Hey there Beauties!
It’s just me again here for another Mental Health related post in my Safe Place Series!
Today its a bit of a long one as I want to have a little natter about something that I have dealt with for the last three years of my life and that is, you guessed it! Mental Health at University. how cheery and exciting!
Now for those of you who don’t know- I graduated Uni back in September, and although by the end of my journey through university I knew I would miss it… I also was relieved to be leaving because of the constant battle I had with myself and my mental health.
So whether you are looking at starting University in September next year, or you are already there making your way through a pile of assignments and textbooks stacked higher than your head. Whether you struggle with mental health now or not, or maybe you have a friend who you don’t know how to help- or you are just struggling with factoring in time for yourself amongst all the deadlines- I’m here for you, and I hope the following tips can help you on your journey.
Also -This post is linked with Lauren (@LaurenCBActor) over at AnotherVloggingLauren!
she was such a huge support to me when I was struggling through university (and I’m sure she didn’t even know how amazing she was being) So I can’t think of a better person to be opening this conversation and raising awareness with! Lauren has been on her own Mental Health Journey her entire life dealing with issues not too dissimilar to my own but I’ll leave her to explain the nitty-gritty facts in her own words in her Video!
Her video on this has gone live today too so go check her out. Lauren will be talking about her own Mental health and university journey as well as how to spot if a friend is struggling, and how to help them.
Shes also pretty damn cool if I do say so myself! All Lauren’s links are also at the end of this post!
Any thoughts, opinions and stories in this post and any post within this series are entirely mine and mine alone. I am not a mental health professional, I am simply someone who battles with these issues too. Nothing stated in this post should be taken as professional opinion or used for self- diagnosis. If you are having serious struggles with your mental health please seek professional advice or talk to a friend or family member. You are never alone.
1- Moving Away From Home
if you’re not planning on moving away from home and instead you are commuting every day then I guess you COULD just skip this but…. but just so you know all the cool kids would read it anyways…
Moving out of home is always going to be hard, no matter how far away you are going or how old you are when you move, it is never easy- especially if you are in a situation similar to myself where you live with one parent, and feel the guilt of leaving them alone. However, moving out is an important step in life- for both your mental and emotional growth into adulthood as well as gaining real independence, responsibility and learning the real value of things in life, that I feel no one understands until they run their own home. it’s important to spread your wings and fly the nest and your parent(s) will want that for you too.
Making the change from living with a parent or guardian to living alone at uni feels daunting, and although you may feel afraid to be alone- you are probably more anxious about how you will be living with a bunch of people that you have never met, than actually being alone. As things like learning how to cook, keeping your room tidy and attending lectures are really all you will have to worry about home-life wise… (and doing a weekly shop, but living alone means as much pizza as you want and no judgement for home delivery soooo..)
Leading up to the move try not to fixate on it too much, if you’re in a relationship in your hometown which you are going to keep going long-distance then make sure you both talk about how you are going to make that work. and it may be a good idea to not see each other every single day in the weeks before you go, so the change doesn’t feel as drastic when the time comes.
Also, Don’t panic, take baby steps to accept the move mentally and be excited about it! starting a new chapter in life is always something to be excited about no matter how stressful it is to plan! Go out and buy nice things for your Uni room and kitchen. Buy things you are excited to use it seriously will help you so much if you feel excited about what’s ahead- even if you are mostly excited to do a bit of interior decorating.
Lastly, mental health wise, it’s important to fill your room with things you love, to make it a 2nd home (if that’s the way you prefer to think about it) make it your safe place.
Also, arranging a time every day where I could ring my mum really helped me- I didn’t have to ring if I didn’t want to, but I always could if I needed anything. My mum and I also made sure we chatted through text or messenger every day- even if we just sent little hearts to each other meaning ‘im okay- I’m here, but I just can’t talk right now’. This is something we continue to do now even after I have graduated.
2. Building Friendships And Support Networks
Okay. making friends can be hard for some people (me) and also very daunting when being thrown into unknown territory with a bunch of strangers. So let’s break this down a little.
Firstly I said earlier that the scariest thing that I found to be about the move was the impending doom of living with people that I didn’t know and being forced to attempt to make friends with them. This negative mindset I was in didn’t help me at all- no one is forcing you to be friends with anyone- but it’ll make your Uni life start off a lot smoother if you do manage it!!
