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When starting uni, student mental health may not always be something people think about too deeply. Many students are living independently for the first time which is amazing – however trying to juggle the financial, academic, and social pressures of university life can be overwhelming too.
While starting uni is a huge step, sixth form can be overwhelming at times too. When you've got exams coming up and you're stressed about applying to uni, it can all be a bit much.
The stress of all of this can have an impact on your mental wellbeing. So, if you're a student, what steps can you take to safeguard and nurture your mental health?
Jan Willem Poot – Founder of Yes We Can Youth Clinics
Get outside: Sports are a good way of managing stress. Joining a sports team will help push your boundaries and keep you stimulated.
Rest: Try to establish a regular sleep routine, if your body and mind don't get the rest it needs, daily challenges can appear more stressful.
Practice mindfulness: Switch everything off and close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing and how you feel. Do this for 15 minutes every day. You'll be amazed by what this simple short action gives you.
Talk to someone: If you feel your worries are spiralling out of control, don't be afraid to ask for help. Yes We Can Youth Clinics are firm believers that early intervention saves lives.
Dr Aleata Alstad-Calkins – Director of Student Support Services at the University of Roehampton
First of all, mental health should be your utmost priority. Learning new skills to manage stress and taking time to listen to your emotional needs is extremely important. Some ways in which you can do this is by taking a walk, listening to music, talking to a friend, attending an event, writing in a journal and starting a project.
Take time for yourself and make sure you fit in activities which you enjoy in order to find a balance. Social interaction is hugely beneficial and universities offer a range of options to build your social circles such as societies, sports clubs and events, so finding the right fit for you should not be a chore.
What’s more, your fellow students will be all in the same boat, so don’t think you're the only one suffering from homesickness or struggling to adapt or make friends, because you're not alone.
Additionally, taking care of your physical health is pivotal in maintaining a healthy mind, so eating well and exercising regularly can make a positive impact on your overall wellbeing.
Last, but not least, you shouldn't forget there's help available to you if you feel you're struggling or just need someone to talk to. Universities offer a wide range of mental health support and counselling services, so don’t be afraid to take the first step and ask for help as this can make a huge difference not only to your time at university but to your life overall.
Cal Strode – Mental Health Foundation
Good mental health is about much more than just the absence of mental health problems, just as good physical health is about more than just not having a physical health problem. Good mental health is the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face.
Sian Duffin – Student Support Coordinator at Arden University
Everyone feels stress throughout their lives, but as a student, it's a unique experience. Often more isolated from your usual support system, in a more unstructured environment, it can feel overwhelming and like there's nowhere to turn. Here are some of my tips for managing stress as a student:
1. Acknowledge it. Pretending it doesn’t exist won’t help you. You may notice it in your body, symptoms of anxiety or depression can be present, you may have poor sleep or have issues with food, eating too much or too little. The first step to making a change is to admit to yourself that something has to be different.
2. Interrogate it. What are the roots of the stress in your life? Think about deadlines, tasks, relationships, finance and be really honest with yourself. Mind mapping each thing so you're able to see the bigger picture and the detail of each part can help break it down into more manageable chunks.
3. Address it. What are the practical steps you need to take to make changes? Think about what's in your control and what you need support with. Look for those sources of support, your existing network – even if you're far away. Look at the resources available at your university too, your Student Support Team will be there to listen and to signpost you to things that may help you.
4. Learn from it. What can you do to keep stress at a manageable level? Consider whether any of the actions you took to address it can help as a protective thing. Talk about your stress before it grows out of control and be sure to get help as early as possible if you need it.
Gordon Moore – Blyth Star Enterprises’ Chief Executive Officer
Just because you think it, doesn't mean it’s true. We all have negative thoughts about ourselves and the world around us. This can be worse when you’re low. Challenge negative thoughts with realistic thoughts. Life can often be experimental, getting it wrong can be as important as getting it right.
Nathaniel McCullagh – Founder of Simply Learning Tuition
Student mental health issues invariably lead to academic difficulties. Addressing these can often be an effective way to build underlying confidence, to make you feel that you “can do it’ and you aren’t a failure.
Dr Nihara Krause – Consultant Clinical Psychologist and creator of Calm Harm
One way of coping is by using Calm Harm, a smartphone app that helps young people manage their urge to self-harm.
The app is based on Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based therapy that helps manage intense and variable emotions. Its foundations are in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) but due to the focus on emotions, it's used successfully to help manage self-harm and suicidal impulses. The app was nominated for the AXA PPP Health Tech & You Awards.
Calm Harm provides four categories of tasks that help resist or manage the urge to self-harm: Distract, Release, Express and Comfort. Users then have either 5 or 15 minutes to perform a range of different kinds of tasks from sticking fake tattoos to the self-harm areas to distraction techniques like counting the different colours you can see in the room you’re in. There's also a Breathing section to help regulate breaths. The app is completely private and password protected.
Jolel Miah – Founder of Our Minds Matter
Everyone has mental health, but we don’t deal with or manage it the same way. My clear advice is to find your own way with the support of others. For those of you experiencing mental health difficulties, get help now through your local mental wellbeing service (you can get this from the NHS website or speak to your GP).
For long term wellbeing, there are many charities that are now promoting the five ways to wellbeing and these are:
Active: Be physically active, do exercise, go for a walk, and take up a sport you enjoy. Be active in your choices and plan ahead when you can.
Learn: Learn about yourself, your environment, learn something new, allow your brain to make new connections.
Connect: Socialise with old and new friends, talk to your colleagues and neighbours, spend quality time with family and surprise them – by doing this, you will make yourself and others feel good and this will give you a boost of energy.
Take notice: Appreciate your environment and those around you, listen to the wind, watch the colours of leaves change. Remember, mindfulness is a powerful tool!
Give: This can be charity work, or helping others, offering people a smile, and sharing your knowledge and talents. It’s a brilliant way of developing your own skills
On a final note of advice, I know it can be hard but remember you're not alone, you're loved and cared for, give yourself a chance always, it's never too late.
Need more mental health advice? Not only have we got more information, but you can also go to the NHS website, MIND, Young Minds, The Samaritans, Nightline, Anxiety UK and many many other places who will be there to listen, not judge and above all, help you.