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6 Things You Can Do To Keep a Positive Mindset at University

World Mental Health Day is here, and there’s never been a better time to talk about the well-being, happiness and mental health of university students.

It’s no secret that there is an epidemic of students feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, and even depressed at university. The truth is, on top of worries about staggering student loans and dismal job prospects, upon your arrival at university you are thrown into a completely new situation: you’re living with strangers, trying to fit in, being away from home most likely for the first time.

This isn’t easy, nor is it supposed to be.

Speaking from experience, I know that staying positive can be a struggle at the best of times. Therefore, I’ve compiled some advice, based upon the experiences of myself and my friends, that aims to help you tackle the unhappiness, negative feelings and hopelessness that university life can bring.

Obviously, different things help different people, and this advice isn’t offered as a fix-all solution to any mental health struggles you’re facing. However, these are general, relatively easy things that you can do to help you keep a positive mindset while you’re at university.

1. Be proactive. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve lost count of the amount of days that I would wake up and feel like I couldn’t get out of bed. Each time I would write off the day and just lay in my pyjamas instead of being productive, making me feel worse and worse. My advice is that when you wake up feeling hopeless and lonely, the best thing to do is take baby steps. Get up, make your bed, and have a shower. Just doing these small, basic tasks can put you on the right track for the day and can break that cycle of wallowing.

One key factor to fighting those student blues is to live a healthy lifestyle. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating more nutritional food are a natural way to alleviating stress. You won’t feel better if you’re malnourished or sleep-deprived!

2. Whether you like it or not, go to your lectures. 

We’ve all had those days where the thought of attending lectures or seminars fills us with dread. However, going into university, being productive, and interacting with other people can actually work wonders for your mood. The times when I have been unhappiest at university were often when I was skipping countless contact hours. As a result, the work piled up, I was less sociable, and my grades suffered.

This is what I later dubbed ‘The Spiral’. I was avoiding university because of feeling down, and then the consequences of missing university made me feel even worse. Once I changed my mindset about attending my lectures, and subsequently making more friends due to my increased time interacting with course mates, my mood, and grades drastically increased.

3. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do too much. 

Although I’ve found that working on my university assignments and getting out of the house was a good, productive distraction and made me feel better, putting too much pressure on yourself can have unwanted effects. I’ve seen fellow students become so stressed about doing well that they have shut themselves away in dark rooms and away from much needed social contact. Whilst it’s important to try your best in regards to study and work, it’s counter-productive to punish yourself.

Speaking from experience, if you’re staring at your work and nothing is going in, chances are you’re going to get incredibly frustrated. At times like these, it’s important to remember that it’s more than okay to take a break and calm yourself down.

4. Cut the bad influences out of your life. 

This one is probably one of the hardest things to realise and act upon, but trust me when I say that it will work wonders for your state of mind. Surrounding yourself with people or activities that make you feel bad about yourself hugely contributes to a negative mindset.

In my early months as a student, I thought the key to happiness was pleasing everyone in order to gain some kind of gratification. However, I soon came to realise that people who said negative comments or forced me to do things that I didn’t want to do would not make me happy, and they were a bad influence in my life. Limiting your contact with these people both in person and on social media can alleviate a vast amount of pressure on yourself. Additionally, having genuine friends that are supportive are particularly valuable, and will put you on the right track to a positive mindset.

5. Speaking of social media, take it all with a pinch of salt.

In this digital age, we’re constantly staring at our phones. Of course, it’s a great way to stay in contact with people, especially those friends on the other side of the country. But it has to be said, it’s not always beneficial to the mental health of young people. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, have the ability to present a facade of a ‘perfect life’, and it can be incredibly damaging to envy or compare ourselves to those people.

Let me give you an example: when I was at my first university I was having a truly miserable time. But because I was posting pictures of myself on nights out or hanging out with friends, my parents thought I was having the time of my life. It’s important to remember that social media can mask underlying problems and present a version of reality that doesn’t exist.

So next time you’re Instagram-stalking that girl in one of your lectures who’s also basically a fitness model, wishing that your life was as ‘perfect’ as hers, remember that they are only posting what they want you to see. Comparing yourself to people on social media is counterproductive and you will be happier if you limit your time envying others.

6. Talk about it. 

If you’re feeling depressed, or suffering from other mental health problems, most – if not all –  universities offer therapy and/or counselling. I would strongly advice making full use of these facilities. If you’re nervous about seeking professional help or talking to a stranger, then start a little closer to home. Your friends and family can help deal with that initial anxiety about discussing your problems. If they genuinely care about you, they won’t feel uncomfortable listening to you. And you never know, they could feel the same.

When I have felt truly miserable and hopeless at university, I thought I was alone and that my problems were something I should ignore. But opening up about them was a massive step towards a more positive life. I realised that the way I felt wasn’t something to be embarrassed about, and I was surprised how many other students felt exactly the same as me. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone.

Of course, sometimes keeping a positive mindset is easier said than done, so if you’re still struggling, here are some places you can go to find help:

Mind

Samaritans

Nightline

And, of course, your university. Even if you’re not sure where to start or what help is available to you, your personal tutor will, so speak to them first of all.

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