A 3rd year student’s take on mental wellbeing at university
You’re sitting in front of your laptop staring at a blank page…for 30 minutes now. Trying to muster all your willpower to start writing, but every other minute something in the background catches your attention. You’re tapping with your left foot impatiently and then for the tenth time, grab your phone and start scrolling Instagram. By the time you look up at your laptop again, you see another half an hour has passed. You feel hungry now and decide that since you’ve already been in the library for so long and haven’t done much, you might as well just head back home, call it a day and maybe try again later…
My guess is the above paragraph describes a situation many people at university have been in before at least at one point. I believe this picture portrays the biggest causes of why more and more us are reporting having trouble with mental health. The worry, the jitteriness, the overthinking, the constant background hum of what you have to do next and when are you going to do it because there’s so many things to get done and so little time and what are other people going to think of you if you fail.
I’m not a doctor, so I can’t speak about clinical mental illnesses. I want to instead talk about how I think the average student can start to work toward getting out of a mental haze of feeling stuck, and take the first steps to building a university life full of positive emotions and abundance, to the point where hopefully every day they get to wake up smiling.
You’re not alone
Sometimes it’s weirdly comfortable to wallow in self-pity or anger of how things are never going the way we want them to and how much that upsets us, but you have to realise that most of the people around you are very likely having the same thoughts. We all doubt ourselves, we all have feelings of not being good enough, we all question our choices and all this gets mixed in with our constant comparison with those around us. Well, no wonder so many students report being stressed out. The irony is we never share it fully because we fear how the people around us will take to it – we fear being judged. And that fear prevents many of us from doing what we truly want to and being the people that we are deep down. In a nutshell, we’re all tired and scared – and most of us are damn good at hiding it.
Where does this negativity come from then?
Disclaimer: this is just my own opinion
I think for this article the easiest source to point to is social media. Social media platforms are engineered to suck away as much of your attention as possible, and one way this can damage us is the constant exposure we get to the ‘highlights’ of other people’s lives – their best moments, showing off their semi-wild adventures and all the cool things they have. You never see someone posting on their story that they’re struggling to cope with their feelings after ending a relationship, while also having to prepare for 5 exams. Social media features are not a bad thing, but it’s helpful to have an awareness that not everything is as sparkly as it seems. We all put in effort to curate our best content on our profiles, in the hope that we get as many likes as possible, because let’s be honest – it feels good doesn’t it. We seek validation from external sources, because it’s the only way we’ve been taught to feel good about ourselves.
You HAVE to change your thinking
The reason champion athletes are champion athletes is not just because they practiced more than anyone else, but because they believed in their abilities to such an extent and bought into the idea that they are the winner so much, that in their eyes nothing could stop them. It’s an extreme example, but if you are constantly complaining about how much work you have to do, how difficult it is, how it’s not possible to get everything done, how annoying your friends are, or whatever else is on your mind, you are affirming yourself into a place of negativity – and that’s the easiest way to self-sabotage. The idea then is to shift from a state of negativity to a state of positivity. You want to eventually reach a state where you see you as someone that is true to themselves, who knows they are more than enough, gives their best and is capable of doing anything they put their mind to whilst independent of the outcome. You want to cultivate the ability to find humour in even the smallest things around you. Obviously, this doesn’t happen overnight, but with enough patience and effort I think we all can reach that happier, more stable and more fulfilling place in our lives.
Build the ‘upward spiral’
So, let’s get to some practical first steps on getting to that better mental space
Sleep – I can bet that none of us are getting enough of it. Admittedly, it’s hard to do 8 hours a night when you want to go out with your mates several times a week, while having several deadlines. But keeping a track of the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting can be a good way to notice when you should take a break to recharge.
Practicing gratitude – you can do this right now, right this second. Write down 10 things that you take for granted which add to your life: constant food supply, clean water, warm bed, Greggs, portable chargers, etc. Add 3 more to the list every day. Logically, if you look at how much stuff we have in our lives, it’d make sense that we’re filled with happiness and appreciation all day. But our minds are generally conditioned to think negatively, so this exercise should help shift your focus to appreciation more frequently.
Meditation/Relaxation – there have been studies (yes it sounds cheesy) that practicing mindfulness has shown benefits in reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. 10 minutes of meditation in the morning is a great habit to start with. If you honestly can’t stand it then taking walks through a peaceful area or park can also help dissolve feelings of worry and improve your focus for later work (Harris Gardens is a great location for this)
Stop consuming so much – here’s an exercise: next time you sit down to eat, don’t switch the TV on. The next time you go to the toilet, don’t take your phone with you. When you go to lectures next morning, don’t take your headphones with you for the walk. Most people will feel uncomfortable doing this. That’s because we’re so used to being bombarded with information from every angle. Because – everybody. wants. our. attention. You need to allow yourself the space to have your own thoughts for at least a little bit during the day and not just listen to whatever’s coming out of your devices’ speaker.
Do things that scare you – this is a great confidence builder. Doing scary things on the regular shows to you that you are in control of yourself and there’s nothing to be afraid of, mainly because nothing bad will usually happen after you’ve done the scary thing anyway. Here’s a fun one – go speak to the first stranger you see. Introduce yourself, ask their name, and ask how their day is going. It sounds easy when reading it, but actually try doing it and you’ll immediately feel how tense you get. Just do it anyway and see what happens – you might make a new friend!
Join a society that you enjoy – trying something new and fun, while also meeting new people that like that same activity is an amazing way to bring more positivity in your life. There are so many options to choose from at this university. Even if you’re 3rd year and haven’t been in a society before, that doesn’t mean you can’t join one now. You’d be surprised how fun it can be to experience the different activities offered at the university.
Journal – writing out what is making you anxious, happy, sad, or angry is a way to release those feelings and move through them, because it then allows you to reflect more easily on what the source of them is. One way to do this is a brain dump before going to bed. You’ll probably notice the next morning you’re not thinking as much as usual because you’ve already let go of your thoughts the previous night!
Exercise and eating better quality foods – I don’t even have to explain this one. Make the commitment to going to the gym at least once a week or joining a sports society. Make the effort to choose healthier foods when shopping. If you don’t know how to cook – YouTube. The benefits you’ll see form this are insane.
Judge yourself less – pretty sure all of us struggle with this. The funny thing is, we’re human beings, not human doings. At the end of the day, no matter how many accomplishments we get, if we didn’t enjoy it then it kind of loses the point doesn’t it. That also means enjoying the failures. We’re allowed to make mistakes. Let me repeat that – you are allowed to make mistakes. You do not have to be perfect or the best. Fail, then fail some more (obviously within reason) and have fun doing it.
Lastly, remember that no matter what anyone tells you – You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live life on your own terms and have the experiences that you want – you deserve to simply because you are alive, so might as well make the best of it.
Written by Gabriel Marchev