Mental health tips for students
Practical measures you can take now to improve your mental health and reduce stress at college3 min read Published: 24 Jan 2022
If you’re worried about your wellbeing, you’re not alone. Around one in five students have a diagnosed mental health problem, with more experiencing stress and burnout.
Fortunately, the conversation around student wellbeing has shifted in recent years and young people are more likely to speak up; the number of applicants to UK Universities that shared a mental health condition has increased by 450% in the last decade.
There are many reasons students experience mental health challenges. Some people struggle to adapt to their new living arrangements and miss their established support networks at home, while others experience high levels of stress at the hands of demanding workloads and tight finances.
Whatever the reasons, there is help available and you don’t have to struggle alone. So, if you are worried about your wellbeing, read on for some practical mental health tips for students.
‘If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation’, said the founder of the National Institute on Aging. Not only does it reduce your risk of illness like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, it can also boost your mood, self-esteem, quality of sleep and energy. It’s such a powerful tool, it’s even used as an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety.
And when it comes to students in particular, exercise is an excellent way to improve your wellbeing. The British Active Students Survey, which surveyed 6,891 students, found engaging in physical activity improves personal wellbeing, mental wellbeing, social inclusion and perceived academic attainment and employability.
If you don’t exercise already, start small. Try walking to campus instead of taking the bus, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Eventually you'll want to aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (e.g., cycling, brisk walking or dancing) or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (e.g., running, swimming or sport such as football or netball) a week.
2. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness might sound a little ‘out there’, but it’s actually an evidence-based practice for improving mood. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend it for helping prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.
But what exactly is it? It’s simply paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and the world around you, with an attitude of acceptance and non-judgement. In turn you’ll come to understand yourself better and hopefully, through paying closer attention to it, start to enjoy life a bit more.
There have been several encouraging studies on the impact of mindfulness interventions on student mental health. One study found that, compared with a control group, students who undertook mindfulness training experienced better first-year adjustment across areas including academic, social, emotional and attachment. Interestingly, they also had lower levels of salivary cortisol, signifying lower overall stress.
While many universities offer mindfulness training, don’t worry if your institute doesn’t. There are plenty of ways to develop this practice, from free mindful breathing exercise videos on YouTube to apps like Smiling Mind or Headspace which offer some free mindfulness exercises. There is more information and resources on where to learn mindfulness at the mental health charity Mind.
3. Rest and sleep
It sounds so basic, perhaps even a bit boring, but getting enough sleep and rest is crucial when it comes to protecting your wellbeing. Without this fundamental in place, you’ll be facing an uphill battle. Sleep and mental health are interlinked: having a mental health condition can affect your sleep, and in turn poor sleep can negatively affect your mental health.
But the good news is there are steps you can take to improve your sleep. From developing your own bedtime routine that allows your mind and body to unwind to laying off the late-night coffee (yep, it turns out mom was right).
While it can be challenging to develop sleep hygiene strategies that are compatible with a typical student lifestyle, it’s worth preserving and finding a solution that works for you, given we know getting good sleep is critical to our functioning.
For more ideas on how to get your forty winks, check out these tips from the Mental Health Foundation.
4. Get professional support
We’ve talked about some lifestyle adjustments you can make to proactively look after your wellbeing, such as getting enough exercise, practising mindfulness, and prioritising your sleep. But sometimes we need a bit more support.
First things first, check out what resources are available on your campus. Most universities and colleges have a suite of mental health support available to students, including a counselling service which you can usually self-refer to.
Outside of your place of study you could contact your doctor, who will be able to refer you to local services, along with helping you access treatment for your mental health.
There are also a range of organisations and charities that have been set up to work specifically with students, such as The Jed Foundation and Active Minds.
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