From one student to another, here’s how I actively helped my mental health at university
The most important thing is to be kind to yourself
When I moved to uni last year I was told all the time about how much fun it would be, how the friends I’d make would be ones for life and how much I’d earned this incredible experience. But actually being there was a different story. Moving away from home off the back of lockdowns and A-levels, being completely detached from familiar support systems that I didn’t even realise I’d had around me. Uni was harder than I could have ever anticipated.
What I didn’t realise was that by ignoring my mental health, I was making it much harder to settle in and feel better. Feeling as though it was my fault that my uni experience wasn’t looking like the one I was looking forward to put me off acknowledging it, or talking about it, but what I was feeling wasn’t uncommon at all.
Today is mental health awareness day, and if I learnt anything in my first year it’s that paying attention to, and looking after your mental health is super important to making the most out of uni, and it can’t hurt in the long run. So here are a few small things I do in order to take care of my mental health at uni:
1. Eat and sleep!!
This is one of those things you hear all the time but I never realised how true it was until I moved to uni. Not only could I not cook, at all, lockdown had completely ruined my idea of a sleep schedule. Freshers’ Flu took me down but disregarding my physical health kept me down longer, meaning I survived my first term of uni on Pot Noodle and hope.
Food is in fact fuel, and sleep really is as important as you’re told it is. Lacking the physical energy you get from looking after yourself in this way means it takes a lot less to feel mentally drained, and makes it harder to cope with that feeling. Take it from someone who managed to melt a cucumber – my wok is my lifeline.
2. Going outside is so important
Another one you’ve probably heard enough of, but those mental health walks we were encouraged to talk during lockdown – they really do help. When things start feeling too much, putting on a good playlist and exploring your campus and uni city gives your mind a break and a chance to reset.
In halls especially, it’s easy to spend all day in your room without even thinking about it, I definitely did. Once I realised doing that was making me feel worse, I started walking and cycling more often, and started taking myself out into my uni city on empty days to explore, or read or whatever I could find to fill the time. It was rare that doing these things didn’t improve my mood, even if only a little bit.
3. Writing things down also helps
Ignoring your feelings doesn’t make them go away, and will probably just make you feel worse in the long run. I’ve found that writing down what’s in my head makes it easier to organise thoughts and clear mental space to focus on what’s important. Journaling in any form can feel awkward and unnatural at first, but getting into a habit of writing things down as often as I can helps me pay attention to and look after my mental health.
You can get creative with this too, sometimes I just dump every thought I have onto some paper but you can use colours, make mind maps, if you’re a musical person – write a song! Literally do anything because you have to experiment a bit to find what helps you -I promise it’s worth it.
4. Staying social was key for me
When you think about being social at uni, a lot of people picture big nights out, flat parties, drinking games and so on. While these things can of course be fun, they’re in no way the only way to have a social life at university.
Meeting friends on campus, studying together, or even doing some of the things on this list with other people, are all good ways to feel stay social and avoid feeling isolated. At the start of this year some of my friends and I started doing a tourist day in a massive gap we had between some lectures, just going out and exploring the city and doing ‘touristy’ things we might otherwise never do.
5. Try and talk about it
So simple but so important. If you’re feeling down or struggling with your mental health, the chances that someone around you is either feeling the same way, or has done in the past, are very high. What I found in my first few weeks of uni was that most people were relieved when the topic of moving to uni being weird was brought up. You don’t have to share everything you’re going through with people you just met, but starting those conversations can be so reassuring.
Your support network from home doesn’t disappear when you move to uni, so don’t feel like you can’t reach out to home friends and family if you’re struggling. Also don’t be put off using the uni services available to you because you don’t feel like your mental health is bad enough. Those networks are there for you to use so if you really don’t know who to turn to – please use them.
6. Be kind to yourself
Moving to university is hard, you’re on your own for the first time and have to learn navigate so much so quickly, and thats on top of full time study. There’s a lot of pressure for your time at uni to live up to a universal uni experience, and when mine didn’t feel like that I was very quick to blame myself and started comparing what I was feeling in my lowest moments to other peoples highlights on social media. There’s no right way to do uni, so try and avoid the comparisons.
It’s not a crime to look after yourself, especially when you’re struggling. Be kind and be patient – you’ve got this.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably) on 0800 58 58 58.
If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s difficulties with getting uni support, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]