“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed.” – Mason Cooley
University is the start of one of life’s greatest adventures. But studying at uni is guaranteed to bring a lot of change into your life. Whether you’re living at home or moving to a new city, there’s a great deal that’s interesting and enjoyable. There’s also a lot that can be challenging. From meeting and learning to work with new people, to studying for exams and hitting deadlines, and giving presentations, life as a student is hectic. On top of that, you’ll likely need to manage your own finances for the first time, cope with feelings of homesickness, maintain your relationships with friends and family back home, and balance the needs of your studies with other commitments and interests. All while dealing with a new living situation, either in halls of residence, or sharing a new home with people who were previously strangers.
Many students find that underlying mental health concerns come to a head when they’re faced with the pressures of university. Lingering issues that have been bubbling beneath the surface for years suddenly rear their heads and grow very sharp teeth.
For others, the stress of their new situation causes the development of issues they’ve never experienced before. Learning how to balance student life and mental health is tricky, but there are a lot of things you can do to maintain that equilibrium and make student life less challenging and more enjoyable. To do this, we only need to understand why striking that balance is so tough. Here’s what you need to know…
Student Life And Mental Health: Why It’s A Problem…
Many people have their first experience of mental health issues when they’re at university, while many others only seek treatment for underlying problems when they find themselves faced with student life. Students are at higher risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues due to the student lifestyle and a number of specific factors you face as a student. These factors make you more susceptible to mental health problems and exacerbate existing conditions.
But what are they?
To begin with, the majority of students are under the age of twenty-five, and roughly three-quarters of people who experience problems with their mental wellbeing do so for the first time before they turn twenty-five.
Added to this is the inherent stress that comes with life as a student, and the fact that most students have never before had to manage the ‘real world’. As a student, you’re ‘adulting’ for the first time, while simultaneously trying to live up to your own expectations, the expectations of others, and the pressure of knowing how well you perform at university can shape your entire career.
Stress is one of the biggest triggers for mental health issues. It alone is enough to cause you problems, even if you don’t have any form of mental illness.
Finally, students are notoriously lacking in support. If you’ve left home for the first time, or simply don’t have time to spend with friends and family due to your workload, it’s easy to find yourself without a support network. This lack of support leaves you vulnerable. You may also have an existing condition that requires a support network, and the change in lifestyle can easily disrupt this.
The three big areas you’re likely to find problematic are meeting new people, living with your fellow students, and dealing with loneliness.
How To Manage Meeting New People…
Finding yourself surrounded by so many other students is the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded individuals. Many of the people you befriend in your student years can become friends for life, and a fair few people meet their significant others while they’re studying.
The people at university are as important to your future and learning as the subjects you study. But people can be inherently difficult to manage.
You may feel self-conscious, uncertain, or simply don’t know what to say or how to introduce yourself. If you are finding it tough to meet new people, just remember that everyone is in the same boat: it’s just as strange and off-putting for the people around you. Everyone you’re with is likely having similar thoughts. The difference is that for some people, those thoughts are small and quiet. They’re easily set aside or ignored. You, however, may find them loud, more intrusive, difficult to dismiss, and easy to believe.
The important thing is to never isolate yourself as a result of these feelings. Keep putting yourself in situations where you meet new people, even when it makes you uncomfortable. The more you do it, the less strange it becomes, the less difficult you find it, the more you enjoy it, the easier it becomes.
But where do you start when you’re really struggling? Here are a few suggestions:
- Volunteer somewhere that allows you to meet people with common interests. The Students’ Union may have suggestions to help you find good options. Alternatively, take advantage of any fairs that give you a chance to explore the various activities going on around campus. If all else fails, Google it!
- Uni is full of societies and clubs which offer amazing ways for you to meet new people and create that all-important work/life balance. Have a look at the various options available and try a few that speak to you.
- You can also get to know the people on your courses better by taking advantage of course forums, social media and email groups. This will not only help you in your socialising it can help you in your studies, as you’re able to work with people to ensure you all learn more.
- Make plans – when you have study breaks, make plans to see your friends or classmates. Every day, make plans to leave the house, get outside, have some fresh air, and get some exercise.
How To Manage Living With Other Students…
Moving away from home for the first time and organising your own housing is a huge change. It can often feel like you have very little agency in this change, as you are constrained by the practicalities of finding somewhere to live that’s near uni, that’s affordable, and that has various facilities you need. During your first year, this usually means moving into halls of residence. However, you can also rent private accommodation or house share. Wherever you end up living, you will almost certainly have to live with other students.
The most important thing you can do to manage this is to ensure you’ve set healthy boundaries. Decide what you’re comfortable with, and what you’re not willing to put up with. Consider how you can create a buffer zone or safety zone – a space that you can always retreat to, away from everyone, and spend some time alone to ‘recharge’ your social batteries.
Don’t be afraid to voice your feelings. If you want to spend time with people you’re living with, but certain things make you uncomfortable, tell them. Suggest activities and help when it comes to making plans, rather than sitting back and feeling like you have to do what everyone else wants.
You don’t have to explain why you don’t want to do certain things, but it can certainly help. If people know particular situations make you anxious, they are usually perfectly happy to avoid them in favour of something different. Being told you’re struggling is more readily understood than erratic and unpleasant behaviour that may be brought about by you forcing yourself into situations that make you highly anxious. Be open and honest, and you will be rewarded with understanding.
If you do encounter people who are unwilling to make accommodations for your wellbeing and comfort, don’t concern yourself with them. Make the decision to spend time with other people, who do understand, and are able to spend time with you in situations that aren’t damaging to your mental wellbeing.
How To Manage Loneliness As A Student…
Loneliness is all too common for students. Long hours spent studying, coupled with being away from home for the first time, not being able to spend time with existing friends and family, and struggling to find people you feel comfortable with, all adds up. There’s also the constant stream of information from social media giving you the impression that all your friends are together, having a great time, while you’re being left out.
Everyone appears to have the perfect life on social media – we only see the parts they want us to see, the parties and the fun. We don’t see the nights they spend alone, just as lonely as we feel.
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid loneliness, and manage it when you face it:
- Be sceptical of your social feeds, and limit your time on social media. If you find there are certain people repeatedly making you feel negative, lonely, and upset when their posts pop up on your feed, unfollow them. This isn’t rude or unkind, it’s simply a necessary step to keep unnecessary negativity out of your life.
- Flip the social script and use social media to have a positive impact. Join an online group or forum that gives you a way of connecting with people online when you’re unable to do so in real life. Finding mental health communities can be particularly beneficial, as you can support each other and connect with people who are going through similar things.
- Look for sources of peer support. Your university may have groups and peer support programs. Even if they don’t, you’ll almost certainly find mindfulness groups and other activities designed to support people with mental health difficulties.
- Start a conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s with someone you know, someone you pass in a hall, someone you’re sitting next to in a lecture, or the person serving you in a cafe, bar, or supermarket. Say hello. Ask how their day is going. Even if you only exchange a few words, it’s a small way of reminding yourself that you’re not alone. And you never know – that person you’ve never spoken to before may turn into someone incredibly important in your life.
Daily Habits To Balance Student Life And Mental Health…
One of the best things you can do to balance being a student with mental health is to create a series of small, daily habits that give you a positive boost throughout the day. This might be as simple as taking the time to have a cup of tea when you feel anxious, or setting aside fifteen minutes each evening for some quiet meditation. If you’re struggling for ideas, check out our daily self-care tips for some inspiration, and don’t forget to signup for your free trial of our new app – the easiest way to create positive daily habits that boost your mental wellbeing…