Looking after your mental health when you’re studying is just as important as taking care of your physical wellbeing, so how do you do it?
Your state of mind affects much more than simply how you are feeling – it can have an impact on your sleep, relationships, appetite and the health of your body.
Whether you’re studying for the first time, or you’re an old hand at hitting the books, you need to know how to spot if you – or someone you know – are starting to feel a bit below par, and what you can do about it.
According to the Mental Health Foundation mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental health disorder in Britain, affecting almost nine percent of the population, with eight and twelve percent of us experiencing depression in any year.
On the plus side, about half of those with common mental health problems are no longer affected after 18 months. From stress and anxiety, to depression, there are lots of ways our mental health can get out of kilter, but there is plenty you can do to protect yourself against these conditions and deal with them if they do crop up.
Stress is a common problem for students thanks to deadlines and exams, but there can be other reasons you might experience stress such as family problems, money worries, or even feeling uncomfortable in social situations.
While some stress is good for us – research shows that moderate levels can make us more alert and help us perform better – it is only healthy in the short term. If it continues, stress can lead to emotional and physical health problems.
Symptoms to look out for include raised blood pressure, heart palpitations and an upset stomach, so if you experience these for more than a few days then talk to your GP or try your college advice centre to find out if they run stress management sessions.
Anxiety can affect us in many ways, from feelings of tension to panic attacks and phobias, with symptoms including sweating, trembling, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, faintness and insomnia.
Often you can become anxious about feeling anxious, which then starts a cycle of fear in itself that can be hard to break. Again, it’s important to talk to your doctor or college counsellor as soon so you can so they can help you tackle the problem.
Depression is a common mental health concern characterised by listlessness, low self esteem, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, lack of concentration, feelings of guilt and even suicidal thoughts.
It can affect anyone at any time, either as a one-off or multiple episodes, but there are plenty of specialist healthcare services offering advice and support to people suffering with depression. It’s important to reach out for help if you are feeling depressed, so start by talking to your GP.
What to do
It’s a good idea to make looking after your mental health as much a part of your normal routine as looking after your physical wellbeing, and it’s not hard to do.
Start by eating well and getting plenty of good quality sleep. Make sure you include at least five pieces of fruit and veg in your daily diet to give your body the essential nutrients it needs, and try to get a minimum of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Exercise also plays an important part in looking after your mental health. Even if you’re not that sporty, incorporating a brisk walk in your day will help get your blood pumping, release endorphins into your system which make you feel good, and boost your mood.
If you’re feeling stressed it’s easy to think that alcohol or even drugs might give you some temporary relief, but these are not the answer. Alcohol is actually a depressant rather than a stimulant, and can increase your sense of worry rather than lifting it. As for abusing drugs – either prescription or illegal – there are plenty of reasons why this is not a good habit to get into, not least that they can cause many more problems in your life.
Spending time with friends and family can make you feel better about life. It’s also a good idea not to isolate yourself because your loved ones are the very people who might spot the signs that you’re not feeling yourself before you do, and they can support you to get the help you need.
Take study breaks!
It’s also important to take regular breaks from studying and maintain a balance between working and living. If you burn yourself out you can become ill to such an extent that you might not even be able to finish your course, which defeats the object of working so hard in the first place.
It’s ok to take time out from studying, so make sure you treat yourself with a trip to the cinema or whatever else you like to do in your free time, to keep you feeling human and maintain your mental wellbeing.