Having been a student at Birmingham for 6 years, I am certainly no stranger to the stresses we are put under during our time at university. It can be really difficult when you feel you are not managing to keep on top of everything, and this can be for a number of reasons, whether it be uni work pressure and deadlines or personal circumstances. One thing I have learnt is that it is so important to look after your mental health and well-being above all else. I believe doing this lays the foundations to being able to look after yourself in both times of ease through uni and times of stress.
Here are 10 easy things you can try, to look after your well-being health during your time at university…
- Give yourself a day off
This is a really simple one, but I find that giving myself one weekend day off any university work is vitally important. It allows you some headspace to do the things you enjoy unrelated to your studies, whether that’s brunch with your friends, going to the gym or watching Netflix in bed all day! It has been very effective, even if I have got lots of work I could be doing, I see it as an investment in myself to do this and in turn, the times I do work are more efficient as a result of giving myself some breathing space.
2. Get enough sleep
If you have read Mathew Walker’s “Why We Sleep, the new science of sleep and dreams”, and now consider yourself an expert in sleep like I do, I realise why humans spend 1/3 of their lives getting some shut eye. Clearly it is very important to our functioning if evolution has kept it that way, right?
I am sure you will agree that waking up feeling well rested is a great feeling and sets you up for a productive day. Getting enough sleep is really important for physical and mental health, as well as our emotional state and laying down memories – sort of like downloading the experiences of the day onto a hard-drive. Getting into a consistent sleep routine is a sure-fire way to keep your mental well-being in good stead but also a really effective way to consolidate all that hard work you’ve been doing throughout the day.
Getting enough quality sleep is non-negotiable, so make this a priority!
3. Get outside
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that being in nature is a really calming experience. One of the cool theories as to why this might be is the idea of fractals (geometric shapes that exist in nature), which have this calming and positive effect on the human mind. So, whether you chose to spend that day off a week going for a walk somewhere nice or take yourself for a walk round Selly Park, just passively existing outside with no other intention can be really beneficial to bringing back some calm.
4. Make time for your friends
Again, another no-brainer, but sometimes when drowning in work and feeling stressed, it is not uncommon to isolate yourself form your friends or feel you do not have the time to make for seeing friends. Spending time with people you enjoy the company of is another easy way to feel good. If there are alpaca’s involved, then even better (but certainly not necessary!).
5. Prioritise doing something you enjoy
It goes without saying that you should do things you enjoy, but just like isolated yourself from your friends in times of stress at uni, you can feel you aren’t being productive with your time if you are doing something you enjoy. I have found that making the time for the things you enjoy is definitely a contributing factor to feeling happy and minimising stress. It can be hard to know how to fit everything in but having a diary or a weekly planner and scheduling in things for you to enjoy, as well as times for work and attending organised teaching sessions, is one way you can try.
6. Write things down
Despite how incredibly useful technology can be, I think there is nothing like putting pen to paper and writing things down. When I am feeling stressed or upset, there is something very cathartic about getting the things in my head onto a piece of paper or in a notebook. I do this most days and the action of doing this allows me to recognise when I am feeling more stressed or struggling to manage so I can take action to stay on top of things.
7. Try practising mindfulness
It is really popular to meditate or practise mindfulness now, which I think is great. Despite what those who haven’t tried it may think, meditation isn’t sitting cross legged chanting “ohm”, but more taking 5 to 10 minutes (or more) to just sit and be with your own body and pay attention. This is something I do every day as a practise. Mindfulness is kind of the same thing but more paying attention to the present moment and what is going on around you and can be done anywhere. In times of stress, it is our perception of the situation or thinking about the past or future that creates the physical and mental feelings of stress or anxiety. The present moment is mostly calm, so learning to pay attention to this, even for a few seconds can help to ease stress and help you to feel calm. It can be as a little as focussing on your breathing for 1 minute.
If you’ve never tried it before, using a guided app such as Headspace or Calm can be really helpful 🙂
8. Eat as best as you can (most of the time!)
Another really obvious one but eating well helps you to feel well. Not only because good nutrition helps to support optimal functioning of the body and mind, but because eating poor quality food can make a difference to your mood and energy levels, especially if you eat a lot of sugary foods and drinks plus lots of caffeine. Of course, eating delicious food is a nice way to treat yourself after a stressful day sometimes (Ben and Jerry’s anyone?). But, overall, ensuring you eat a wide variety of colourful fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and other healthy sources of fats such as eggs and avocadoes (and fish if you can afford it), is an excellent way to look after yourself.
9. Don’t compare yourself to others
This is probably the thing that causes me the most stress being a student. I constantly worry about what other people are doing and if I should be doing that too, or if what I have done is wrong. I can see why Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy” because it is so true. We are all so different and do things very differently, so by all means share ideas and take advice from others but ultimately have some trust in your own abilities and do what you think it right for you. This is much harder to do in practise, and something that required consistent work, but it is worth it in keeping the stress to a minimum so you can focus on yourself!
10. Talk to someone
I could not write a post about looking after yourself without including this. Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling. You will always feel better sharing your feelings and you will also find you are not alone! These people are your support network so use them when you need to! If you find you are not managing well and stress or your mental health is becoming a real barrier to your studies and your life, talk to someone at university in the student services team or make an appointment with your GP. Speaking to a professional and receiving extra support if you need it is one of the best things you can do for yourself. There are also many other ways you can access more immediate support through charities such as Birmingham Nightline, Mind and Samaritans.
Being a student is stressful sometimes, but it doesn’t need to be a constant battle with no time to enjoy yourself. Hopefully you find some of these tips useful!
Thank you for reading 🙂