A blog by Sarah Meehan from the Mental Health and Wellbeing team
As a case worker within the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team, I provide support for students who refer into our service. The last few months have often reminded me that ‘our mental health doesn’t take care of itself’, although wouldn’t it be great if it did? As it is with your physical health, you have to find ways of looking after your mental health if you are to develop positive wellbeing. It’s not about being happy all the time and not being affected by your experiences but about developing coping skills that equip you to manage the ups and downs of life. Being able to flourish at university is determined as much by your wellbeing as it is by your academic ability. From a holistic approach, our physical health impacts our mental health and vice versa. We all know what we need to do to look after our physical health, but less attention is paid to how we look after our mental health. This is why I wanted to write this blog. I hope to provide you with some ideas and/or inspiration as to how you can look after your mental health as a student and more generally in life.
What can you do to take care of your mental health? Here’s a few thoughts….
We can waste a lot of time and emotional energy worrying about being judged negatively by others. We can also struggle to avoid the temptation to compare ourselves to others. I’m yet to hear anyone tell me that comparing themselves to others made them feel good about themselves. On the contrary, comparing yourself to others generally makes you feel worse, and this can have a detrimental impact on self-esteem. That’s because comparing yourself to others can never be a fair comparison. We’re all on our different journeys in life. Human nature compels us to hide any perceived inadequacies or failures; at least until we feel we can trust those around us enough to feel vulnerable and exposed. This can make us feel alone in our struggles. However, if you think that everyone else is coping well and finding it easy, you may well be wrong. See what you can do to improve your self-esteem here.
Video from Mind with ‘Ways to Improve Self-Esteem’
What can help?
Avoid or reduce time spent on social media forums that can affect your self-esteem and make you feel bad about yourself. Young Minds have written about social media and mental health
Learn to be comfortable in your own skin and accept yourself just as you are. You are your own unique self. You deserve self-care and self-compassion as much as anyone else and you deserve to receive care and compassion from others too. You are enough just as you are.
Rather than comparing yourself to others, reflect instead on what you have learned and the accomplishments you have made on your own life journey so far.
As a student you will need to find ways to manage stress. You may already have experience of this, but it can help to review what is and what is not currently working for you and what you might need to change to help you better manage stress.
Managing stress need not be overcomplicated. It will pay to get into good habits early. Use a planner (whatever type works for you), put your deadlines in your planner and identify the days/times in your planner when you’re going to do academic work. You will need to allow yourself some flexibility with this to allow for contingencies.
What can help?
Write down your tasks and decide on a priority order so you know which to tackle first, and which can be ‘parked’ until later. If you can get into the habit of good organisation, it will truly pay dividends in helping you manage stress. Breaking down your work is key. With every assignment think ‘how can I break this down?’, as working in stages and sections can make a piece of work feel much more manageable and this can help you manage your stress levels. The Pomodora technique (https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique) is a simple study technique to help with this using the Pomofocus tool (https://pomofocus.io/). You will make progress by regularly chipping away at your work, keeping work balanced with other commitments as well as making time for yourself and taking regular breaks. Taking it task by task, step by step, day by day will help you better manage your stress levels.
Getting started on your academic work sooner rather than later is advantageous when it comes to managing stress. If you know you’re procrastinating, find articles on our blog or join Togetherall (https://my.cumbria.ac.uk/Student-Life/Health-and-Wellbeing/), using your university email address, to access resources to help you overcome this or speak with your Personal Tutor, the Study Skills or Mental Health and Wellbeing teams. There will be a personal cost in leaving your work until the last minute which will be the toll taken on your wellbeing due to stress and the fact that it will be unlikely that you’ll submit work that really reflects your ability. In summary, it’s likely that you’ll be stressed out and you’ll have done yourself a disservice to compound the problem. See what you can do to manage stress here.
Video from Mind with ‘Tips for Managing Stress’
If you don’t understand something, repeatedly find reasons to delay getting started or if you’re not sure what you need to do to meet an assignment brief, don’t bury your head in the sand: tell someone as soon as you can. Sometimes unclogging these blockages sooner rather than later will prevent them from escalating and making you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Don’t worry about asking questions, checking your understanding or letting someone know you’re starting to struggle. University staff will have dealt with similar queries and concerns many times before and they are well-versed in supporting students.
Most importantly, remember that university staff want you to achieve your potential and enjoy your university experience. We would much rather you talked to someone rather than allow things to fester as this is likely to have a detrimental impact on your mental health. We do appreciate that it can be hard to talk sometimes but it’s important to remember that everyone needs help sometimes. Realising it’s time to reach out for support will be perceived positively by university staff. You are demonstrating a professional approach in using the resources that are available to you and taking responsibility for your wellbeing as well as your learning.
My colleagues and I are here for you if you need any additional support whilst you’re at university so please don’t hesitate to make a referral to the Mental Health and Wellbeing team.
You can find our referral form and further resources here https://my.cumbria.ac.uk/Student-Life/Health-and-Wellbeing/.
Video from Mind with ‘Ways to Improve Self-Esteem’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0HPVEsnOol
Young Minds have written about social media and mental health https://www.youngminds.org.uk/young-person/coping-with-life/social-media-and-mental-health/?acceptcookies=
More information about the Pomodora technique can be found here
You can join Togetherall to access free and anonymous online mental health support using your university email address (or join using the link below) : https://account.v2.togetherall.com/register/
Video from Mind with ‘Tips for Managing Stress’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh5HyJ1rxzk
This blog incorporates evidence from the research document ‘Grand Challenges in Student Mental Health’ by Student Minds which can be accessed here: https://www.studentminds.org.uk/grandchallenges.html