How to Look After Your Mental Health as a Student
If you’re struggling with your mental health whilst studying, you’re not alone.
A recent study of 37,500 students across the UK found that 87% reported struggling with feelings of anxiety, with 42% sharing that they are often or always worried and a staggering 50% reported having thoughts of self-harm.
These figures show a sharp increase (18 percentage points) in anxiety levels since a similar study conducted in 2017.
It’s a worrying trend and we want to do what we can to help not just our own students, but any others who are struggling with their mental health. We’re by no means experts in the matter, but here are some small things you can try to avoid suffering in silence.
Talk to someone
As a society, we’ve come a long way in getting rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness but it can still be there so we appreciate that it can be really hard to speak up.
However, bottling things up will only make them worse so you should try to find someone you can open up to. This could be your GP, your college or university’s support staff or a mental health charity.
There are also a number of helplines that you can ring anonymously if you don’t feel up to talking in person yet:
- Anxiety UK – 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5.30pm)
- Mind - 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm)
- No Panic - 0844 967 4848 (Every day 10am to 10pm for those suffering from panic attacks and/or OCD)
- Samaritans - 116 123 (24/7 helpline)
When you speak to a doctor or mental health professional/volunteer you won’t be judged. They speak to people like you every day and will focus on getting you the help you need whatever form that may take.
Let your tutors know
Your tutors are there to help you, so if you’re struggling to keep on top of your work, you should tell them.
They might be able to take some of the pressure off by giving you extra guidance, an extension on your coursework or some leeway if you’ve missed a few classes.
This can be a daunting prospect but the quicker you let them know, the better – if you leave it too long you might have fallen too far behind for them to help.
Spend time with your friends and family
It can be all too easy to shut yourself off when you feel down – in fact, 75% of the students surveyed said they concealed their mental health from their friends – but isolating yourself often just makes this worse.
It can be easy to think that your friends and family won’t understand the issues that you’re facing, but you’d be amazed at how many people are likely going through the same thing.
Even if you don’t open up about how you’re feeling, spending some quality time with the people you care about can lift your spirits and make you feel less alone.
Review your course and situation
If you’re not happy with your course, where you live or the people who surround you, that can play a major part in causing or exacerbating mental health issues.
Take some time to consider if the course and/or university or college are working for you. You might want to ask yourself:
- Is the coursework overloading you?
- Are you happy with the style of learning and support offered?
- Do you see yourself working in this field after you graduate?
- Are you happy with your living situation?
- Given the chance, would you make the same choices again?
It’s fine if you’re not sure about the answers to these questions. Give yourself some time to think it over – it could be that your mental health issues are causing you to feel unhappy with your surroundings, not the other way around.
Set aside some ‘me time’
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or under pressure, you might be thinking that you can’t afford to take time out to relax. However, it’ll be far more beneficial to your health and your studies in the long run if you regularly take some time off for yourself.
Spend some each day time doing an activity you enjoy like cooking, catching up on your favourite TV shows or getting some exercise.
Try to avoid studying late into the night and instead set yourself a cut off time and get into a relaxing routine. You could try things like taking a bath or shower, having a hot drink (think hot chocolate rather than caffeine-heavy coffee!), reading a book that’s not related to your coursework or doing some meditation activities.
It’s up to you how you choose to unwind as you’ll know your own body and mind best. Just remember to try to get a full 7 or 8 hours sleep a night to keep you on your best form.
Try saying ‘no’
If a growing list of looming obligations is contributing to stressing you out, it’s ok to make yourself the priority for a while and start saying ‘no’.
It’s never a good idea to cut yourself off completely but cutting down your list of commitments to the ones that matter most to you will help you avoid burning out.
It can feel pretty empowering to say no, especially if it’s to an activity or event that would normally cause you stress or anxiety – so give it a try and reclaim control over how you spend your free time!
Create a schedule that gives you balance
Got a million tasks on your ever-growing to-do list and no idea how you’re going to have time to get through them all? Try making yourself a physical timetable that covers not just your academic work but your ‘me time’ and social activities too.
You’ll likely feel that the mountain of work is a lot more manageable once you see everything laid out. Plus, having a clear plan for your time and sticking to it will give you some structure and make you feel a bit more in control – which can often give you a more positive outlook.
Why not download our free study planner to get you started?
Don’t beat yourself up
Self-blame and mental health issues go hand in hand, and we know it can be so easy to punish yourself for feeling this way. People suffering from anxiety and depression often see themselves as weak or somehow lesser than other people because they’re struggling but this is simply not true!
Everyone the world over has suffered or will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their life. This is just a simple fact of being human – no one can be happy all the time.
The severity of these issues will vary from person to person as will the way in which they tackle them so you might find what works for your family or friends doesn’t help you. The important thing is that you give yourself a break and take the first step to open up and let someone know about how you feel.