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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 2019 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 18% increase in anxiety levels since a similar study was conducted back in 2017.

Now, when you consider the 2020 pandemic on top of this, it's no surprise that nearly 1 in 3 young people (34%) claim that their mental health has deteriorated during these trying times. 

With these statistics in mind and the well-being of our students, we feel it's important that we share mental health information and resources with those who may need them.

While we’re by no means subject matter experts, below we review a few small - but significant - ways you can look after your mental health as a student or perhaps help others who may be struggling.


Friends Having A Chat

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 or volunteer you won’t be judged. They speak to people just like you every day and will focus on getting you the help you need in 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 sooner you let them know, the better – if you leave it too long you might have fallen too far behind for them to help and you don't want (or need) that added stress.


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 things worse.

While you may worry that your friends and family won’t understand the issues that you’re facing, you’d be amazed at how many people are likely going through similar issues who can empathise with what you're going through. 

Even if you're not ready to 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.


Picninc At The Park

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 (maybe thing about a green tea 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 of 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 okay to make yourself the priority for a while and start saying ‘no’ when you need to.

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?  

Woman At Woek Drinking Tea

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 work for you. The important thing is that you give yourself the support you deserve and take the first step to open up and let someone know how you feel so you can move forward with the confidence everything is going to be okay. 

We're all in this together. 


Bonus point: An expert's top tips

Chrissy Orson is a therapist and coach, with extensive experience in helping organisations improve their approach to mental health. We reached out to her for some advice on her top tips when it comes to looking after your mental health as a student:

"Sometimes when we’re studying it can feel like there’s a million and one things to do and not enough time to do it, but then we can’t bring ourselves to get started no matter how hard we try.  I know that I for one am a master procrastinator!  I’ll do anything rather than revise or get started with that essay – even ironing! These are some things which can absolutely help:

  • Make a schedule but make sure it’s manageable and has time set aside for the things you enjoy or a reward for getting things done.  If we know we’ve got time to look after ourselves, the long slog seems less daunting and anxiety provoking.
  • Try the pomodoro method – turn off all notifications and distractions and set a timer for 25 minutes of proper head down work on a single task.  This allows our brain to function on the task in hand rather than managing the distractions of various pings and competing priorities.
  • Make a list of manageable tasks – there’s no point writing “complete dissertation” as it’s just too big.  We need smaller chunks to give us a sense of achievement and the dopamine hit that comes with it to keep us motivated towards a larger goal.
  • Talk to others – it’s all too easy to hide away in the library or your room, and after a long day of work it’s often the thing we want to do next but connecting with each other is absolutely vital for our mental health.  It stops us feeling alone and positive friendships/relationships have been shown to have a huge impact on our wellbeing.
  • Do something active – I don’t mean you all have to take up marathon running or going to the gym, but being active for as little as 10 minutes a day isn’t just good for our hearts, it’s good for our minds too.  Exercise releases endorphins and gives us an energy boost also.  Dance round your room, go for a walk with a friend, cycle between lectures or give your room a deep clean – it all counts!

If you’re still struggling, it’s important to reach out and get support.  Don’t wait until it all feels too much and you’re at the end of your tether – reach out to your tutors, friends, families, your doctor or the organisations listed below.  A problem shared can become a problem solved no matter how big and overwhelming it seems."

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