• Abbie Tibbott

Mental Health: Managing your stress at University


I’d like to start this post off with a disclaimer that I’m by no means a mental health professional. I’ve just spent a lot of time at university trying out varying techniques for managing stress, but that doesn’t mean that I’m qualified to give out any advice. University can be very stressful, especially if you’re balancing it with a part-time job and socialising commitments. Stress can be detrimental to our sleep cycles, our appetite and concentration levels, so I wanted to share some advice on how to avoid stress, and also how to combat it at various points in the semester.

 

1. Stick to a routine (sort of)


It’s easy to feel frazzled when you don’t have a sense of routine, and the first few weeks of each semester can feel like a whirlwind. New timetables necessitate new working patterns, study sessions and socialising time, not to mention fitting in employment and/or volunteering. As an undergraduate, I was someone who was constantly busy, and it could have been super overwhelming if I hadn’t have stuck to a certain degree of routine.


I’ll say this until my final day, but a planner will help you block off time and not overbook yourself. Putting in all my classroom time, shifts at work and planning social time with friends allowed me to also block off time for myself. Combining this with a flexible routine helped me to develop a healthy working relationship with myself, and taught me my concentration limits as well as what I’m physically capable of doing in a day.


Getting up at around the same time each day will get you places on time. It’s just like school; we all spent years catching the same bus and showering at the same time every weekday morning, so why not bring some of that back? Even if you don’t have a 9am lecture every day, getting up consistently will allow you to eat, shower and take care of some of the boring tasks we all have to do. I enjoy watching some Netflix while I eat breakfast, as well as listening to music while I clean up my room before I head out.


Making sure that you’re eating decent, filling meals at regular intervals will remove the stress of being hungry or feeling like you can’t concentrate. Sleeping consistently will remove the need for afternoon naps and will help you clear brain fog (and hangovers) effectively. It’s all basic and boring, but eating and sleeping with intent is a great way to set yourself up for a day that feels less manic.

 

2. Don’t rush


Arrive to that seminar ten minutes before it starts so you can set up, get a drink and get into the zone. Leave an extra ten minutes before work to allow you to enjoy the walk and listen to some music without needing to march there and arrive feeling gross and out of breath. It’s not rocket science, but plumbing an extra five minutes into each activity can really help slow things down and relax you a little. You may be having a hectic day which is non-stop, so allowing yourself a little extra time to arrive somewhere and get organised will remove some of the panic from your life.

 

3. Listen to music


When I’m walking, eating, showering, cleaning or cooking, there’s a strong chance that I’ll be listening to music. I bought some cheap “airpod” knockoffs from Amazon, and being cable-free means that I can listen to my tunes whenever I want. Even if you have a lot of friends, there are going to be times that you’ll be on your own, and it’s important to spend that time meaningfully. Listening to your favourite songs can help to hype you up for an early morning start, or some relaxing instrumental can be a nice background to scrolling social media. Walking to campus has become time that I spend with myself and my music, and I find it a nice way to engage with the world outside of my study and employment.


 

4. Take your work away from your bedroom


This one is very university-specific, as many of us study and sleep in the same room. Of course there are the days when it’s pouring with rain and I’ll stay at home to work, but making the conscious effort to study in a different environment than where I rest at night has made a positive difference to my concentration levels. I like to study in the company of other people, as I find the sight of others working pretty motivating when I’m in a slump or I’m a bit bored of my current work. Having a desk that is clear of my personal belongings also helps me to concentrate, so I’d recommend giving this tip a go.


I’ve already written a blog about having a great day in the library, as well as rating different types of study spaces on campus, so be sure to check those out for some more comprehensive advice on working away from home.


 

5. Get tasks finished


Probably the most valuable method of decreasing stress at university is to do the work that you’ve been set, and to not leave a task half-done. It can be tempting to do a load of assigned reading but burn out before finishing the last article and never coming back to it. Although it might save you the stress in the short term, it’ll leave gaps in your notes and more stress later when writing an essay or revising for an exam.


Instead of beginning a study session with the aim of churning out as much as possible, use your planner to set reasonable goals of what you expect yourself to be capable of finishing in the time you have. This means that you won’t get halfway through a task and break off because you can’t face it anymore, and your workload will become more proportionately spread across the week.


We all have peaks and lows in our productivity levels, as well as being affected by the time of year and the weather. Personally, I find working on cold, grey days really difficult, as I can’t feel the passage of time, and everything seems to drag. Therefore, instead of expecting myself to be super productive on those days, I set tasks that I can easily tick off on a list. Open ended working will lead to boredom and shorter attention spans, so set clear tasks that you can distinguish from your wider workload.

 

6. Recognise if you’re falling behind


Sometimes the world just doesn’t want you to succeed, and through your fault or not, you realise you’re behind on your reading or you’re not hitting any targets that you’ve set for yourself. These situations are really stressful, so it’s important to stop, think and rework your time.


My advice for these situations is to remove things from your schedule that you can afford to lose. Missing a gym session, a night out or a volunteering session might seem like a big deal, but the majority of people are understanding of the workload placed on students, and your friends should forgive you for missing a few things every now and then. When that’s all sorted, use that time to catch up on the work you’re falling behind on, and then start adding in your social activities as you get back on track.


I’d never recommend missing a seminar or lecture to work on coursework, as it’ll impact you in the long-term when revising for exams. Instead, make the effort to complete at least one piece of reading or recommended work, and contribute to the class concerning the aspects that you’ve worked on, to make your lack of knowledge on the pieces that you haven’t read less noticeable. If you’re caught out, just be honest and say that you’re making an effort, and that you’re making some changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Some lecturers are really intent on the seminar preparation, so prioritise those readings over staff who are more chilled out.

 

Ultimately, prepare for success and work to your strengths, and try not to stress about a few unplanned disasters along the way. If you find that you’re struggling with your mental health, please reach out to lecturers and module conveners as early as possible in the semester. They will be able to direct you to sources of support, offer advice themselves and maybe sort out some practical changes to your workload to allow you to succeed. While some staff may recognise that you’re struggling, it's your responsibility to take care of yourself, so be sure to reach out when you can.


Happy studying!