The Iglu Guide | Blog

10 smart ways to put your mental health first

Mental health protection has become an increasingly important conversation amongst students around the world as they adapt to the challenges of university life. While some will no doubt thrive during this traditionally fun and exciting time, there are other more vulnerable students that will be more at risk. Understanding how to prioritise your emotional wellbeing is crucial to getting the most out of your university experience.

Why is mental health important?

Aside from helping students lead a happier more peaceful life, there are several other compelling reasons to protect your mental health particularly in that exciting first year of university:

  • Greater focus can also lead to an improved academic performance
  • Stress management skills can help to prevent burnout
  • Improves emotional strength and resilience
  • Enhances overall physical health
  • Provides strong foundation for connections and community

Here’s 10 ways to put your mental health front and centre.

1. Set your self-care routine

Self-care is about doing the things that make you happy as an individual, and this might look different for every student. It’s about tuning in to how you are feeling – and knowing what you need to do as a result. For some, that might mean running a hot bath surrounded by candles. For others, it might mean an activity that makes us feel good, like going for a run. For students feeling overwhelmed in social company, it might simply mean understanding when to take some time apart. What works for one, may not work for another, and what works at one time may not do the trick the next. Self-care is about self-knowledge, and understanding how it makes you feel. Once you have your toolkit of strategies, you’ll know instinctively how to behave and react in a way that is personal to you.

2. Eat a balanced diet

The link between healthy food choices and cognitive function are well documented. Sticking to a healthy diet will no doubt help your academic performance – but it will also help promote a balanced mood, maintain your energy levels and reduce any symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s all about keeping your gut happy. Avoiding processed foods and excess sugar, and including a variety of nutritious meals will help you manage stress, regulate moods and improve your overall emotional health. When those stressful times hit – think exam periods and assignment deadlines – you’ve got it covered.

3. Get good sleep

Students should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night. When your body feels truly rested, your energy levels are up and your mood is naturally improved. When we skip out on the bedtime hours, there is a knock-on effect that leads to bad choices, low moods and low energy. Your body has some important jobs to get done while you sleep, and that includes processing new knowledge, recharging your organs and strengthening your immunity. The mental clarity and emotional balance that comes from a good night’s sleep is an essential part of your wellbeing toolkit.

4. Make time for regular exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, a happy hormone which is sent racing around your body after you workout. They act as a natural mood-booster and help to reduce any stress or anxiety. Although exercising may not be a strategy many students are keen to hear, it improves energy levels as well as cognitive performance – and as an added bonus keeps you fit and healthy. Next time you’re feeling stressed, head for a brisk walk outside and feel the difference in your mood.

5. Get organised

The student schedule can cause a disproportionate amount of stress if not managed efficiently. Handling the demands of study, socialising and daily living can take some adjustment, and for many students it can take time to get things under control. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone – and this is where a little bit of organisation can help reduce stress and ease the strain. Start by writing out a list of everything you need to do and set yourself a priority timetable. Set aside a specific area where you can work, and use a study diary to manage your deadlines. Getting on top of your schedule will lighten the emotional load in your mind and improve your overall mental health.

6. Stay connected

Even when your instinct is to be on your own and avoid company, never underestimate the power of social connection as a way to reframe your state of mind. When we mix with friends and family, our bodies release oxytocin, a special hormone that helps us bond and forge relationships. If you’re feeling low or lonely, hanging out with friends is the best medicine. For international students, touching base with family can be incredibly restorative. It reduces anxiety and stress as well as lifts your energy. It also helps improve self-esteem and trust. Maintaining connected is a key wellbeing strategy for every student.

7. Keep talking

The stigma once attached to the conversation around mental health has significantly dropped off, and as a result students feel more comfortable sharing with others and if necessary, seeking professional help. Take advantage of your university counselling service, or student accommodation support such as Iglu’s on-site Resident Leader. Voicing your concerns is an important step in addressing the problem, and supportive help is always on hand.

8. Mindfulness techniques

Tuning out from the noise of everyday life is a great way to protect your wellbeing. It’s a designated window to block out any problems and focus purely on yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness can take many forms, from yoga and meditating to a simple breathing pattern. Taking the opportunity to forget about what the future holds and learning to focus on the here and now is a skill in itself – and fortunately there are many apps that will help get you on the way. Mindfulness techniques are the ideal way to help you manage stress, as well as reduce any anxiety you may be feeling.

9. Limit screen time

Too much exposure to social media can have an incredibly negative effect on your emotional wellbeing, particularly if you are feeling vulnerable. You may feel under pressure to perform or compete or feel that you are not achieving in the way that your peers seem to be. You may even feel pressure to go out more, have more fun, or behave differently. Set yourself some boundaries around your screen time and see how your emotional health benefits as a result. Switch your phone for a book at night time as this will as this will improve your sleep patterns.

10. Be kind to yourself

Try to be realistic about what you can achieve, and acknowledge that it’s completely OK to make mistakes. When life doesn’t go to plan, lean in on your wellbeing strategies to lift your mood and reframe your thought processes so that you’re fully equipped to handle whatever comes next.

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