University life can be a lot of fun but it can also be hard work and it’s important that you look after your physical and mental health so you can make the most of your time.
Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure you’re leading a balanced and healthy lifestyle. They cover all the important things that can make life manageable. We all need to:
- eat well
- drink enough water
- keep active
- be mindful
- talk about it
- be creative
- try something new
- have fun
- give to others
Taking time out to switch off and relax is key to good mental wellbeing, but with our families, studies, jobs and personal lives to manage, it can be easy to forget this. Having a break a few times a day to put your feet up and relax will help you manage stress levels, sleep better and improve your mood, and of course it's always nice to have a bit of time for yourself.
Everyone has different ways of relaxing, listening to music, reading a book or going for a walk, for example. Different methods work for different people, so you should stick with whatever works best for you to help you unwind.
It's just as important to make you're getting enough sleep. Different people need different amounts of sleep to function well, but it's estimated that most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours per night. Not getting enough sleep can cause weight gain, moodiness, difficulties concentrating and low mood.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet isn’t only good for you body, it’s also good for your mind. Improving your diet can help you to:
- feel more positive
- think more clearly
- boost your energy
- maintain a calm and balanced mood
Healthy food doesn't need to cost the world, and it doesn't need to be boring. It's obviously best to avoid junk food and steer clear of excessive alcohol, sugar and processed fats, but that still leaves a lot of delicious healthy food for you to choose from.
Hydration is very important. If you are experiencing a fuzzy mind and finding it difficult to concentrate, you may be dehydrated.
You might think you're drinking a lot, but we need more water than you might expect, between 2 and 3 litres every day. This quantity needs to come from water and herbals teas. Fizzy drinks and juices are too sugary to count and alcohol and coffee are diuretics, which means they will make you need to use the toilet more often and so actually have a dehydrating effect.
Take a reusable bottle with you to top yourself up. Many buildings across campus have water fountains so keep an eye out for them.
As well as keeping you fit and healthy, studies have shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. It can relieve tension and stress, boosting physical and mental energy, and enhancing wellbeing through the release of endorphins.
Organised sport is a great way to stay active. If it sounds like something you would enjoy, you might want to consider joining a sports society. It’s a great way to exercise and an opportunity to meet new people.
If team sports aren't your thing you could always join a gym, take a class or even just go for a run.
There are also a number of ways to sneak more physical activity into your day-to-day routine. You could try walking or cycling instead of taking the bus or tube, a great way to discover more of London and it will save money. Going out dancing with friends is a way of getting a little exercise without even noticing. Anything that gets you moving counts, so if you're new to exercise start small and build up from there.
Mindfulness is all about being present in your body and being aware of your thoughts in a non-judgemental way. Over the last few years it’s become very popular.
Mindfulness practices such as meditation can help reduce overthinking and worrying, both of which are linked to low mood, anxiety and stress.
But you don't have to meditate to be mindful, meditation is just one way you can practise. You can be mindful anywhere, at any time. You can eat mindfully, exercise mindfully, work mindfully, even shower or clean your teeth mindfully.
If you're totally new to the concept of mindfulness, a good place to start is by downloading an app such as Headspace. Headspace also have a Youtube channel where they post short videos explaining what meditation is and how to use it.
Talking about your feelings with friends, classmates, family members and colleagues is a great way to get advice, and a new perspective, on issues you are dealing with. It is also helpful to vocalise how you feel, as it encourages you to recognise and admit to your feelings and consider why you feel that way and what you can do to change it.
It's also important to keep socialising when things are going well. Being around people you love and trust is a good way to relax, kick back and have fun. And what's more, laughter is good for us.
Meet new people and make new friends by joining a UCLU society
When was the last time you made something just for fun? Being creative can improve your mood for a number of reasons. It can be a great outlet for negative emotions and can increase feelings of achievement, by allowing you to work on a project and end with a finished product.
Many people think they need to be artistically gifted to be creative – this isn’t true. While it's great to do something you know that you're good at, many people often feel under constant pressure to perform their very best and it can be liberating to let yourself do something just because makes you feel good.
There are hundreds of ways to be creative. You could paint, draw, dance, act, write stories or poetry or screenplays, cook a meal, create online content in the form of a blog or YouTube channel, make your own clothes, even build a computer. Almost any activity can be a creative endeavour if you approach as such.
When was the last time you did something you’ve never done before? Trying new things is good for our self-esteem because it forces us out of our comfort zone a little and gives us new opportunities to succeed and grow. It will increase your confidence as you realise how much you are truly capable of. You'll gain new skills, meet new people and perhaps discover new interests and hidden talents.
It doesn't have to be something huge; any small break in routine can have positive effects for our minds, especially when you're working hard such as during the exam period. Even something as small as taking a new route home, listening to a different type of music or picking up a new book can help us feel better.
It's very important to remind yourself of the things you love as often as you can and to find the fun in the things you do.
An exercise you may find useful is to write a list of all the activities you do every day. Split these into four groups: activities you have to do and enjoy, activities you don't have to do and enjoy, activities you have to do and don't enjoy and activities you don't have to do and don't enjoy. Look at the activities that you don't enjoy: is there any way you can reduce these activities, either by asking for help or by stopping them altogether? Is there any way you can make them more enjoyable?
Now look at the activities you do enjoy: can you incorporate more of these into your daily routine? Can you do them more frequently? Make them last longer? What is it about them that you enjoy? Can you incorporate this aspect into some of the less enjoyable activities?
We all know that doing nice things for other people is positive and makes the world a better place to be, but it doesn't just have benefits for others. You could experience a lift in mood as well.
This is because even small acts of kindness towards other people can give you a sense of goodwill and purpose, thereby stimulating the reward centres of our brains and generating positive feelings.
It doesn't have to be something big, although it can be, it could be as small as buying coffee for a friend or making them a cup of tea, writing a handwritten thank-you note to someone who has done you a favour, asking someone how they are and really listening to their response or smiling at a stranger. Why not challenge yourself to do something nice for someone every day?
Another great way to give back and become part of a community is by volunteering. There are many different volunteering activities you can get involved with whilst at UCL, both one-off opportunities and long-standing arrangements.