The importance of good mental health is more widely understood than ever before. However, it can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to self-care. We wanted to share a handful of ways that students can take positive steps to look after their mental health in testing times.
If you’re finding student life a little bit stressful and are looking for a simple way to take a time out from the rat race of daily life then meditation and mindfulness exercises are a great place to start. It can be a challenge to begin with but free to download apps such as Headspace, Simple Habit and Oak can all help you to train your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts.
If you want to work up to meditation, start with slow, deep breathing exercises. Most people tend to breathe in a more shallow and rapid way, or hold their breath, when they are feeling anxious. Place one hand on your stomach, just above your belly button. Keep breathing steadily and try to concentrate on making each breath a little bit deeper. Draw it down into the bottom of your lungs. Inflating your lungs fully pushes the diaphragm muscle down, causing your stomach to push outwards. If you manage to do this, the hand on your tummy should lift slightly. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right away, stick with it and you’ll soon feel the benefits.
Meditation and breathing exercises are proven to reduce stress, assist in reducing anxiety, lengthen the attention span and improve sleep. Speaking of which…
Poor sleep has been linked to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Harvard Medical School say ‘neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night's sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.’
Between socialising and studying, it’s easy for students to burn the candle at both ends and lose out on sleep. However, when it comes to learning, memory and mental resilience a goods night's rest is vital. Not everyone needs eight hours sleep but it’s a good target to aim for and don’t forget to put those screens away before bedtime. The blue light emitted from phones, tablets and laptops have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep so resist checking your social media or emails in bed.
Lulls in mental health can leave you feeling sluggish and less inclined to exercise but it’s important to try and keep yourself moving.
"Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and you do enough of it," says Dr Alan Cohen, a GP with a special interest in mental health from the NHS. "Exercise should be something you enjoy; otherwise, it will be hard to find the motivation to do it regularly."
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and releases endorphins, our body's own antidepressant. It also releases other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which lift mood.
The Counselling Service is available to all current students at The University of Law to help and support you. Although university is mostly a time of fun new experiences the ULaw Counselling Service are there for any times when you may need support.
Counselling offers a confidential space to talk and think through any personal difficulties with a trained professional. Many people find it helpful to do this with someone who isn’t a friend or family member.
ULaw students can contact the counselling service under the Health & Wellbeing section on the Student Hub on Elite.
If you’re not a ULaw student you can find out more about freely available counselling and therapy on the NHS website.
Together All is a digital mental health support service which is completely anonymous and is the only online mental health service with 24/7 clinical moderation. No matter where you are in the world or what time of day (or night) it is you can log in and get help in less than five minutes. Together All provide a number of different services including peer support, self-guided exploration and 1-to-1 online therapy.
Together All is free for all ULaw students but is available to anyone for a monthly subscription fee. Information on how to register with Together All can be found on the Counselling Service page on ELITE in the Health and Wellbeing section.
Eating foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fatty acids is key to keeping your brain in good working order and therefore improving mental health. Eat regularly throughout the day to maintain a constant blood sugar level and avoid those dreaded sugar crashes. Aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, limit your alcohol (as it has a depressant effect on the brain so can result in a rapid worsening of your mood) and make sure you keep hydrated.
We all need a treat now and then but if your mood is low improving your diet is a quick and easy area to make improvements.
If you need immediate help and don’t know where to turn then The Samaritans are available to talk to you 24 hours of the day and 365 days of the year. Call 116 123 from any phone or visit The Samaritans website for more information.