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10 tips for looking after your mental health while at university

Written by: UPSU

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We understand that university life can be highly stressful and that every student will have their own unique experience and cope in different ways. As your Students’ Union, we are here to support your wellbeing and provide you with practical advice when it comes to taking care of your mental health, as well as signpost you to support services provided by us, the University of Plymouth and externally if you need it. 

Here are our top tips for looking after your mental health as a student: 

 

1. Find a healthy work-life balance. 

We want to help you find a balanced lifestyle while at the University of Plymouth. Whilst we strongly support and encourage you to prioritise your academic studies when you can, we want to see students find a healthy work-life balance and to enrich their university experience by getting involved with activities outside of their core education. This could include getting involved in a sports club or society, undertaking volunteer work, or attending one of our popular weekly student nights at the SU. 

But why is it important to find balance? 

Finding a good work-life balance is proven to help reduce stress and prevent burnout. Students who take regular breaks between their studies are more efficient, productive, and motivated. This is because when you find a healthy balance between work and fun, you develop greater control over your focus and ability to concentrate on tasks. Taking time away from your desk is imperative for your own happiness and fulfilment, so please do not dismiss it and think you have to place all your energy into your academic work at university in order to succeed. 

Try to prioritise putting some time aside each day to do something that you want to do, and plan for longer breaks and using the weekends for what they are meant for: recharging.

If you don’t have any hobbies or you can’t think of anything you love to do, then get creative and try something new. As your Students’ Union, we work hard to organise as many free and low-cost wellbeing activities that all students can access regularly to ensure every member of our community has equal access to a better quality of life while at university.

Check out our events calendar, Give It A Go activities and trips, volunteering opportunities, student groups and more below to find something you will enjoy and will help you sustain balance during your educational journey: 

 

2. If you need support, don’t be afraid to ask for it. 

As a University of Plymouth student, you have access to a wide range of services dedicated to supporting you during your time with us...

The Advice Centre is not part of the University. As a member of the Students' Union, we are here to support you through your time at University, providing free, confidential, and independent advice on a range of issues. You can talk to us in confidence, knowing that nothing will be shared with anyone, including the University, if you don’t want it to be.

The University of Plymouth Student Services Hub offers a wide range of support services including counselling, mental health support, faith and spiritual support, advice for international students and so much more. To view a full range of their services, click here.

The University of Plymouth has partnered with Togetherall—a safe, online, peer-to-peer 24/7 global community moderated by clinical professionals to help individuals take control of their mental health through a wealth of resources and self-help courses for free. Find out more about the Togetherall Partnership here.

Check out a range of wellbeing resources including self-help guides and additional information to support your emotional, physical, social and financial wellbeing. Access the Student Portal Wellbeing Resources here.

 

    Photo: University of Plymouth Student Hub

 

3. Make sure you are giving yourself enough time to rest and recover. 

It might sound obvious, but starting university can be overwhelming, there is so much on and so many things to get involved with all the time, it can feel like you are being pulled in so many different directions all at once! Not to mention trying to keep up with your new course, meet new friends, and are probably living with new people who are all trying to do the same thing.

Remember to take a step back and stay mindful of how much you are committing yourself to every day. Being switched on all the time is detrimental to your mental health and can lead to stress, placing unnecessary pressure on yourself and ultimately exhaustion. Taking a break gives you a chance to recharge, refresh and reset. 

Not only should you be taking time to rest during the day, but it is also important you are allowing yourself time to get enough sleep at night. Many students will choose to get involved with Freshers’ and nights out in the city when they come to university, and we certainly are not telling you to not go and enjoy yourself and do those things, but please make sure you are not overexerting yourself and compromising your sleep. You can read our article ‘how to sleep better: six top tips’ on our website for advice on how to get some quality shut eye.

 

4. Find non-drinking social events to get involved with and meet new people.

Not every university student will want to go out drinking, but many do. Sometimes students can feel pressured into going out or drinking more often than they would usually. We are strongly against peer-pressure and if you feel uncomfortable with your friends or flatmates encouraging you to do something you don’t want to do, please reach out to us for advice and support. 

We encourage all students to get involved with non-drinking social events, activities, and trips to allow you to meet new communities, discover different interests and develop sustainable hobbies that support your mental wellbeing while at university. 

We support over 100 student-led sports clubs and societies, from basketball to biology, rugby to the robotics society, there is student group for everyone. You may choose to join a student group for fun and to learn a new skill, or you may wish to compete in local or national competitions, such as in BUCS or Varsity. 

UPSU equally provides opportunities for students to discover new interests through leisurely activities and non-competitive sports sessions. For example, the Give It A Go programme is a timetable of either free or low cost activities, including sports such as rock climbing, badminton and yoga, which take place either on the University of Plymouth campus, in our SU Gym, or in other local leisure centres.

