Keeping your mind healthy at university
24th February 2016
As an assessment for one of our level 4 modules, we ask students to produce a blog post providing psychological knowledge to a general audience. This is one of the blog posts produced last year.
Keeping your mind healthy at university
Becoming independent at University can be struggle for many students. It means spending less time with family and long term friends and more with new people. You will have to overcome new experiences such as learning how to budget and shop for yourself, pay rent and potentially find a part time job alongside your studies. All of this as well as completing assignments and sticking to deadlines can put your mind and body under strain.
Examples of psychological disorders that effect well being
Nilda Hernandez suggests that students are more prone to mental illness. She found that more students are stating that they have a mental illness when registering for university and the number of students who are diagnosed increases throughout the year. It has been suggested that students have problems with their mental health because of their age and lack of preparation for university work. However Hernandez found that non-traditional students often face the same mental challenges as traditional students.
It has been suggested that depression and anxiety are more prevalent among university students but there is still stigma around the label. In a recent study it was found that one in four students feel to uncomfortable to reveal their mental health problems to people. However a study carried out by NUS found that 92% of respondents identified as feeling down, stressed and demotivated. The average reporting of these feeling were one a month or more and one third of people reported feeling this way every week. This suggests that mental distress among students is more common than people realise, so if you are worried about your own or a friends mental health it is best to talk to someone. This doesn’t have to be a professional, simply talking among friends can be beneficial. If you would like to support a friend who is suffering from depression, it may be worth reading this BPS digest about depression to gain an insight into what they are experiencing.
Tips to keep good well being
Once you have moved to university all the stresses could be too much for some and a coping mechanism can be useful. It is also worth trying a few of the following.
Those who feel guilty about taking breaks and having time away from university work are more likely to be mentally exhausted, so taking a break will improve their work as well as their psychological well being. It is important to not become completely immersed within university, you need to learn how to relax and should take time off to do things you enjoy to keep your mind happy. For example you could watch TV, read a book or go for a walk or run.
There has been research that shows exercise can elevate mood, this is known as the happiness effect. It has been suggested that daily workouts have a higher impact on a persons mood than working out every other day or only at weekends. This is because the chemicals released while a person is exercising causes feelings of euphoria. A positive effect of these chemicals is that it causes a sense of clarity, which is why problems seem more manageable after exercise. The benefits of exercise extends further than lifting a persons mood, it can even help to alleviate depression. There are a variety of different sports societies at the University of Gloucestershire, joining one of these club is a great way to stay active and make new friends at the same time.
However, it is important to remember than there is no perfect body shape. Studies have shown that men overestimate how highly women rate muscularity and women over estimate how attractive men find thinness. This suggest the aim of a ‘perfect’ body is not as important as we may think.
Keep in touch with family and friends
Relationships play a significant role in peoples happiness and well-being. If you have moved away to go to University it is crucial you keep in touch with your family at home and keep up to date with their lives. There are many ways of doing this such as, calling them, talking over Skype or visiting home when you have time off. However, even if you stay living at home it is important to maintain relationships with your family and friends by spending time with each other. It is equally important to make new friends as well so that you can share experiences and develop new life skills that you need for university.
Doing food shops for yourself, and not being monitored by parents can lead to unhealthy habits. If you do not have a healthy diet, you may experience short term negative impacts on your cognition, mood and sleep patterns. An example of an unhealthy diet is binge eating, this can put you at risk of developing diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as many other illnesses. On the other hand there are also negative effects of under eating on your psychological well-being include, depression, panic, anxieties and obsessive behaviours. There is also evidence that people who eat fewer healthy foods are more likely to report mental health problems. On the other hand, nearly two thirds of people who consume fresh fruit or fruit juice do not report daily mental health problems. There are also many other studies that show a healthy diet positively impacts your psychological well-being.
A video giving advice on eating well on a budget can be viewed here.
With lots of technology and worries it’s hard to get as much sleep as we really need so when you have the chance its best to sleep rather than scroll down Facebook or Twitter, it has been found that a lack of self control around bed time procrastination is the highest cause of insufficient sleep and bad sleep patterns. This emphasises the importance of getting into a routine as a lack of sleep can stop you from getting to lectures, handing work in on time and doing work to the highest standard.
According the British Psychological society a study has found that people who establish a regular sleep pattern are less likely to be overwhelmed by negative thoughts. This means that students who go to sleep very late at night or only sleep for short periods of time are more likely to think in negative ways. If this applies to you, there are many tips on how to get a better nights sleep, for example not take long naps during the day instead limit it to an hour.
Money can be considered a large problem whilst at university. You may be worried about having enough money to live from or your worries may be about repaying loans in the future. There are systems in place that ensure you will be financially safe at university. Examples include Student Fiances Gov and the student room which all provides advice on many problems linked in with this topic.
Becoming financially independent could be a big worry as well, as you may be used to parents helping with finances and paying for food shops. Budgeting is a great way to stay on top of money worries and will let you know what spare money you have to spend for the week.
Factors that make it worse
Mood and substance disorders
Alcohol is a depressant which means it can disrupt the balance of chemical in the body, which will alter a persons brain chemistry, changing thoughts, emotions and actions. In low quantities alcohol can make you feel more relaxed as the inhibitory part of the brain is depressed. On the other hand high quantities of alcohol can produce a negative emotional response such as feeling angry, anxious or aggressive. This will consequently lower a person psychological wellbeing. If a person is exposed to large limits of alcohol over a prolonged period of time studies have shown that there links to the person developing depression and other mental health problems.
Drugs directly affect the brain as they distort a persons perception, dull sensations and can cause emotions to be lower than before the drugs were used. Drug usage ultimately lowers psychological wellbeing in people as it only induces a temporary high. Clsely related to drugs are novel psychoactive substances.This is because the side effects are the same as illegal drugs but the chemicals are not monitored, meaning it is not known how a person will react. There is a very high risk that the effects of coming off some substances can change a persons mood and behaviour.
Activities to help
Whether your in a group or on your own you can meditate. There is research behind minfulness meditation which doesn’t take much time or effort to complete but can leave you feeling psychologically well and improve decision making.
Well-being self assessment
The NHS Choices website has a well-being self assessment tool that you can complete. The test uses a measure that is often used by psychologists to measure a persons mood. The test will give you a score out of 70 followed by some tips on how you can improve your psychological well-being.
Points to take away
It seems as though it is quite easy to see and comprehend phyisical wellbeing but when it comes to your psychological/emotional wellbeing a lot of confusion comes into place. It’s good to rememeber that when we look after our bodies we should also look after our minds. Also try to keep in mind that university is important but it doesn’t need to be all that you do!