Starting uni is a major life transition that’s exciting and occasionally overwhelming and students need to navigate a lot, for the first time, at the same time, with many different factors that can impact their mental wellbeing. 

It’s not just about getting financial help for students, though getting scholarships for university or student grants can certainly help!

The majority of mental health problems develop by the age of 24 – it’s therefore logical (and documented!) that university students are particularly vulnerable to challenges with their mental health. 

Mental health is not easy to navigate and can be very complex, but here are three ways to help you boost your mental health:

Get enough sleep

Pulling all-nighters may seem like a normal part of uni life and last-minute cramming is super common, but getting a good night’s sleep is critical to managing and improving your mental health. Sleep and mental health are strongly related and impact each other significantly. 

When you don’t get enough, or good enough quality, sleep you will suffer more from lethargy and tiredness and this massively impacts your mood and negatively affects your wellbeing.

Like your gran probably told you, you need to get 6-8 hours a night of quality shut-eye. What she probably didn’t tell you is to: 

  • Lay off caffeine, alcohol and snacks for at least a couple of hours before bed
  • Try to keep your room as dark, quiet and cool as possible
  • Minimise your time in front of screens before sleep 

Eat a healthy diet

There’s a close relationship between your brain and your tummy. Inside your gastrointestinal tract are billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters (think little worker bees that carry messages to your brain).

When you eat healthy food, your “good” bacteria sends positive messages to your brain which has a positive impact on your mood. On the other hand, a steady diet of junk food can cause inflammation of your gut and slows down the production of positive messages which means you don’t get those happy jolts. You can imagine what that does for your mood and mental wellbeing.

Here are some tips to improve your mental health through diet:

  • Eat lots of healthy foods, such as lean meats, nuts, legumes, fruit and vegetables
  • Have lots of healthy snacks to hand so that when you get the munchies there will be good food within easy reach
  • Don’t skip meals – this is very confusing for your gut
  • When shopping, buy ingredients that you can turn into meals (with friends this solves two problems!) instead of ordering takeaways. Better for your tum but also better for the environment and will save you ££.
  • Have a treat every once in a while! Complete restriction isn’t the answer either and can lead to unhappiness

Learn to say no

There are going to be a lot of claims to your time. There’s going to be a lot you want to do and a lot you need to do and you are going to find yourself saying “yes” a lot more often than saying “no”. This is to be expected but at some point, you must draw the line to protect your own sanity and wellbeing! 

If you are juggling a full course load, some amount of paid work, friends, parties and other stuff, if you don’t give yourself a bit of a break you won’t get enough sleep and will feel constantly on edge. 

How can you deal with this to look after your mental health?

  • Make a schedule and give yourself time to sleep and rest up so you won’t get sick
  • Give your eyes and mind a chance for a break every hour – ideally step outside or just stare into the distance and focus on your breathing
  • Set realistic goals
  • Start to say no, and encourage friends to do the same. It’s always easier to make changes when you are doing it with your tribe. Respect your friends’ time and energy and ask them to do the same for you
  • Make sure you have downtime. This could be exercising (brilliant for mental health) or a hobby or maybe even a side hustle you’re working on
  • Spend time with friends. It’s not only great for better mental health but lessens the feelings of loneliness that so many people feel. Hanging out with friends will make you happy and also make you forget about assignments and other commitments for a while 

You’re going to be dealing with a lot of challenges at uni – in class, in halls, with friends and just in general. This is standard and normal and everyone has similar feelings. But it’s key to use these ways as well as others to look after and improve your mental health. Be sure to take a breather and smell the roses. Your mental health will thank you!


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