If you’re a university student it’s more than likely that you’re approaching the start of the academic year next month with some trepidation. It’s been a hard year, arguably for university students most of all. In the last year more than half of students reported that the pandemic had worsened their mental health and wellbeing – which seems rather conservative when you consider how unprecedented and bleak all the lockdowns, isolations, and social-distancing measures have been up until recently.
But things are looking up, and this cloud does seem to have a silver-lining, given to us in the form of several vaccines and a lift on all mandated social-distancing (for now). As you prepare for your first term, it’s important to keep a positive mindset and develop an awareness of supporting your mental health. Here are our 7 tips for maintaining good mental health practices this year at university:
Whether you’re a returning student or this will be your first year, societies are a great way to meet new people with similar interests. If you are hesitant to gather in-person just yet, some society meets may likely still be held over video call in spite of social distancing measures being lifted. Socialisation and maintaining friendships/relationships is one of the most fundamental pillars of good mental health.
If you struggle with Covid-anxiety – the fear of contracting Covid – university may prove to be more difficult than home. Although, understandably, you’re more than likely eager to go out to the student union, pub, or nightclubs university towns are typically renowned for, it’s important to stay grounded and not get too carried away trying to make up for last year’s lockdowns. If you’re uncomfortable with how regularly your friends seem to be going out to places with large numbers of people, don’t feel pressured to go for fear of missing out. Make some time for yourself instead – practice a hobby, meditate, or read a book. Everything in moderation. However, try not to isolate yourself too much from friends.
Prepare Your Meals
You are what you eat. Try to avoid microwave meals and takeaway dining as much as you can, and take the time to prepare your own meals – ideally something easy like salads, grilled / boiled chicken, and pasta or rice based meals. First of all, you’ll save money, easing some of the financial anxiety that comes with being a university student, but more importantly you’ll feel better if you’re avoiding fried foods, preservatives, and MSG which have negative effects on your gut and brain. The effects of the odd takeaway as a reward however are mostly negligible, so feel free to indulge yourself now and again.
Clean Your Room
Keeping your room in order is especially important at university. In all likelihood it’s where you’ll be spending the majority of your time. A tidy room is a tidy state of mind, and will help you focus on your tasks, as well as unwind in your free time. The conditions of your room are also a big factor in sleep hygiene, which determines the quality of your sleep – another fundamental pillar of good mental health. In addition to this, small desk-plants can help oxygenate your room and provide a natural, calming presence with minimal upkeep.
Get Enough Sleep
Following on from the last point, sleep is very important to maintaining good mental health. Avoid alcohol, bright screens, and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine as best you can as you reach the end of your day. Avoid unnecessary lie-ins, and instead try to wake up near enough the same time everyday to maintain your natural body clock. You’ll thank yourself later for not wasting the morning getting extra sleep that only made you feel groggier, and more importantly you will naturally begin to feel tired at night and refreshed in the morning in a regular pattern – no need to rely on that horrible alarm waking you abruptly, which can cause higher blood pressure, higher heart rate, and add to your stress levels by getting your adrenaline rushing.
Exercise is integral to good health, mentally and physically. Universities often have great gym facilities and equipment available to students at discounted prices, so make the most of what they have to offer while you are there. Given the convenience of the gym’s proximity to university campus, your time at university is an opportunity to instil healthy workout habits. Getting involved in sport is also an excellent way to be active and social, if the gym lifestyle is too insular for you. If you feel however, you don’t have the time due to social, personal, work, or course commitments, as little as 10 minutes walking a day has a marked positive effect on your mental outlook – so maybe get some fresh air and take a stroll.
Mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of, but predominantly still hard to talk about for those affected. Fortunately, in recent years the stigma surrounding discussion has begun to dissipate. People are generally more empathetic and understanding of those suffering. If you feel yourself being affected by any presentations of bad mental health, no matter how small, take action and speak on them – to a friend, family member, professor, helpline, or your university’s counselling service. If you think someone you know is struggling, make an effort to reach out to them and encourage them to seek help – often the thought of being judged by their peers is a big factor that deters people from seeking and receiving treatment. Immediate intervention is vital to preventing the symptoms from advancing to serious conditions.