Taking care of your mental health may not be at the top of your list of priorities at university. However, having recently graduated and looking back, I wish I'd known when I started uni that my own mental health should come before anything else. At the start of my final year at university, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, having frequent panic attacks which affected every aspect of my life. I found that I was missing lectures regularly due to the fact that I just didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
Throughout university, I always felt as if I wasn’t good enough and that I was the worst performing on my course — actually, I always felt this way at school too. But skipping lectures made me panic even more about this in the long-term. I won’t try and tell current students how to be mindful and offer advice on how to be the least-stressed and happiest student that ever lived, because I was never that. However, I will tell you what worked for me and how I managed to get from duvet-cocooning on Mondays to my graduation day.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
Your academic ability can only stretch so far, just like your physical and your mental abilities. If you feel like your workload is getting too much and you’re on the verge, then stop. Take a moment to focus on what is important and what you need to do to make it right. If you don’t understand a topic, work through it slowly, get help or just leave it! It’s not the end of the world.
Take time off
If you feel like you need to take time off to unwind, do it. Preferably do this when you haven’t got lectures to attend, but studying and writing 24/7 is not the way to properly take care of your mental health. You need time to reflect and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it!
Do something different
It was important to me to have another aspect of my life that wasn’t uni. I worked full time as a secondary school teaching assistant whilst at university. At times, it definitely wasn't easy but it gave me an escape and another reason to get up in the morning. When I was at work (I love my job, so that helps) I was able to forget about the mountains of coursework I had to complete at home and focus on a whole other side to myself.
Sleep is one of the most important thing you can get when at university. Set up a sleep schedule, for example, going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 7am. NOT grabbing two hours at 3am!
Organisation is SO important. I discovered in my first year that a wall planner is a life saver! Write down all of your presentation dates, when things are due and lectures. Having a diary or planner (and things written in it) to refer to, means that you’ll never miss any imporatant dates and nothing will come as a shock. Also, on the topic of organisation, packing your bag the night before is, granted, a bit secondary school, but you’ll be glad of the extra ten minutes in bed in the morning. And you won’t be rushing out the house, shoving who-knows-what into your rucksack.
Really, to me, the most important thing to make sure you’re doing whilst at uni is to take care of your mental health. If you can do that properly, then everything else can fall into place. Taking time out and being aware of how you’re feeling is super important. I think awareness is key to keeping happy and healthy. Actually stopping, reflecting and asking yourself ‘how do I feel today? What is my frame of mind?’ And then being aware of days when you’re feeling particularly delicate or on-edge and addressing it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of with regards to feeling low, stressed out, or just plain frazzled. The stigma that comes with mental health is disappearing — speaking out can help to make you, and the people who care about you, aware of your mind-set and the right path to take.
Hopefully, these simple little tips will help to maintain or improve wellbeing during arguably the hardest, but best, years of your life.
Emily has recently come to the end of a three-year degree in Creative Writing with English Literature at Plymouth Marjon University. She also writes a lifestyle blog: www.electricemily.com
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.
*If you are struggling with your mental health at university, there are a number of support options; see this guide from student mental health charity, Student Minds.