When I went moved to uni in 2015 I was TERRIFIED- I didn’t have the best track record with making and keeping friendships so, I had all these walls up out of fear of getting hurt again. I was convinced before I had even learnt who my flatmates would be that they would hate me and that I wouldn’t fit in. That I would hate uni and want to come home. But that mindset alone is more damaging than anything else.
Things started to feel easier when I realised that Everyone is in the same boat I can guarantee you that nobody, NOBODY, is sitting at home packing their stuff into boxes feeling oh so excited to live with people they haven’t met. NOBODY is feeling amazingly positive about building friendships with people while living with them. Everyone is nervous. Everyone is scared and nobody knows what to expect or how it’ll work until they get there. So remember everyone is struggling, you are not alone.
Surprisingly what made all this much easier for me was social media (surprising because Social media is usually the devil when it comes to mental health), And that was because of the University official groups. If you’re reading this in the future and you are prepping for you Uni move but you haven’t found your Uni official Facebook groups GO FIND THEM NOW. There will most likely be several groups- for example, we had one for 2015 freshers, one for each accommodation block and some for the different courses. The beauty of this is that you can see the people you are going to be spending the next three years with before you go. My course even made a huge group chat before we even met each other which we kept going right up to graduation.
Now what’s great about these group pages is that they are filled with new students asking questions and expressing how nervous they are, which of course will make you feel like less of an alien. They will also be filled with students posting what flat they’re in hoping to find their flatmates … FIND YOUR FLATMATES.
It helps soooo much to build up a foundation with your flatmates before you get there, know their names and what room number they’ll be in. Find out what they’re like, learn what they are most looking forward to, share insecurities about moving, it’ll feel weird because you don’t know these people and they could be from halfway up the country, but you have more in common than you think. Be honest and be yourself, don’t pretend to be something you’re not, They’ll be such a mix of people in your flat that even if you don’t make friends with all of them instantly, you will make one good friend pretty quickly, and the rest will come in time.
There is so much value in building friendships when it comes to coping with that ever looming cloud that is your mental health. and although Uni may feel like the loneliest place on earth sometimes it is actually the place where people struggle with mental health the most, meaning you are far from alone in your battle. Remember however you feel, at any point in your University life is valid, there is nothing wrong with you. but please, please, please if you are struggling then talk to someone- whether its someone in your hometown or someone at uni. Talking makes everything feel so much lighter and declutters your brain, making it much easier to cope with and think rationally. this is where that one friend you made in those weeks leading up to uni will help you the most in that first year, alongside all the other connections you’ll make once you’re there.
When it comes to talking and finding support, there is no weakness in admitting you need help and seeking it through University provided counselling or support groups. I went to these a couple of times when I felt like I had hit rock bottom and then kept falling down. There were also many societies at my uni which focused on mental health that was student-run, which just provided a safe place to go and chat, or just hang out, providing a change of pace and environment. This university also helped by arranging random events to help with mental health and stress through each semester- the best of which was the pet a puppy day, when you paid a pound to sit in a playpen full of puppies for ten minutes. BEST. DAY. EVER.
If your university doesn’t have these sort of support programs or societies in place then you could always start them! Societies are (mostly) created and ran by students, for students. and are actually quite easy to get going. all you really need is people that will sign up and give that list to the university, along with what the society represents and what you will be doing. and (usually) that’s all it takes! (obviously, some things are specific to your own Uni so have a look on their website for information)
When I first got to uni and my mental health started to go a bit south I got a bit lost of what to do. Sure- I could talk to people, I could go to counselling and take all those steps towards a positive state of mind, but what I really struggled with was pulling myself out of a bad place on my own. I didn’t have the tools to do it and really by thinking I couldn’t make that feeling go away, I had already given into it. It became clear to me that what I needed was a way to identify when I wasn’t doing great and then having a set of things I could to counteract that feeling.
so the first thing I did was get myself a hobby! Now hobbies don’t have to be anything too grand- just something you do that you enjoy doing that you can get better at doing over time through practice. Also, I was very poor at uni (As most people are), ESPECIALLY in my first year, so there is no need to splash the cash on weekly classes or memberships if you can’t afford it. Below are some hobbies I picked up as well as some activities that I found really helpful!
So my thinking with this one was ‘well I have to do it every day anyway- so why not invest a bit more care and time into it?’ and really this was probably one of the things that helped me the most early on in my uni life as well as now in my adult life.
