Using apps like Minimalist, Todoist and Notion can be helpful for planning out your days and making notes of when work is due. A study by Bryan Robinson, Ph.D found that having a planning mindset reduces stress in comparison to a procrastinating mindset. In the study they found that ‘52% of Planners reported having time for a social life, and 44% had enough time for themselves, compared with 39% and 31% of Procrastinators, respectively.’ This means that being a planner will give you more free time and less time worrying about work life/social life balance.
2) Have some chill time
I know this may sound counterproductive as you have loads of deadlines to meet. But making some time for yourself is beneficial for productivity and your mental health. You are not being lazy if you need to have a break occasionally. You can enjoy that moment by reading, going for a walk, exercising, listening to your favourite music etc. It is just important to use this time to do a stress-free activity to help relax your mind. A practice that is scientifically proven to help with symptoms of mental health is Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a meditation technique used to relax by ‘sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body.’
3) Join a society.
Joining societies is the best way to make friends and get to know people on your course. If you have an activity that you enjoyed participating in at home, e.g., basketball and your university have a basketball team, the best thing you could do is join it and make friends with like-minded people. But it is also important to get out of your comfort zone and try new things you may have never thought of trying in the past. Physical activity is proven to improve your mental health by improving your mood. It also helps to release cortisol which helps to manage stress.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you are struggling financially, mentally, or educationally, the best thing you can do for yourself is to speak to your academic tutor. I know you may feel nervous or anxious to ask for help but please do remember that they are there to help you. Most Universities provide student support services to help you with the following issues and provide the best advice. If you are struggling with finances, you can see if your university has any financial hardship schemes or scholarships to help with financial pressures. If you need help with coursework don’t hesitate to ask your module leaders for support and ask for extensions where necessary.
5) Find a second family
Your friends in university will become your new family whilst you start your journey in adulthood. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, it’s important to make a good set of friends that you can feel comfortable with to speak your mind especially about how you are feeling. A way to make friends in first year is joining societies, going to fresher’s week, and living in a flat with other students. This was one of the best ways for me to meet new people and make friends. When I was struggling with my mental health my flatmates gave me the best support and tried to make me feel welcomed as best as they could. Professor Robin Dunbar (an evolutionary psychologist) believes that ‘Friendships is the single most important thing affecting our psychological health and wellbeing, as well as our physical health and wellbeing.’ Spending time with our friends releases endorphins in the brain and makes us happy.’
6) Get enough sleep
Did you know that lack of sleep can increase your stress levels? It is vital to get enough sleep daily as a lack of sleep increases your cortisol levels thus causing more stress. The last thing we would want to be is stressed so make sure you get the recommended 7-9 hours of it. A study from APA stated that ‘Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours a night.’