University can be absolutely brilliant. There are so many new people to meet and countless opportunities to grab hold of with both hands, often coupled with the amazing new-found independence of living away from home. However, all those things which can make uni so brilliant can also make it incredibly physically, emotionally and mentally straining. Sometimes in life this is just unavoidable – but there are ways to help you cope when things get difficult. Over the next five weeks on the blog I’ll be running a series entirely focused on keeping healthy at university. I’m not a health professional; these posts are based on my own experiences. Today I’m looking at improving your mental health during your studies.
During this series we’ll be looking at how you can fit in cost-effective healthy eating and fitness around your uni routine, and maximise your productivity for your studies through good sleep and organisation. But first on my list is mental health: for me, that’s where everything starts. If your mental health is good, you’ll be well-positioned to work on everything else. So, here are my five steps to better mental health at university:
1. Stay organised
For me, being organised underpins everything. It’s the number-one prevention tactic for that feeling of being overwhelmed and panicked. When I’m in that state it’s impossible for me to get anything done, so keeping on top of things really is key. As a result, next week I’ll be writing more about how keeping organised can help optimise both your mental and physical wellbeing. Ultimately, planning out how you’re going to fit in all your classes, reading and work around your social life and down-time (and sticking to that plan) will help you to feel more grounded and on top of everything.
2. Eat well
It’s easy to worry about food whilst at university, particularly when you’re having to cook for yourself all the time, but the process of making and eating food should be enjoyed and not feared. When I say ‘eat well’ I’m not advocating any particular diet or so-called ‘clean’ eating: I mean eat foods which you enjoy and make you feel good, and eat and drink enough so you’ve plenty of energy. With the right tools and a bit of planning, it’s perfectly possible to eat enough good food whilst on a budget at university, and getting into a good food routine can work wonders for your mental and physical health.
3. Self-care and time out
Being busy is important at uni; there’s always something to do. But just as important is taking a break and giving yourself time out to relax. You know how best to do this; it might be a chilled night in with friends or housemates in front of the TV, or it could be spending time alone. Learn to listen to yourself and identify what you need at a given time, and give yourself permission and space to say no to things if you need or want to.
4. Have a plan
Sounds pretty similar to number 1, right? Think again – in this case, I mean have a plan for if something goes wrong. When you move away from home you take on some responsibility for your own welfare and that includes mental wellbeing; although all you want is for someone else to make you feel better, sometimes your only option is to do that yourself. If I’m sad my go-to is a glass of water and a walk on the nearby nature reserve, and then a chat with my family when I’m feeling a bit better. If I’m frustrated, a trip to the gym does the trick. The key is to know yourself and what you need to do to help you feel better, and find it within yourself to do it. If you want some ideas, check out this post from last January!
5. Set up support networks – and use them
Your support network is crucial and vast. It can range from your family to your significant other, and include friends both from back home and at university. But it stretches beyond that too, to your tutors, doctor, and the university’s student support network. You can always get in touch with Nightline, Samaritans or other helpline charities if you need to talk to someone. Being aware of the extension of your support network can help you feel less alone and means there’s always someone to turn to if and when you need. They’re there to help, so make use of them! And don’t forget that you’re part of other people’s support networks, too.
What are your top tips to better mental health whilst at university? Let me know in the comments!