Cooking can be so therapeutic if you put a bit of care and love into it, putting your time into it creatively, focuses the brain and pulls me away from any negative thoughts I was having. and what’s more is that when the food is done not only are you left in a MUCH better mood, but you also get food as well! result!
This would particularly help me in the evenings, if I came home from a challenging day at uni, or if I had been working on an essay that flung me into a dark place. I would look at the clock, decide I need to eat and go and spend some time in the kitchen with a recipe book and a Wok… I have also made the discovery that there is NOTHING you cant cook in a Wok.
I think the best thing about this one is that literally, anyone can do it. your skill level doesn’t matter as after all, you’ll learn as you go! get yourself a student cookbook (i Highly recommend Nosh For Students If you’re just starting out and are a little short of cash, it is full of affordable meals that need only basic utensils and also has a range of pre-planned weekly meals and shopping lists!)
Morning Music (or anytime music) –
If you follow me on twitter you may have seen me talk about this before, but I have never really gone into detail on any platform about how much music helps me. I’m sure this isn’t unique to me just like I am sure it won’t be news to you that music can help your mental state… BUT, I think its really important to know just how much music can guide your mental and emotional state!!
When I was going through a rough patch with my mental health at university- I found that the mornings were always particularly hard for me. I never wanted to leave my bed and to be honest I wouldn’t even care about missing classes. I would fall down and black, bottomless hole and many mornings I would choose to hide instead of tackle it.
So, I thought I would try something. You see, I knew that when I had to study or write an essay I would plug myself in and listen to a calming or focus playlist on Spotify- I’m doing it as I write this actually. I decided that I would start my morning with music, hoping to achieve a similar outcome. I found that when I started my morning with some positive upbeat music that it boosted my energy- I was no longer greeted with a foggy mist of anxiety, dread and self-loathing every morning. Instead, the morning sun meant the peppy voices on the radio and the upbeat music of Bruno Mars.
Soon after, I started getting up and putting records instead of the radio, there was something nice about listening to Fleetwood Mac at 7am through a record player, With a steaming hot cup of tea in my hand, and even better- it got me through those harder mornings.
Exercise and going outside-
I’m so sorry to even have to suggest this to you. I know you don’t want to put your sports bra on girl- I feel you! and guys I know that staying at home doing literally ANYTHING else is much more appealing… but… hear me out.
Doing a little bit of exercise is so good for your brain, body and soul! it gets your heart pumping and relieves any stress or worries you have been dragging around with you. its a great distraction from everything else in life and also can be really rewarding too (also if your want to make cooking a hobby- it’s always a good idea to go for a run once in a while!)
Now I’m not saying you need to pay a fortune monthly to join a gym- nor am I telling you to flee to Amazon and order some kettle-weights and a yoga mat, going for a run or a brisk walk is enough to help clear your mind and get rid of some of those dark clouds trailing after you.
By my uni accommodation, we had this little canal, which has a long footpath that stretched for miles alongside the river. it was so beautiful and full of ducks, swans and other amazing birds and flowers. I still remember how fresh the air was there, it felt so easy to breathe, and no matter what none of my worries ever followed me there.
I always went alone, because I only went when I needed the separation… sometimes I would run, others I would take a brisk walk, but other times I would walk as far as this one bench that overlooked an opening in the water where there was a miraculous boom in wildlife- and I would just sit there. On a bench or on the grass (it didn’t really matter to me unless it had been raining) and I would just watch the animals, and how the water flowed around them, creating ripples with every stretched out wing or tirelessly paddling set of webbed feet.
For me, being in nature and the fresh air was also important for my mental health, so this place doubled up for me as being my go to pace for both gentle exercise, and some time in nature. So if your struggling, grab a book or some headphones and go to your local park, you can run around it, or simply sit and breathe in the fresh air. both will help you clear your mind and de-stress during a tough mental health patch.
Now, this may look like a bit of a weird section at first glance. in a post about mental health and university, I’m sure you were not expecting a subsection titles ‘animals’. And while typing this I realise I don’t know how many Universities will have this available for students but you never know! so!
