Mental Health: Taking Care of Yourself
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Content warning: mention of mental health illnesses, anxiety, depression, self harm and suicide.
The stereotype that all university-goers are reckless, booze-fuelled students vomiting in shop doorways and partying till 6am is a myth.
In a culture that has amplified the social, academic and financial pressures facing young people today, combined with the current pandemic, it has never been so important to take steps to protect your mental wellbeing. To help you help yourself, RateMyPlacement has come up with some ways for you to put your mental health first.
Set Aside Time for 'Value' Activities
Faced with a barrage of deadlines and exams, as well as the pressure of securing a graduate job, it's easy to forget to take time out for yourself. But working 24/7 is like running up a downward escalator - eventually you'll run out of steam.
Did you know that exercising for just 20 minutes a day can release endorphins in your brain that will help you feel more relaxed, satisfied and better able to concentrate? And, dare we say it, exercise can be fun. It just takes that first step. It's like cutting a pomegranate - tricky, but rewarding.
Exercising doesn't have to be expensive either. Whether it's taking a stroll around your local park, doing some yoga or completing a home workout, there are loads of FREE ways to relieve stress.
Found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal, completing a short workout allows you to free your mind by focusing on the exercise itself.
Reduce Your Screen Time
Evidence shows that smartphones are programmed to instil psychological dependence on them. They are literally designed to be addictive.
Experts have dubbed this as a 21st century 'mental disorder,' with symptoms similar to alcohol and drug addiction. We're not asking you to bin your phone. But you should at least try to limit your usage.
Social media, for example, has been cited as a key factor in the rise of body dysmorphia issues, neuroticism and bipolar disorder amongst young people. The constant craving of approval - through likes and retweets that social media apps are designed to enhance - is a serious issue.
So, how can you avoid these problems?
Quite simply, take part in activities that don't require screen time. Whether it's a cuppa over Zoom with a friend, reading the latest Stephen King novel or a takeaway with your household, spending more physical time with people can do wonders for your mental health.
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Clean Your Surroundings
We don't want to sound like a nagging mum, but it's important to maintain a clean, organised and decluttered living environment.
Proven to help you regain a sense of control over your environment and thoughts, cleaning also helps put your mind at ease by focusing on measurable objectives. And if you clean fast enough, you'll also be releasing those endorphins to de-stress too. Winning.
Whilst cleaning is most definitely not going to resolve poor mental health entirely, it will help boost your satisfaction, sense of accomplishment and decrease anxiety. 10-15 minutes a day is all it takes.
Your Body is a Temple
It goes without saying that taking care of your body is essential for a healthy mind. Making certain lifestyle choices to limit any triggers of anxiety can make a huge difference to your mental health on a day-to-day basis. Below are some ways to do that:
Sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on your mental health, largely because it makes it much harder to rationalise your worries.
It's important to take the necessary steps to ensure a good night's sleep. For one, this means limiting your nicotine and alcohol intake. Whilst alcohol initially depresses the nervous system helping you sleep, the effect wears off quickly, causing staggered sleep patterns.
Experts also recommend maintaining good 'sleep hygiene.' This involves isolating bedroom activity to relaxation and rest. You could try dimming the lights and keeping devices in another room to maximise your chances of a healthy night's sleep.
Watch Your Diet
We all know it's important to eat your five a day. But did you know that carrots, grapefruit and apples are all associated with better mental health? Swapping out the sugary snacks for low-sugar alternatives such as fruit is a great way to stabilise your blood sugar levels. This means you'll feel less tired and it'll help reduce symptoms of depression too.
If you experience destabilising thoughts, then it's worth cutting back on alcohol. Whilst drink can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety, the long-term effects of excessive alcohol drinking include reduced serotonin levels. This can lead to addiction and depression.
If you think you have a problem with alcohol, please seek support:
Drinkline - helpline number: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am-8pm, weekends 11am-4pm) . What they offer? Free service for anyone concerned about their or others' relationship with alcohol.
Seek Help and Support
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Whatever you feel, have felt or may feel in in the future, you're not alone. Below are some ways to access help and support:
Through Your University
Sadly, university mental health services tend to be limited. A lack of funding and insufficient resources means it can sometimes take a while to receive help. BUT that doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out if you feel your mental health deteriorate - you never know who might be on hand to help.
Support from your university will likely come in the form of one-to-one counselling sessions with a trained advisor. They can offer you confidential, non-judgemental support in a safe space designed to help you open up and talk through your emotions.
This will also ensure considerations are made for your situation, such as extended deadlines, and that you are introduced to the necessary support services.
Through your Student Union
A Student Union (SU) is led by students and staff who work tirelessly to put students’ interests first. With increasing prioritisation of mental health support on a national scale, welfare officers at unions across the country are working hard to tackle the mental health epidemic.
Many students cite finances, workload and loneliness as huge burdens on their mental health. Your SU is likely to have a student advice centre, designed to deal with any obstacles you might face during university. Whether it’s helping you secure financial support, deal with difficult landlords or combat isolation, there are a wealth of resources available to help you.
Most SU's also have a set of liberation officers dedicated to representing minority groups. So if you're struggling with anything related to your race, class, disability, gender or sexual orientation, you can speak to somebody who is trained to tackle these issues.
Have you heard of Nightline? Operating at many universities across the UK, it's a confidential and anonymous support service run by students, for students. With phone lines, email and instant messaging services open from 8pm to 8am (during term time), Nightline offers university students a safe space to talk/ text openly about anything that's on their mind.
Whether you're affected by academic stress, bereavement, depression or something else, you can confidently speak to a non-judgmental Nightline volunteer, trained 'to listen, not lecture.'
Through your GP
Arranging an appointment with your GP is often the first step to receiving medical support from a trained professional. If something is troubling you, then speak to your GP about it. They can:
Before attending your appointment, it’s worth writing a list of your symptoms or keeping a diary of any changes in your mood. This can be referred to when speaking to your GP.
Online Helpline Services
Whatever your feeling, there are a wealth of online helplines available. Here are a few that you can try:
Samaritans - helpline number: 116 123 What they offer? 24hr helpline offering emotional support for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Calm - helpline number: 0800 585858 (daily, 5pm to midnight) What they offer? Support for young men 15-35 on issues including depression and suicide.
HopeLine UK - helpline number: 0800 068 4141 (Mon to Friday 10-5pm & 7-10pm, weekends 2-5pm)
What they offer? Support for young people with suicide thoughts and those who know others like this.
SaneLine - helpline number: 0300 304 700 (daily 4.30-10.30pm) What they offer? Specialist emotional support and guidance for anyone affected by mental illness.
The Mix - helpline number: 0808 808 4994 (daily 4-11pm) What they offer? Essential support for under 25s e.g. mental health, homelessness, addiction etc.