Looking after number one and prioritising your mental health

Written by: UPSU

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The social, economic and cultural after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic have hit hard on many people's physical and mental wellbeing, including University students. Plus, our cost of living crisis and recent teaching strikes have also impacted the student experience. It is perfectly understandable that you may have found this year more challenging than most and may have found that your priorities have shifted, but making time to look after yourself and your mental health is more important than ever.

Please take the time today to read our top tips for prioritising yourself and your mental health:


1. Don’t be afraid of asking for help


This is essential. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength and courage. You’ve made the first step of recognising that you need support, so what now? 

As a University of Plymouth student, you have access to the following 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 inclufing self-help guides and additional information to support your emotional, physical, social and financial wellbeing. Access the Student Portal Wellbeing Resources here.



2. Limit your screen time


Whether it’s keeping an eye on the news, Zoom calls or scrolling through the endless cycle of social media, over the last few years we’ve become more and more reliant on the digital world.

With a lot of students now also studying and working online, it’s more important than ever to make that divide clear and take some time away from the screen. Set yourself a time each day to shut down the computer and do something else, you could read, go for a bike ride or walk around Plymouth, listen to a podcast – the opportunities are endless!

Screen time can also impact your sleep quality. It is important to switch off your screens for at least an hour before you go to bed to help maximise your rest time!


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3. Make some time for yourself every day


What do you love doing? Maybe you love cooking, going to the gym, catching up with friends, watching films, reading or watching the latest episode of your favourite show.

Put some time aside each day to do something that you want to do; not something that your flat or housemates want to do or something that’s on your to-do list, be selfish for an hour or so and have some time for you!

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. You could try one of the taster sessions being offered by our brilliant clubs and societies, try meditation, check out the Give it a Go scheme, or learn a new skill!


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4. Be kind


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. 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 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 SU Advice on the steps you can take to approach the situation and available support here.

Crucially, accept that there are some things that are just out of our control. Don’t hold yourself to account for things you can’t change, be kind to yourself and recognise that you’re doing your best.


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5. Get active and get outside


Exercise releases endorphins (the feel-good brain chemicals) and stimulates parts of your brain that aren’t as responsive when you’re feeling low.

You don’t need to sign up to run a marathon, just build exercise and activity into your day. This could be going for a walk, taking an online exercise class, joining the gym, joining a sports club or taking part in a taster or Give it a Go session.

Not only will exercise break up your routine and get you moving but it’s also a great opportunity to get out of the house or flat. Getting out in the daylight and increasing your exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin. Low levels or serotonin are linked with conditions such as depression and low mood, so get outside and soak up some beautiful sun!

You could head out for a walk along the waterfront and take in the sea views from Plymouth Hoe – every student’s go-to place when the sun is shining. Just down the road, you can stroll through the cobbled streets of Plymouth’s old town, the Barbican

If you’re up for going somewhere a bit further from campus we recommend Royal William Yard, where you’ll be surrounded by stunning ocean views and a number of top restaurants.

Plymouth is full of scenic walking spots: find your perfect walk using the Plymouth Trails app.




6. Reach out


When you are at University and are busy studying for exams or writing coursework, it can be easy to shut yourself away and switch off from the world outside. Sometimes having time to yourself is good but sometimes you can start to feel lonely, but it is important to remember that you are not alone.

Reach out to friends and/or family and just check-in, find out how they’re doing and talk about how you’re doing. If you’ve recently started University and you’ve not had the opportunity to meet many new people, or if you’ve returned to study and you’re just missing that human connection, then be proactive and find new people and join a community.

This could be by attending events, joining clubs or societies, getting involved in volunteering, going for a coffee with someone from your course, bonding with your flat or housemates. You will not be the only person feeling this way and by asking that person for coffee not only will you be benefitting yourself but just being asked could also make their day that bit better. 


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If you don't feel you have friends or family members who you can reach out to and you feel you need mental health support, remember: don't be afraid to ask for help. If you don't want to reach out to University or SU support, there are external mental wellbeing services you can contact, including: 


  • Qwell provides anonymous support options from UK professionals, including online messaging, community support, personal development tools and therapeutic content. Anyone over the age of 18 years old living in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay can access support from Qwell. You do not need a referral from a health professional, simply complete a short registrations process.
  • Shout is a free, confidential, 24/7 text messaging support service for anyone who is struggling and needs in-the-moment support.
  • Samaritans—a volunteer-led organisation in the UK—are available to contact 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, offering confidential, emotional support to anyone who needs it.



7. Look after your physical health


Your physical and mental health are more closely linked than most people think. Poor physical health can put you at higher risk of developing mental health issues and vice versa.

Make sure that you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet, the odd takeaway is fine as a treat but if you rely on them your physical health and your bank balance won’t thank you.


"Eating a balanced diet helps me feel more focused and have a clearer mind, I find it easier to concentrate and I find I am more productive as a result. It also helps if I drink enough water too."

Tanisha, 2nd year Dietetics Student.


Stay hydrated and look at your lifestyle habits. Alcohol and smoking are both proven to have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health. If you need support with cutting down or quitting, there are so many resources available through the NHS. Please click on any of the following links for more information and support.



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8. Take a break


Make time to just stop. Take a break from studying, switch off and relax. Being switched on all the time is detrimental to your mental health, it can lead to stress, placing unnecessary pressure on yourself and ultimately exhaustion. Step back and take time out from the pressures and challenges of daily life.

Taking a break gives you a chance to recharge, refresh and reset. Your break could be active and involve a change of scene, travelling somewhere new or it could involve doing nothing at all. It’s your break, you do you.


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  • Check out the SU events calendar
  • Find out What's On in Plymouth
  • The Box -  Plymouth's award winning museum and art gallery is open daily until 17:00 and is free to visit.
  • Theatre Royal Plymouth - one of the UK's largest regional producing theatres hosts some of the best shows from the West End; keep an eye out and see what's showing.
  • If you’re looking to wind down close to campus, bars like The RoundaboutSwitch and Air are all popular student spots. They offer deals just for students and have a real student community vibe.



9. Practice mindfulness


Mindfulness can mean maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our feelings, our thoughts, our body sensations, the environment we are in and the people surrounding us. Some people see mindfulness as a form of meditation or a technique you can learn to implement into your daily life. 

Take some time today to read our recent article about mindfulness. This article discusses what mindfulness is, various ways in which you can practice mindfulness and suggests apps and podcasts to support your journey.





10. Be thankful and appreciate the positives


It’s all too easy to focus on the negatives and at the moment it may be even more difficult to find the positives in life. Try to take a step back and recognise your achievements. What have you done well or what are you proud of in the past day, week, month or year?

Be thankful for everything that you have, whether that’s a roof over your head, friends, family, your course, your community. Congratulate yourself on where you are today and the hard work it’s taken to get there.

You could also consider starting a gratitude journal. Numerous studies are demonstrating how gratitude journaling can increase one's happiness. A gratitude journal allows you to pay attention to the good things in life that you might otherwise take for granted. It helps you to start becoming more attuned to the everyday sources of pleasure around you and feel blessed for the good in your life. Plus, a daily dose of self-love goes a long way in improving your mental state and self-love.



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