9 top tips for new uni students to help bolster mental health
Small steps can make a big difference when it comes to tackling stress and homesickness, says meditation expert Will Williams
Starting university is an exciting new chapter for young students, but it can also be daunting and stressful. There are deadlines and living costs to manage, the pressure to make new friends, not to mention that for many it'll be the first time they've lived away from home.
"It's the step into the unknown," says Will Williams, Europe's leading Vedic meditation expert. "Last year, more than a quarter of UK students reported having a mental health issue, with depression and anxiety the most common. Research on homesickness shows 35% of new students experience it, and a few will go on to develop depression. You're leaving the comfort blanket of your home and school, which will naturally impact on your mental equilibrium. The effects can be quite significant."
Here, Will shares nine top tips to help new students take care of their mental health.
1. Bring a piece of home with you
"We're not talking about the kitchen sink, but it's worth bringing a couple of your home comforts that mean something to you. This attachment is known as essentialism, the idea that objects are more than just their physical properties. While we still don't know exactly why we make these emotional connections, the comfort of having cherished items from home is real - which means bringing your favourite childhood blanket is totally valid (and can always be hidden should you have visitors)."
2. Throw yourself into new challenges
"There's no doubt taking that first step into a lecture theatre or the student union bar can be terrifying - but the very best solution is to do it anyway. This is something often recommended by psychologists and is known as exposure therapy. Researchers have found this can dramatically improve the way people relate to their fears. Exposing yourself to something you're phobic about, even one time, can nullify said phobia completely. So bite the bullet and just do it."
3. Set bite-sized goals each day
"Procrastination diminishes happiness, but it's the thing we do when we're feeling nervous and insecure. Whether it's making all your lectures or ticking off the activities on freshers' week, working towards your goals provides a mental boost, while hiding in your room doesn't. Though conquering something challenging may stress us out while we're doing it, it also makes us happier in the long run. When we set goals (and meet or surpass our expectations), it can help us feel in control and boosts our self-esteem."
4. Stay healthy
"Okay, so we know that traditionally, you're supposed to be living on cold pizza and kebabs when you're a student (well, that's what we did in my day). However, research finds that happiness and mental well-being are highest among people who eat a good amount of fruit and vegetables per day. We're not saying avoid the takeaways and booze (altogether), just get your veggies, too - it will help you stay on track mentally."
5. Get enough mental rest
"Yes, we know, the lure of the late-night bar is very compelling - and the last thing we want to do is put a stop to your partying. The trick here is finding something to balance it out. Vedic meditation is a strong technique to adopt at times like this, being credited for a reduction in sleep disorders and effective at reducing anxiety and the stress hormone cortisol. The process is easy and simply involves silently repeating a personalised sound (mantra) for 20 minutes, twice a day. It can be practised anywhere, which means you can get it done in your room, before going out there and showing your new classmates what a confident and positive person you are."
6. Be the one that helps others
"When you're stressed and worried yourself, it might seem like you hardly have the time or the energy to invest in other people. But you can help yourself by making it a priority, since research suggests helping others helps reduce stress levels. No matter how nervous you're feeling, you can guarantee there will be others out there feeling the same. Go over, introduce yourself and invite them for a drink; you'll be helping them and yourself at the same time."
7. Go easy on yourself
"We can be our own worst enemies when we find ourselves in situations of stress. While it's good to be self-aware, being overly self-critical will only drive those feelings of insecurity. In fact, experts believe self-criticism can just make us more miserable. So instead of dwelling on your every failing, focus on how and why you value yourself. This shift will help make you stronger, more productive, less stressed, and yes, happier."
8. Move it
"Make time to be active, as exercise has been proven to release feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression. Try getting up a little earlier to walk to lectures. It's a far more positive way to start the day."
9. Celebrate yellow
"When it comes to decorating your new digs, try harnessing the power of a yellow hue. Research shows happy people tend to associate their mood with this bright colour, and tend to think of yellow as representative of optimism (possibly because we associate it with the sun)."
For more information, visit willwilliamsmeditation.co.uk