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Looking after yourself at uni

Being at university can be a really exciting time, but it can also feel stressful or overwhelming at times. Here are some ways you can look after yourself at uni.

"The best years of your life"

It's something we've all heard: your time at university will be "the best years of your life". This may be true for some people, but chances are you will go through some difficult times while at university, just like you might at any other time when big changes are happening in your life. It can be a lonely time, especially if you’re away from home and missing your family and friends. And you might feel under pressure to make friends, fit in and meet deadlines. On top of that, it might seem like everyone else is coping fine and having the time of their lives.

It is important to remember that almost everyone struggles with life at university at some point. In fact, a 2018 study found that:

  • one third (33%) of students surveyed felt lonely often or all of the time
  • almost nine in ten (87.7%) students struggled with feelings of anxiety
  • over three quarters (75.6%) of students hid their mental health symptoms from friends.

So, if university life is making you feel overwhelmed, anxious and unhappy, you are not alone, and things can get better.

If you’re struggling to cope, the most important thing to do is to talk about it. Here are some places you can turn to for support.

It’s worth knowing that most universities are well-equipped to support you through difficult times.
Sammie, guest blogger

Our Activist, Wes, shares his tips for looking after your mental health at uni

Where can you find support on campus?

The mental health services available will differ between universities, but here are some places you can look for support:

Your GP
If you’re struggling to cope, a good first step is to talk to your GP - make sure you’re registered with one at your uni. It can help to write down what you’ve been going through before your visit.

University counselling
Most universities have counselling services, which will give you the chance to talk through your experiences in a non-judgemental space. Find out more on your uni’s website.

Tutors and student welfare officers
There may be a tutor assigned to give you pastoral support, or a student welfare officer you can talk to.

Student minds
Student Minds run support groups, especially focusing on depression and eating disorders, which are led by other students. Find out if they have groups at your university: www.studentminds.org.uk

In an emergency
If you’re about to harm yourself or have already done so, phone 999 or go to A&E and explain that you’re at risk.

There is a list of more places you can turn for support at the bottom of this page.

The most important task for me to do before anything else was to ensure that I had reached out for help.
Laura, guest blogger

Tips from our bloggers and Activists

Here are some tips and advice from our bloggers and Activists on how to look after yourself at uni:

"Do some research regarding the support systems that your university provides."
- Laura

"When I’m having a difficult time, I try to take a step back, acknowledge how I’m feeling and actively take time to myself to relax."
- Liam

"There are many ways to stop stress becoming overwhelming. During my exam period, the simple act of making lists was really helpful for me. By organising my deadlines and what I had to do for each one, I stopped allowing my problems to escalate in my mind."
- Grace

"You are allowed to feel homesick and lonely - this is just a normal part of the process."
- Laura

"Make plans back home - This might sound completely counter-intuitive to making friends at university, but keeping your home life exciting and making sure you have something to look forward to back home will help with the initial move."
- Boston

"It may not seem like eating healthily would affect your outlook or mood, but you may be surprised. Why not try switching up your diet? There are hundreds of recipes and lots of advice online that can be accessed simply by searching on Google."
- Annabel

"One of the best things I did in my first couple of months at university was to get together with my flatmates to cook a meal together every evening. Working on something together and connecting in a way that doesn’t involve drinking can really help you to cement strong relationships."
- Sammie

"If you’re struggling with the pressure of exams, it’s really important to speak to someone. Whether it be a friend, family, member of staff, counsellor or helpline – there is always someone who will be able to help. Accepting help and using the support network around you is a critical way to cope during the exam period."
- Lydia

For more real stories about mental health at university, as well as lots of helpful tips and advice, have a look at our blogs:

How to prepare for university with a mental health condition

How to deal with stress in Freshers' Week (and beyond!)

Five tips for coping with going to university alone (and making it amazing)

How to deal with feeling homesick or lonely at university

Questions to ask yourself at uni

Recognising stress at uni

#TalkingHelps at university

Getting help at uni

Stress: friend or foe?

Coping with exam pressures at university

Self-care

There are things you can do yourself to help look after your mental wellbeing at university. Our blogger Josh shares the self-care tips that helped him:

1. Exercising
Jogging, running, swimming, anything that helped get my endorphins flowing.

2. Accepting that I was ill
This was difficult because mental illness isn’t as tangible as a physical condition. However, trying to pretend I was fine only made things worse. I had to be kind to myself and put in the correct self-care.

3. Maintaining relationships
Socialising seemed like a pretty arduous task at times, but it helped to stay connected with the world.

4. Cutting down on alcohol
Drinking might have made me feel better in the short term, but it only masked the problem rather than solving it.

5. Looking after my body
This meant improving my diet, sleeping well, and drinking plenty of water.

6. Speaking to others
This was the most important thing I did, and by leaning on those close to me, I was able to get the day-to-day support I needed.

I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t having the ‘typical’ university experience.
Anonymous guest blogger

Where to get help

Helplines and services available

YoungMinds Crisis Messenger

  • provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis - just text YM to 85258
  • all texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors
  • texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus

Samaritans 

  • www.samaritans.org
  • if you're in distress and need support, you can ring Samaritans for free at any time of the day or night.
  • freephone (UK and Republic of Ireland): 116 123 (24 hours)
  • email: [email protected]

The Mix

  • www.themix.org.uk
  • if you're under 25 you can talk to The Mix for free on the phone, by email or on their webchat. You can also use their phone counselling service, or get more information on support services you might need. 
  • freephone: 0808 808 4994 (1pm - 11pm daily)

Nightline

  • www.nightline.ac.uk
  • see if your university has a nightline listening service
  • the services and opening times vary from institution to institution, but often there is a phone, text, email and live chat service
  • this is a free, confidential listening service for you to talk about anything that is on your mind
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