We also provide students with weekly opportunities to get involved with one-off volunteering opportunities through our Student-Led Volunteering programme. These day trips allow students to meet and socialise with other University of Plymouth students and work together by volunteering their time to supporting organisations in and around Plymouth, making a real difference to the local community.

 

5. Get off campus and explore our Ocean City!

If you are coming to Plymouth to join the University of Plymouth, you are moving to an incredible place! Plymouth is the UK’s Ocean City and the student community love what it has to offer all year round. From strolls through the cobbled streets of Plymouth’s historic Barbican to gorgeous gardens dotted about the city, from the scenic views at Plymouth Hoe to top restaurants and stunning sea views at Royal William Yard: Plymouth is beautiful!

To find your perfect walk around Plymouth, check out the Plymouth Trails app, or to find out what’s on in Plymouth, visit: www.visitplymouth.co.uk/whats-on

 

    Photo: The Hoe, Plymouth (Smeaton's Tower)

 

6. Don’t live on takeaways… eat well and support your immune system.

Being away from home for the first time and having the freedom to eat whatever you like can make it tempting to go wild on takeaways and junk food. Whilst it’s fine to treat yourself once in a while to takeout, we advise you not make it a regular habit whilst at university. For one, buying takeaways all the time can be very costly and will eat into your student finance very quickly, plus takeaways are usually not the healthiest and won’t give you the nutrients your brain needs to fuel your study sessions. A healthy diet improves energy, memory, and focus, and improves your sleeping habits. Eating well is known to make you healthier and happier and help you to maintain good mental health. 

You don’t have to cook fancy meals to have a balanced diet, just make sure you are eating a rainbow of colours and prioritise your fruits and vegetables. There are plenty of simple, easy-to-follow cooking recipes online for students who are new to cooking and for those on a tight student budget. Check out some student meal ideas here by the BBC Good Food.

 

7. Keep your student home clean: think tidy house, tidy mind!

It can be difficult to keep your student home clean, especially if you live with a lot of other students all sharing the same kitchen and lounge space. It may be an idea to establish a cleaning routine with your new house mates to ensure everyone is contributing to the housework fairly and is not being left to the same people. You can find tips on how to prevent mould and pest issues in university residences on our website, including keeping your student house well ventilated and storing food correctly. 

Many studies have found that maintaining a tidy house can help you feel relaxed, accomplished, and lower stress levels. An added bonus of keeping your home tidy is that moving your body by polishing, hoovering and through other cleaning tasks is a great form of exercise and increases endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals in your brain. Plus, a clean and decluttered space makes for a nicer environment to study in and inspires you to be productive.

 

8. Give back and do something good for others.

Volunteering allows you to give back, have self-development and make a real difference. It allows you to be part of something bigger than yourself and make a difference to someone’s life whilst also improving your own. 

Volunteering enormously benefits mental wellbeing. From the friends you make, the fun you have, to that great feeling you get when you realise that you're making a positive difference to someone else's life. We hear time and time again from students how their volunteer work has massively enhanced their student experience and made their time in Plymouth so much more enjoyable!

If you are interested in volunteer work, please make sure you check out the UPSU volunteering webpage for more information and to browse the latest volunteering opportunities brought to you by your SU. You can also pop in for a chat with the volunteering team in the Students’ Union or drop them an email:  volunteer@su.plymouth.ac.uk

 

     Photo: University volunteer beach clean

 

9. Be kind to yourself and to others. 

The pandemic, cost of living crisis and for many students, the stress of exams and coursework can feel overwhelming. Please remember to be compassionate about what other people are going through whilst you are at university. Evidence has shown that helping others can have a positive impact on your own mental health, so whether it’s reaching out to a friend of house mate who may be struggling or getting involved in volunteering, take that step and be kind.

If you are concerned about a fellow student, friend, or a housemate, please read our article by our SU Advice team on the steps you can take to approach the situation and the available support here.

Read more:

 

10. Be yourself.

For many new students going to university can mean moving away from home, as well as their friends and family members to a city they don’t know and surrounded by new people. Whilst it can be seen as an opportunity for students to introduce themselves as whoever they want to be and how they want others to perceive them, it is important to stay true to who you are and to not get caught up in pretending to be someone you aren’t in order to please others and to feel like you ‘fit in’ with certain crowds. 

The University of Plymouth is rich in diversity of culture, ethnicity, race, religion, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression, as well as diverse in ideologies and morals and so much more. We pride ourselves on creating an inclusive environment and encourage students to find their own communities with shared hobbies, beliefs, and aspirations, as well as socialise and meet people with different interests and perspectives to help you grow and learn from others during your time at university.

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