How to stay mentally healthy at university

Last reviewed on 9 October 2020

COVID-19 has brought many challenges over the last six months and, now that you’re back at university, you’re probably facing some new ones.

You might be frustrated that you have to do your learning online and that you’re not able to take part in activities outside of your studies that give you purpose and boost your mood. Perhaps you’re missing your family and friends or angry about media articles that blame young people for the rise in coronavirus cases. You might be self-isolating if you’ve got symptoms or if you’ve been in contact with someone else who has tested positive. Whether you’re a first-year student who has missed out on freshers’ week or you’re in your final year and have exam worries, this is probably not the university experience you imagined.

The team at London’s digital mental wellbeing service, Good Thinking, has put together this toolkit to help you look after your mental health in the Autumn term and beyond. Created to mark #WorldMentalHealthDay, it contains recommendations for free NHS-approved mental wellbeing apps, including Be Mindful and tomo, as well as links to our self-assessment tool and expert advice.

Our message for you is simple: It’s OK to not feel OK. You’re living through a global pandemic, which has disrupted every part of your life. But you also have the right to feel better. We know from our conversations with young people and with student organisations that there is a lot of uncertainty and that you might need some extra support at this time. Check out our podcast to hear Mhairi Underwood of The Student Room’s views on this.

We hope you find this toolkit useful and, don’t forget, you can contact your university’s wellbeing service if you’d like to discuss any particular concerns or if you’d like any general wellbeing advice or resources. You can also contact Shout (text SHOUT to 85258) or Samaritans (call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org). If you need urgent help, you can find details of support organisations on Good Thinking’s Urgent Support page.

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  1. Stay connected – if you can’t see your friends and family in person, make the most of video chat, phone calls and texts to keep in touch. Be honest with your loved ones about how you’re feeling so that they can help you. Even if you’re doing your learning remotely, your tutor and other university staff are available for support. You might also find it useful to join an online community, such as The Student Room, where you can share your experiences with other students.
  2. Be physically active – whether you walk, run, cycle, go to the gym or join a university sports club, being active is great for your mental wellbeing too. You might also like to try some workouts on YouTube or download a fitness app to keep you on track. If you’re doing most of your learning virtually, make sure you schedule time for fresh air and exercise breaks.
  3. Learn something new each day – of course, you’ll be learning lots of new stuff on your course but why not see if there are any clubs or societies you could join? If they aren’t running events in person, they might have moved them online. You could also take this time to teach yourself something new, like how to cook a meal you’ve not tried before.
  4. Give to others – acts of kindness don’t only help other people, they can also give you a feeling of purpose. It can be as simple as asking a friend how they are and spending some time with them. Or you might like to volunteer for a local charity or take part in a fundraising campaign that your university is running.
  5. Pay attention to the present moment – being aware of your thoughts and the world around you can help to improve your mental wellbeing. If you feel frustrated that your university experience is different to how you wanted it to be, you might like to download a mindfulness or meditation app.

There’s a lot going on at the moment and you might be feeling anxious about many things. You’ve just arrived back at university and you might be concerned about staying healthy, doing your studies remotely and how you’ll meet new people with all the current COVID-19 restrictions in place. Good Thinking has lots of tools to help you manage any feelings of anxiety.

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If you’re struggling to get to sleep or waking in the night, you’re not alone – research shows that many people are experiencing sleep problems due to COVID-19. Rest and relaxation is really important for both your physical and mental health so Good Thinking provides a range of resources to support you in your quest for a good night’s sleep.

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  • Apps: Check out these NHS-approved apps that are free to anyone who lives, studies or works in London – Be Mindful, Meditainment, tomo and Twilight.
  • Self-assessment: Use Good Thinking’s sleep self-assessment. It only takes 20 minutes to complete and provides a guiding diagnosis, helpful resources and next steps.
  • Article: Discover Good Thinking’s tips about How to get enough sleep.
  • Podcast: Get advice from an NHS sleep expert in Good Thinking’s podcast about sleep.
  • Workbooks: Learn more about sleep and self-compassion in these Centre for Clinical Interventions workbooks.

Concerns about being back at university with COVID-19 restrictions still in place might be affecting your mood. If so, there are lots of things you can do to build your resilience and help you to stay positive. Take a look at the Good Thinking resources below if you’d like to boost your mood.

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Stress is a perfectly normal reaction to a threat – it prepares you for ‘fight or flight’. But if it’s affecting your daily life, Good Thinking can recommend free NHS-approved apps to help lower your stress. On our website, you’ll also find advice about managing stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and you can use our self-assessment tool to get a better understanding of why you’re stressed.

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