10 Ways To Look After Your Mental Health at University
I didn't go to university. Well actually, that's not to true. I did, for a little bit, but I realised very quickly that it wasn't going to be for me. There was just something about it that didn't 'click', but that's ok. I don't really know it was, but I just knew I couldn't spend the next four years doing something I didn't believe was in my best interest. The irony that I'm now doing an Open University Honours degree isn't lost on me. Anyway....
If you're already at university or planning on going and you have some mental health conditions, then we've assembled a top ten list of things you can do to look after yourself whilst you're there. Some of these may seem obvious, others not so much, but they have all been designed to help you. It's not an exhaustive list by any means and if you have any other tricks of the trade that help (or helped) you, please leave them as a comment below so others can benefit from your experiences.
One thing to remember above else is that going to university, whether your close to home or further away, is going to be a time of change. It can be a lot of pressure on your shoulders, it can be scary for sure, but it's also a time of fantastic opportunities and to develop and grow as a person. These can be positive experiences, but if you're struggling mentally, it can also be a challenge. So let's start the countdown, cue the Top of the Pops music (ask your mum or dad!).
1. Find Your Way Around
Our first tip might be the most obvious, but that doesn't mean it's any less important. If you are struggling mentally, then find someone to talk to and someone who can help.
Remember that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues, so you won't be the only one who needs a little help from time to time. There will be confidential mental health services available to you, which may differ from uni to uni, but organisations like Students Against Depression, will be able to point you in the right direction.
When you first get there, ask around for services that will help. Don't wait until you need them to try and find their contact details. Put their details in your phone, in your tablet or computer or pin them to your noticeboard. You'll be glad you did.
2. Get Help Early
If you do get to the stage that you need some help, the earlier you ask for it, the better you'll be and the sooner you'll get back to the place you want to be. Chances are your uni will have support services; from telephone lines and counselling through to peer support groups, so use them when or if you need to.
Don't let them pass you by. They are there to help. What do you mean you don't have their number? Remember those numbers we told you to make a note of......
3. Recognise What Helps and What Doesn't
No one will know more about your mental health condition than you and this is going to be key. Be aware of your condition, your mood and your wellbeing. You'll know how you are feeling; when you're ok and when you're not so ok.
Consequently you'll know the types of environments that stress you out or trigger negative emotions. Embrace the good and stay away (as much as you can) from the bad.
4. Get Out and Socialise
It might be easier said than done for those with a mental illness, but try and embrace university life. You may feel alone, especially if you've moved away from home, but the place will be full of people in exactly the same boat.
Wherever you can, try and make the most of the social opportunities that present themselves. Join groups, societies or clubs that interest you or try some new ones. You'll meet some fantastic new friends who share your interests. However small the opportunity might be, make the most of it. You'll feel less alone and may well meet some lifelong friends.
5. Look After Your Friends
With all the new friends and classmates you'll meet, you may not be the one who has mental health difficulties. If that's the case, then you still have a job to do. If any of your new mates have mental health conditions, then do your bit and help them out if they need you to.
Don't be afraid of asking questions about their mental health, especially if it's not something you're too knowledgeable of. There's no harm in asking. The more people talk about mental health, the better! Be there for them to talk to, they'll appreciate it more than you will ever know.
6. Be Careful Out There!
What would the uni experience be if you didn't partake in a little 'frivolity'. University, as I'm sure you know, has an amazing social scene, but it can be a little too much for some.
When you find yourself with more free time that you might expect, try not to fill those times with more and more partying. Alcohol can actually make depression worse, and in large quantities, it can also actually cause anxiety and other health problems to appear.
There's no harm in having some days off from the drinking and the parties. in order for your body and mind to recover. The advice is, everything in moderation, including moderation.
7. Get Some Zzzzzzz
With such a change in your pre-uni lifestyle, you may find that burning the candles at both ends eventually catches up with you. Let's not forget why you're there after all. (SPOILER ALERT - It's not for the parties!....unless you're doing a degree in partying).
You need to have time to study, to research and to meet friends, so to help you achieve all of those things, make sure you give yourself plenty of time for sleeping. Sleeping will recharge your batteries and keep you in tip-top condition for the times when you're doing the things you really enjoy.
8. Stimulation Simulation
If you've completely ignored No. 7, and find yourself tired or exhausted from all the 'studying', then it would be easy to pick up something to help you stay awake. From coffee, caffeine tablets, energy drinks or something a little more 'illegal', there will be no shortage of things to take which may keep you going.
This is especially prevalent when exams are looming and you want to study. Please try and resist using any of these. When you're tired, your worries can get blown out of proportion which can send you into a dark place.
We don't want that and neither do you. Try and go to bed at a reasonable hour and allow yourself some time to wind down. If you can get there by being physically tired, you'll sleep better and feel better all round.
9. Get Fit (or at least fitter)
We're not advocating that you become a marathon runner or track and field athlete capable of winning Olympic gold, but scheduling a little time every day to do some form of exercise will be a benefit to you. You don't need to start running all across campus to get even a little bit fitter.
If you can do only 10 or 20 minutes of exercise every day, you'll feel better both physically and mentally. Why not try a little yoga in your room or do some sit-ups or push-ups. Something, anything to get your heart pumping and your sweat....errrr....sweating.
Exercising releases endorphins, which improve your mood and creates a positive impact on your mental health. It will also take your mind off any concerns you may have. All together now, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.... You can always take a look at our page on exercise for more information.
10. Enjoy Yourself
University is a great experience (just don't take my word for it!). It's a great opportunity to build the foundations that will set your life on a path to greatness. You'll meet great friends (and probably a few idiots ..... who might still be your friends) and it's a chance to get involved in clubs, groups and societies that you may not have thought you'd be interested in.
The future is still to be written and the past is history, so live in the moment and make the very best of your time there. It may not always be plain-sailing, but then what is? Embrace the change and you'll be happier for it.
If you've got any more tips you'd like to share with the world, please leave them in the comments below.