Rooting for You
How to Deal with the Pressures of University and Mental Health
People always tell you about how university is a great stepping stone to better jobs, better opportunities, and a better life. People, including schools and institutions, rarely talk about mental health, and how issues can emerge during university.
Mental health affects all of us, and can disportionately affect students. Struggling with money issues, social pressures, deadlines, loneliness, schedules, and loads of free time are issues that many students face, yet none of these are issues are all but briefly touched upon.
Money can be a taxing subject, and issue that many students are not prepared for. From personal experience, and talking to other students, many were not properly informed of what costs you would incur while studying, and how much things would cost. Struggling with little funds, or finding yourself in the deep end from continuing your spending habits from childhood, can really land you into a bad place. Not knowing where to spend your money effectively, and not knowing how to spend it can make your other issues swell. When you’re struggling with money that can sometimes mean you are not able to go out with your friends, experience things you want to, and didn’t have a chance to, and this experience causes loneliness. If you can’t make a budget, or stick to a stringent spending plan, make sure you know where to shop, what to spend on, and what you should spend less on. If you have access to a local farmer’s market, try and go down to there, many of the stalls will have a student discount—especially fruit and veg stands—you will be able to get your weekly shop pretty cheaply. If you don’t have access to one, or have little money, tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables will always be a viable option. Frozen and tinned veg have a much longer shelf life, and tend to be cheaper—especially if you go to discount stores. Go to these stores too for household items like toilet roll, toothbrushes etc. Perhaps make a house fund for items such as toilet roll, kitchen roll, wipes, and cleaning stuff. Lifting the weight of financial burden off your shoulders can really help lighten your mood, and help you through university. Universities also tend to have classes, support groups, people to contact in order to help you with budgeting, financial services and financial advice. These university services tend to be free. Charities also offer support like this.
Don't feel pressured into going out drinking, smoking, or doing other things. From my experience of university, most students are very laid back, and understand your choice not to drink or smoke, as many of them are more mature than they were in high school. If you do however encounter people who do not understand your choices—feel free to leave. You do not owe them anything, and doing something you don't want to do will have an impact on your mental health. Just stay safe, and have fun. If you are going somewhere you suspect there may be activities you do not wish to take part of, ask a trusted friend or flatmate to be your buddy, who you can call or text if you need an excuse to get out.
Many university courses require heavy reading, my degree in history requires about 30 hours of reading a week. Which, averaging around four hours a day, seven days a week, doesn't seem like much, but when you add on lecture hours, maybe lab hours (depending on your course), meal times, socializing, it can become overwhelming. Organizing your schedules will allow you to figure out your general day, but do not beat yourself up if you don't stick to it. A loose schedule is an idea.
If you can't stick to a schedule, due to ill health or mental health issues, take every day as it is. Work hard when you can, but don't burn yourself out. Always allow yourself time for self care—even if that is just lying on your bed watching star wars. See if you can organize a weekly study group with course mates or friends, as having others in your same situation can motivate you. Sometimes, you might be on the opposite side of the spectrum—you may have loads of free time. From personal experience, I need to do something during the day, or I can fall into a pattern, a bad pattern. See if you can do something like baking, or drawing, or visiting a museum or art gallery. Make sure you do something each day, even if it is just reading a book. Focus on yourself, and your mental health and physical health. Do things you enjoy.
Now, we are coming to a more heavy topic, and something that will have been talked about before. Deadlines are something you will have to get used to within university, but something you should try not to get stressed over. Adequate planning and timing will pay off, and so will meeting with friends or course mates—even if you are not studying the same subject, you can talk to each other about the subject you are doing. Talking about your topic to others is worthwhile, as talking about something out loud can make you realize any mistakes you've made, or how much you actually know. They can also provide feedback. It is also a good idea to talk to your colleague or lecturers about deadlines and submission guidelines, extenuating circumstances etc. Familiarizing yourself with this will help you in the long run. Please make extensive use of your library on campus—they are free, unless you lose a book.
Loneliness is also something many students will face, it is unfortunately something you will experience throughout your life, however there are ways you can remedy it. If you are lucky enough to have a friend or someone you know who has attended the same uni as you, it is worth while organizing meet-ups with them at your local cafe, museum, art gallery, or your house/university residency. These latter options tend to be free and easy for you to access, especially if you have very little funds. The universities also tend to have groups and societies you can join, with a small fee for membership where you can meet people who share your interests. It is worth considering paying this membership fee so most future events are free for you to attend—excluding other costs like drinks or food.
Rooting for You
Ultimately, having friends around you or people you can talk to—whether online or face to face, can truly help lift pressures from your shoulders. While mental health and the struggles of university can be overwhelming, tackling loneliness, your schedules, diet, lifestyle, and money can help. Remember, there are people out there who are in the same position as you and can help, even if it is just someone to talk to. Put your energy into yourself too, and don't beat yourself up if you have to take a day off. I, for one, am rooting for you, and you will do well. Take your time and look after yourself. Don't put high expectations on yourself, and surround yourself with true friends.