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The Balancing Act for Students - Mental Health and University Life

When you leave home and go to college, you’re facing new people, new experiences, new expectations, new stresses, new environments, new decisions... and you may find yourself lost at sea while looking to charter these new waters and to stay afloat. This experience can be exciting, exhilarating, freeing, and terrifying all at once.

Mental Health refers to your emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. This can impact your thoughts, feelings, relationships, physical health, and ability to enjoy life and cope with stress. Your wellbeing on the other hand impacts how you feel day to day, how you make decisions, and how you respond to situations. Most people experience Mental Health issues at some point in their lives and these concerns can affect absolutely anyone. When it comes to going to university, it is a big life change for students and thus it becomes more important to look after your Mental Health and look after yourself through the course of your degree.

Being at University is often the first time in a young person’s life where they have the freedom to make their own choices - and this can be daunting. Moving away from home, being in a new environment can also be unsettling and can have and impact on your Mental Health and Wellbeing. The time you spend at University is often looked at as some of the best years of your life - and more often than not, they are. However, in these years while trying to balance the demands of studies, assignments and having a social life, it is possible to feel overwhelmed. This article hopes to help address just that by providing some tips on how students can better take care of the Mental Health and Wellbeing while at University.

Plan your Goals and Time well

Setting SMART goals is the first step to better planning yourself when at university. It is beneficial to help think about and write down what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally as a starting point. To follow up, think of ways you can work to achieve those goals. Know that while it is important to aim high, be realistic and don't over-schedule. Moving ahead, having a routine to your day can always be helpful to keep on track and achieve the tasks you set out to do. However, while making a routine, look at ways you can break that monotony. While routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule - fill in some time for things you enjoy as well. Planning your studies and having a schedule to work on assignments can help reduce your stress during exam season and around deadlines. It can also help to have a daily to-do list while crossing off completed tasks from the list. But while making these lists, know that when you look back on the list at the end of the day, don’t worry if you don't cross everything off it – your list is simply a tool to motivate you, and help you identify if you're putting something off.

Prioritise your ‘ME Time’

It is vital to take time out for yourself and make your ‘ME Time’ a priority, even when you’re at university. Given the demands of university, it is easy to end up feeling burnt out or overworking ourselves which is detrimental for Mental Health. It helps to make time for the things you enjoy doing, such as catching up on a TV show, making some art, getting on social media, talking to a loved one, cooking, cleaning, or anything that helps you unwind and relax. We all want to achieve high marks in classes, but is it really worth it if your mental health is compromised? Going outside when you can also be helpful as sunlight has been proven to improve your mood. Take care of yourself and find time for self-care. Rest can be productive too and its important to keep that in mind.

Develop a support system you can reach in to

It helps to know that you are not alone. Build a small network of trusted individuals you can count on and turn to for support, company and advice. These could be members of family, close friends, faculty and even staff at university who you feel you can turn to. There are people around you that want to see you succeed and win in life. There might be days which feel overwhelming as things escalate. On those days, instead of bottling how you feel (which by the way is dangerous for your Mental Health), lean in on your support network. Talking out your emotions can make you feel tremendously better and lighter while also helping you get some words of wisdom and patient listening.

Put things into Perspective & look at the bigger picture

University can be challenging, hard and stressful and one of the reasons is that it becomes a time where our grades can matter a lot. This can make us fret and be tempted to burn the midnight oil. But it is important to also keep things in perspective and realise that sometimes no matter how hard you try, you need to be satisfied with you effort and know you've done your best irrespective of the outcome. Looking at the larger picture, you will realize that everything will be okay if you don’t do as well as you wanted to on your one quiz. Yes, you need to do well in college, but you don’t have to be perfect. If the pressure of everything is piling up, it can really help to take a step back, and relax and unwind. It is ok on some occasions if a few things slip here and there. It can also help to remember that there will be days where done will hold better than perfect and that’s ok too.

Take care of your Physical Health

One of the most important things you can do for your wellbeing is to take care of your body. There’s things which we often end up neglecting in the hustle and bustle of university life which can have consequence for both our physical and Mental Health. It is important to have nutritious meals, restrain from smoking and vaping, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep and find time for some exercise. These lifestyle changes can help to decrease depression and anxiety and improve moods It is also beneficial to avoid resorting to alcohol or drugs as a means to ‘self-medicate’ as they only aggravate problems.

Be kind to yourself

Things can be daunting, but it is important to make your Mental Health & Wellbeing a priority. Good Mental Health needs maintaining. Even if your Mental Health is generally good you may struggle sometimes and that is ok, it doesn’t make you weak for having a hard time. You could be dealing with stress, loss, or something else – or you could just feel low. On days when you find yourself feeling low, take the time to look after yourself and allow yourself to work through the low days. Be extra understanding, kind and compassionate with yourself on those days and forgive yourself if you slip up or don't meet your expectations. It is vital to treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

It can be tempting to put on a brave face and pretend everything is okay, especially given the idea that about how speaking about our Mental Health or struggles can be perceived. Know that while you may feel that everyone around you is doing great (and this can be a false idea reinforced on social media), that need not be the case. You are not alone in your struggle. Don’t disconnect or isolate yourself as that will only amplify your struggles. The more you isolate yourself and tuck yourself away from the world, the easier it becomes to continue to do so. If you feel you are having a hard time, reach out to your support system, you would probably be surprised at how many people can relate and are willing to help you. There are also various student club-run activities and social activities happening at universities which can also help to get you out of your room on days when it seems hardest.

Reach out for help - it is there & you deserve it!

There is so much change happening in your life when you enter university and talking to a trusted adult or a Mental Health professional who is trained to help you through that change can circumvent a problem before it even happens. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help for your Mental Health. If you are having trouble with your mental health, that could also quickly start to affect your grades and this could lead you to a downward spiral very quickly. Know yourself and be honest with yourself. If you’re not doing okay, sometimes it can be hard to admit it, especially when you’re at University as there is this perception that you’re supposed to be happy and having the time of your life while making your own rules. It’s also very easy to hide any issues with your mental health when you’re on your own but know that the longer you mask or ignore problems, the worse they can become. Most Universities make it really easy by having counsellors, Mental Health First Aiders and psychologists available on campus - if you don’t know where to start, just ask. There are also various helplines and student Mental Health services in the community as well which you could look into. Additionally, you may also choose to see a GP as a starting point to work out a course of action. Remember that a problem shared is a problem halved and there is someone who will be happy to help, no matter how small you think your problem is. It’s always better to try and get it sorted sooner rather than later.

It is beneficial to keep in mind that there will ups and downs on the journey at university. There might even be days when you feel overwhelmed by your commitments, or lost, or just not up to it - and that’s ok. You can always take steps to take care of yourself and some of them have been outlined in this article. Through this time, know that if you are having a hard time with your Mental Health, there is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it’s actually really common, especially when you’re in University.


Written by: Vedica Podar

March, 2021


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