Self-Care for Students

Grades, parties and personal growth are all key to the university experience, but you still have to look after number one. Here's how to approach self-care at uni, and a guide to the services that can help you out

Feature by Dayna McAlpine | 11 Sep 2018

Drinking your fourth Red Bull of the day while falling asleep over a laptop in the library as you enter your 18th hour of being there, wondering if you should just start a residency. Rolling about the Hive ‘til 5am with your new mates armed with a litre pitcher of something green. Kissing that person in the class that you probably shouldn’t but why bloody not? You’re at university.

However, a cocktail of too many late nights, too many early mornings and too many pints in the union all add up to one big dose of student burnout. University isn’t a 100-metre dash, it’s a triathlon followed by a sponsored swim, with an additional hike up Machu Picchu for good measure.

It’s a whole lot of fun and excitement as you go off into the world, but the taking on of such a new environment can take its toll. There’s a huge expectation that the first year of university is your life-changing moment and it’s easy to find yourself overanalysing whether you’re having the time of your life. There’s a strange pressure to exceed expectations; in my case, I was the first person in my family to ever go to university, which was like constantly carrying a sumo wrestler on my back.

And what if it’s more than burnout? How do you identify if you, or your friend, is going through something more than just burning the candle at both ends – and what do you do next?

Self-care for the stressed-out student

‘Self-care’ sounds like one of those overused buzzwords of the moment but it couldn’t be more the opposite. Even in the throes of excitement, you can still have bad mental health days – if you’d twisted your ankle you’d take a few days off to let it heal, why not practice the same with your mind?

First, identify what works for you – is it being on your own or being with people? Do you need to completely unwind or burn some energy? I’m the ultimate stereotypical need-to-be-alone kind of gal and you'll find me with my phone firmly switched off, submerged in a bath containing 400+ different essential oils, probably followed by a good book and a duvet as I live my Bridget Jones fantasy. A friend that I studied with? He’s an all-or-nothing social self-care advocate, meeting up with friends, going to the gym and taking all-day cycling trips. Bowling anyone?

There’s no right answer, only you know what works for you. The most important part of self-care? Learn to take this time for yourself and feel no guilt in taking it. Screw anyone who tells you that this time isn’t valid.

Illustration by Susie Purvis

What does your university offer?

As mental health continues to be taken more and more seriously, most universities now have services in place to help you. Visit your uni’s website to find out what specific support there is on campus; this could be counselling, student advice services and support groups.

Or, in the case of The University of Edinburgh, expect llama therapy sessions and ‘Paws Against Stress’ events. Yep, you get to play with puppies. Social interaction (with both the two-legged and four-legged) can help to reduce depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation, so it’s important to engage with the services that your university offers if you’re needing help.

University Counselling

A solid first port of call for any student feeling like they need support are your university’s counselling services. These sessions are normally around an hour long and they give you the chance to explore and analyse your situation in confidence, in a non-judgemental environment with someone who is qualified to help you. I went for almost a year at university, one session every fortnight, and it helped me understand and deal with so many of the issues I was facing at the time.

Top tip: write down what sort of emotions you’ve been feeling, when you’ve felt them and a few reasons why you might’ve been feeling this way – this’ll come in handy for your session. If there’s a waiting list for counselling DON’T HESITATE to seek other help via other university services or your doctor if you feel you need something sooner.

Student Minds Student Services

Student Minds is the UK’s mental health charity specifically for students and they run clinics across different universities in Scotland and England. ‘Look After Your Mate’ is one of their ground-breaking workshops that can teach you how to support someone you care about if they’re struggling with mental health issues.

Extenuating Circumstances

Panicking that your mental health is holding you back? Universities are prepared for this and have measures in place for you if your mental (or physical) health begins to affect your ability to meet deadlines. Applying for Extenuating Circumstances (you’ll find details on your university’s website) can result in your exam or deadline being deferred or you may get to resit. You’ll normally need to provide some sort of evidence alongside your form – this will usually be in the form of a letter from your GP or counsellor.

DON’T FEEL GUILTY for asking for this help – if you need an extension you’re helping yourself out of an even more stressful situation. I’ve had to hit up extenuating circumstances twice in my time at university and honestly, you’ll be surprised at the support and understanding you’ll find from your lecturers – mental health problems affect one in four of us.

Time to see the doctor

Let’s get real with one another – sometimes it’s more than just a bad mental health day or spell and things need to get a little bit more serious. The idea of going to your GP can seem really daunting but it’s a crucial step in helping yourself. They’ll discuss with you what external-to-university services there are to support you (such as therapy and counselling) and potentially medication options. Feeling nervous? Bring someone with you.

Hotlines and useful phone numbers

Nightline: Run by students, for students. Normally open 8pm to 7am every single night of university term. You can meet face-to-face, instant message or call – hit up their website to find out which services you can use where you are.
Samaritans: Offers a safe space to talk 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, call 116 123.
Saneline: A national out-of-hours mental health helpline, they’re open 4.30pm to 10.30pm. Call 0300 304 7000
Mind: Lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays), call 0300 123 3393

If you or someone else feels suicidal

If you need medical advice you can book an emergency GP appointment with your GP surgery.
If you need urgent medical advice call NHS 111.
If you or someone else needs immediate medical help or attention call 999 or visit Accident & Emergency (A&E).