Breaks, socialising, and tea: How to look after your mental health as an Edi student

We got some helpful advice from a psychiatrist and Conscious, a student mental health charity


University can be overwhelming in a lot of ways. It can be very easy for your mental health to be affected, and even easier to feel like it’s not normal to feel not great. You can feel under a lot of pressure to be living your best life and it can seem like everyone is out having a great time but you.

So we spoke to a few people in the know for some helpful and useful advice.

Shanna and Amusan, the founders of Conscious Edinburgh. Conscious Edinburgh is a charity run by students, for students. They offer training to societies on how to deal with mental health. They have also recently started a blog, where members write about their experiences of mental health.

We also spoke to Professor Ewan Gillon – a Chartered Psychologist and Clinical Director for First Psychology Scotland. He told us: “University life has been shaken up by the pandemic for nearly two years now. It’s safe to say all students and teachers are hoping for a return to some kind of normal. However, normal student life does not mean that every day is plain sailing. In fact, it’s only natural to feel anxious and worry about missing home and making new friends.”

He then said the three most common mental health issues challenges face at uni are anxiety, homesickness, and the stress of making new friends. Here are some tips and pointers to deal with each of them.

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Anxiety

First of all, it is completely normal to feel somewhat stressed at the beginning of the new academic year. Remember, stress is a normal reaction to changes. Some degree of stress is even helpful when it comes to dealing with problems. Most students find that they almost automatically relax as the first few weeks progress.

Shanna told us: “Freshers can be a mixed bag of emotions, you’ve just moved to a new city with new people, starting a new chapter of your life and this can be both so exciting but also overwhelming too.

However, when healthy stress turns to anxiety and starts to overwhelm you, it’s time to look at effective coping mechanisms. Talking to someone you trust is a great way of relieving your anxiety. Often having someone listen and show you they care already helps.

Shanna adds: “Speak to your friends about how you feel, no feelings are ever irrational, and I bet a lot of the time they’ll be feeling the same thing or have felt that way in the past.’

“You’ll feel a weight off your shoulders, and you might even help them too. What we’ve found is that the majority of the time everyone is more than willing to listen, so what have you got to lose?”

Try identifying the individual source(s) of your anxiety and address them individually. This tactic will help break the issue down into smaller, manageable pieces. But in the short term, simple breathing exercises can be extremely helpful, and once you master them, they will be useful when it comes to exam time.

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Feeling Homesick

Perhaps some of you couldn’t wait to leave home and get back to university but others may miss the familiarity of their hometown, friends, and family. You are not alone: more than one in two students feel homesick when they first start university. However, eventually, a similar amount agreed that living away from home is easier than expected.

Think about how you can transfer some of this familiarity into your new life. If you have had a close group of friends for years, all of whom are now in different places, a group chat is a fantastic way of staying in touch.

Consider transferring some of your home routines to your student accommodation. If you generally wake up with your favourite music, continue to do that. Even something simple like drinking your favourite tea from your favourite mug can help you relax and bring back happy memories. (We recommend the Milkman coffeeshop for a cosy cup of tea!).

Agree to catch up with friends and family at regular intervals on Facetime or a similar app. Video chat is a great way to stay more closely connected than you could just by making a phone call.

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Making New Friends  

Entering a new environment where you don’t know anyone can be scary, and it’s understandable that you worry you may not find new friends.  Remember, everyone else is in the same position. Especially, if this is your first year, very few of your peers will know anyone else at university.

During your first year, attending Freshers Week events is one of the best ways of meeting new people. If big events are not your favourite thing, try striking up a random conversation with the person sitting next to you in class. This may sound scary, but you will find that the other person is happy you made the effort.

Even simpler, knock on your neighbours’ doors and introduce yourself. University societies are another great place to meet new people.

There is no deadline to how quickly you need to make new friends, and it doesn’t matter how many new friends you make either. It’s not a competition.

Anusan also recommended joining societies: “Take the time to try new things and find an activity that you truly enjoy. For the first time you’re not limited by what’s on offer and there are so many different options out there. It can be anything, but just make sure it really brings you pleasure.

It could be a sport, musical instruments, gym, writing for a school magazine it really could be anything – there’s something for everyone out there.”

“Doing this is a great way to meet people similar to you who can become your closest friends and form that all important support system.”

“Sh*t happens during uni, it’s unavoidable and unpredictable. But having an activity that you can do that you really love can act as a great distraction when things get hard and can form an important part of everyone’s self-care strategy. It can provide positivity in times where there may not be any other sources of positivity”.

If you’re looking for societies to join then have a look on the EUSA website for the full list – or alternatively, come write for The Edinburgh Tab (we’re a fun, friendly, and inclusive bunch).

University is exciting, especially if this is your first year. Even subsequently, each year is a new start. However, this does not mean you need to leave all home comforts behind. Bring some of them to university with you, stay open to making new connections, and remember to relax during these first few weeks and months.

Recommended related articles by this writer

• Here are the top eight ways to spend Halloween in Edinburgh this year

• The five things you need to know before starting an Edinburgh Uni degree

• Societies, social media and being keen: The Tab’s guide to making friends at uni