For me, my mental health MAJORLY took a turn when my course offered us weekly horseriding lessons. It didn’t matter what mental state I was in, how tired I was or how much of a pain it was to get to the class- I NEVER missed a session… why? because animal interaction is so good for your mental health! Also, the puppy day that I talked about earlier was awesome for this too! so if you can then you should go cuddle a cat or pet a puppy or hug a horse. And if not then I guess this section is a little bit pointless and we should move on pretty quickly…
Take some time for yourself
When you are putting all your energy into a course its really easy to let it become your life, believe me- I know. every thought can become something about deadlines or exams, essays, classes, presentations and everything in between. it’s easy to forget to switch off. However, having a little bit of separation is so important for your mental health, and you should never feel guilty about taking some much-needed rest. Infact- I would make sure that at least one evening a week you don’t do any uni work. none. nada. just watch Netflix, or read, or write, or go for a walk, go to the cinema, go shopping… literally anything you want to do that isn’t uni work- do it.
Spend time with friends, go for a night out if you like to do that, or have a night in if that’s more your scene. just make sure you have some you time every once in a while and look after yourself.
You can also do little things to look after yourself every day like making sure you have a shower or bath at least every other day, doing you hair, having a skin routine, doing a facemask, treating yourself to something you love to eat! do the things that relax you and make you feel good.
4. Talk to your Lecturers and Academic advisors!
I can’t stress how important it is, and how much it can help you to be honest with yourself, and your lecturers about your position with your mental health, if only because they can help you so much.
At my University everyone was allocated an Academic Advisor which would be there to guide you through your journey and give feedback at the end of each semester on your progress and any problem areas. Be honest with them, tell them when you are struggling and what you need help with- even if you don’t really know what would help, they are used to it and probably have heard it all before. They want to help you, they want to see you do well.
During the first semester of my first year at uni, I decided to hide my struggles with mental illness as well as other physical illnesses I was battling instead of being honest and seeking help. I did this because I didn’t want to be ‘that’ one in my class. I didn’t want to be the person I have had to be in the past, and I was afraid of what people would say and that they would think I was just making excuses. But in truth doing this made it so much harder for myself. That first year was awful. the more I tried to hide it, the worse it got until I got to a point where I just broke down in the middle of a Costa coffee shop, in town, on my own. After that, I got the train home to my mums for a few days and realised that I needed some help. I decided to be honest, not only with my peers, my lecturers and my academic advisor but to myself too… I can honestly say that was the best decision I made for myself in those entire three years. Its a shame it took me to hit rock bottom to realise that hiding it and ignoring it wasnt going to make it better.
I composed an email to my academic advisor while I was home with my mum and sent it off the night before I got the train back, and he replied the next day. My uni story completely changed direction after that- I was offered so much guidance and support- some of which I didn’t even need. I felt valued and cared for, I knew I could tell them when I was struggling and more importantly, I knew they could help me, or at least point me in the direction of someone who could help.
I think I was quite lucky that my university had a lot of options and resources in place to help students like myself who were struggling. but it seems that other universities, even in this modern time, aren’t as equipped. if you are reading this and thinking ‘well my uni doesn’t have that’ then please don’t feel helpless as you are far from it.
there are so many things you can do for yourself but the best thing you can do out of everything is talking to people about it.
Anxiety, Depression, Panic attacks and all other mental health struggles are so common at a university setting- even students who have never experienced any mental illnesses at all sometimes start to get it regularly. Some people have it at uni and then never again after they graduate, and others get it triggered at uni and then have it for the rest of their lives. but what’s most important is that none of those people are alone, and neither are you.
I opened up this conversation to all my twitter birds and here is what they had to say! go follow these amazing people and read their blogs, they’re all fabulous.
Also, don’t forget this blog post was linked with a video over on AnotherVloggingLaurens Youtube Channel! she covers a bunch of stuff I didn’t chat about like dealing with the alcohol stereotype/ clubbing scene when you don’t fit in and you’re battling mental health, How to notice if your friends are struggling and how to help, and the options you have to improve your mental health whilst at uni!
Lauren is also on twitter over at @LaurenCBActor so go show her some love and support over there, as we are all about supporting small channels and blogs in this corner of the internet.
If you didn’t catch the first post of my mental health series ‘A Safe Place- Mental health and Loneliness’ go read it here. (i promise it isn’t as long!)
Once again cherubs thanks for reading, this is such an important topic, congratulations if you made it to the end! I didn’t realise how long this post would be! let me know if you would be interested in another university-related post- maybe a part 2 to this? and if you have any of your own University mental health tips leave them in the comments!