Life is full of challenging times, and being at university can be as difficult as it is exciting. With major changes in lifestyle along with moving away from home, it’s only natural not to feel quite yourself while you’re at university. Alongside your studies, taking care of your mental health should be your top priority. So, here are our top 4 tips on what to do if you’re feeling sad at university.
But first, how to recognise depression
Depression is quite a common mental health problem for young people. This does not mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. With university being a time with lots of changes happening, your mental health can suffer.
It’s important to recognise that the highs and lows of university life are probably what you should expect. But, there is a difference between low mood and depression. If you’re feeling sad and your mental health is suffering for prolonged periods of time, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain can occur, which means you can slip into a depressed state. The key signs of depression are low mode, irritability, becoming more emotional and subdued, changes to appetite and sleeping patterns and low confidence and self-esteem.
How depression can affect your time at uni
Being at university should be one of the most exciting times of your life. You will meet hundreds if not thousands of new people, and you’ll be forming some of the relationships you will have for the rest of your life. So, if you’re not feeling yourself, it’s important to face this and get back to feeling yourself again so you can carry on with making joyful memories.
Did you know that depression can affect your levels of concentration and focus? This means that suffering from depression will make it much more difficult to take information in during your lectures and seminars. And, it probably makes joining in with discussions in class that little bit more challenging. Depression can also affect your memory. This isn’t good news for students as you rely heavily on your memory for your studies, especially when it’s coming up to exam periods.
So, if you believe you are suffering from depression, don’t delay addressing it until after your degree because you feel you’re too busy to deal with it. Learning how to manage depression can be lengthy, and if it affects your studies, there is no better time than the present to start taking control of your mental health. Plus, university is one of the safest and most supportive environments you will be in.
What to do if you’re feeling sad at university | 4 tips
Understand what you can change and what you can’t
When it comes to your mental health, it’s important to understand what you can change about your life and what you cannot. Spend some time working out if there’s anything in your life that might be causing your depression or feelings of sadness. This means spending some time without any devices in hand and just thinking. It might take some time but it will be worth it in the long run. Journaling is a great idea – moving your feelings from head to hand and onto the paper can be incredibly therapeutic. You might be surprised how it helps you formulate your feelings.
If you’re able to pinpoint what it is that’s been bothering you, that’s getting over a big hurdle in itself. Just being aware is the first step. Then, think about whether this is something you can take steps to change or if it’s something you will need to manage. For example, if your current living situation Is what’s getting you down because you aren’t getting on with your flatmates which means you feel isolated, can you send your time with other friends or would you rather take steps to find another place to live?
Lots of students feel homesick when they’re at university and it feels like nothing can be done about those feelings. But, if you’re missing your friends and family from back home, this is something you can take actions to help. Schedule times to chat with them over video and keep pictures of loved ones in frames in your room. If you’re an international student, how about treating yourself to food and treats from home? The important thing to remember if you’re homesick is that it is much easier to get used to your new surroundings if you really throw yourself into your new life. Yes it’s good to keep close contact with home, but getting involved in activities with people at university will allow you to make some new friendships and reduce those feelings of isolation.
Sometimes it’s about making a plan of action and sticking to it, and other times it’s about accepting the way things are so that you can learn how to manage them.
Take good care of yourself
Self-care is important. If you’re suffering from depression or feeling sad, take some time to review how you’re treating yourself now.
Self-love: Are you speaking negatively of yourself, either to others or internally? Being self-deprecating and critical of yourself have been proven to affect your self-worth. Suffering with depression means you’re more likely to have low self-esteem so reminding yourself of why you’re great is important. Positivity can feel a bit false and forced if you’re not in a good headspace but altering how you think of yourself is one small step you can take towards having a more positive mindset. Try jotting down three things you like about yourself. These could be skills, talents, traits or achievements. Start with the fact that you’ve got into university – this in itself is a big achievement and something you should be proud of.
Diet: It might be tempting to allow yourself to binge on unhealthy foods right now as a bit of respite. But, keeping an eye on your diet is particularly important if you’re feeling sad at university. Make sure you’re having enough fruit and vegetables in your diet and aren’t overdoing it with unhealthy takeaways or sugary treats. A diet full of carbs and sugar will lead to energy peaks and crashes which are anything but helpful for our mental health.
We understand that you mightn’t want to be getting out and about much if you are feeling depressed but getting a safe amount of sunlight into our eyes and onto our skin is proven to boost our mental wellbeing. It also helps regulate our sleep as our body is kept more in line with its natural circadian rhythm.
Sleep: People who suffer from depression often report that their appetite for sleep changes. This might mean needing way more sleep than you usually do, or It might mean you are struggling to sleep. Getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night is crucial for our physical and mental health. It allows your immune system to flourish and gives you the energy to face daily challenges head on. The best thing you can do for your sleep hygiene is stay off your devices for 2 hours or more before you go to bed. Direct light into your eyes close to bedtime is likely to keep you up into the night. Also consider keeping your bedroom a little cooler for a better quality sleep.
Many people find that being around others is good for the soul. If you’re extroverted, this will probably the case. If you’re more introverted, you will probably feel like you need a lot of time to regain your energy between social situations. If you’re feeling depressed at the moment, this is the time to listen to your own individual needs and decide for yourself whether you want to be in the company of your friends or flatmates, or you’d rather be curled up in your bedroom content with your own company.
Speak to someone
It’s true what they say – a problem shared is a problem halved. Speaking to someone about how you’re feeling can be incredibly therapeutic. Talking with friends and family can help you work out what’s getting to you or simply venting to a loved one can be a great way to let it all out. Speak to them about your worries and concerns and listen to whatever it is they have to say. You don’t have to take on any advice they offer. Simply talking things through can be really helpful.
Seek professional help
If you’ve had these feelings for a prolonged period and they’re affecting your studies or your health, it’s probably time to seek professional help.
- UWS offer a CBT service called Silvercloud, a free service for all UWS students. It offers a whole host of online resources focussing on CBT to help you deal with managing your mood, stress and working on your self-esteem – all of which can help manage depression in the short and long term.
- As well as this, your GP will be able to give you good advice and resources, some of which might be particularly relevant to the area you’re living.
- There are also several UK helplines for people who are really struggling or are in despair. You can speak to them about how you’re feeling in total confidence.
- The Samaritans offer a 24/7 helpline through calling 116 123.
- Shout is an organisation who run a text helpline service which is also available 24/7 by texting ‘SHOUT’ to 85258.
- Mind is another useful resource that goes into lots of detail on their website about coping with mental health struggles like depression.