Student Gemma experienced low mood and anxiety in her first year at Reading. On World Mental Health Day, she shares what’s she’s learnt for helping to cope with mental health issues; something so many of us experience.
University can be a daunting place with lots of new experiences as well as social and academic pressures. In my first year I struggled a lot with low mood and anxiety and I wish I had been more open at the time. At the time I was partying and seemingly having a lot of fun as a Fresher, but I knew that I was not putting my mental health first. Here are my 5 top tips for taking care of your mind at university:
- Talk – Recognising you need help and talking to someone or asking for help can be very daunting, but there is no shame in asking for help. Everyone goes through stages where they are feeling low or stressed but when it is really starting to affect you and that down stage doesn’t seem to disappear, asking for support is probably the best thing you could do. On campus there are support services in Carrington, or you could visit your GP who will be able to advise you. Or speak to a friend; whether they are from home or a new friend from University. We have a new society at the University called Open Mind Reading where students are being open and honest in discussions surrounding mental health and trying to reduce the stigma. They also have advice on where you can go if you are struggling.
- Alcohol awareness – Although union every Wednesday and Saturday is a lot of fun, being able to take a step back and realising that alcohol is having a big affect on your mood can be important. Perhaps try and stick to one night out a week or if that’s not possible, just try and slowly reduce the amount you are drinking on each of these nights out. Alcohol is a depressant that affects the body and brain. Having a few drinks can give you a new-found confidence and reduce your anxieties; this is when the ‘feel good factor’ of drinking kicks in. However, as you drink more, more of the brain is affected and instead of pleasure increasing, negative emotions may takeover. Drinking heavily and regularly means you are more likely to develop symptoms of depression due to lowering levels of serotonin.
- Exercise – being active gives you a sense of achievement but also releases feel good chemicals in your brain, eliminating feelings of low mood, anxiety and stress. Even a short walk or doing 10 minutes of yoga can help. There are lots of sports societies on campus from yogalates to Korfball that can give you the benefits of exercising as well as the benefits of meeting and talking with new people.
- Food – Students are known for not eating well and having a poor diet. But there is lots of evidence that improving your diet can help to improve your mood, give you energy and help you think more clearly. Eating sugary and snacky food can give you a sharp increase in blood sugar and then a sudden drop which can make you feel tired, irritable and depressed. Slow-release energy foods (pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, outs, wholegrain bread) can help to keep your sugar levels steady. Having a balanced diet and eating regularly throughout the day can be important for your mind. Also, cooking can be quite a therapeutic process and give you a sense of achievement.
- Go outside – sunlight is a great source of vitamin D which is important as it helps release chemicals like endorphins and serotonin which improve mood. As its coming into winter, SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects a lot of people as they are not getting enough sunlight, making them feel depressed or down. Make sure you are going outside daily, even if that’s just to go to the shops or have a short walk around the lake.
If you are currently feeling mentally unwell, the University has a counselling service in the Carrington Building which offers one-to-one support. You can also go to your local GP or Shinfield health centre next to the University who offer support via the telephone or internet. Family and friends can also be a great support network. Or the Samaritans are available 24/7 to call for free on 116 123 if you are in need of support quickly.