For Black students, University can be a daunting experience especially in the 1st year and it may affect your wellbeing. For some, it’s the first time away from family and friends, and suddenly you are in this place you are unfamiliar with and not many other students look like you. First time independence, and suddenly you are responsible for making all decisions…where do you start??
What time do I eat? What do I eat? But I can’t cook? What time do I got to bed? You mean I can go out and do whatever I like? ..decisions decisions, and it can be quite overwhelming!!
To many students, it’s the first time they start to feel lonely. Despite being surrounded by friends and appearing really happy, many may feel absolutely isolated on the inside. Many students have a vision for what student life should look like, but when they get there it all seems different. Then you end up sharing a flat with two really outgoing (strangers) students and you feel you have no choice but to be friends with them. All of that coupled with many other factors (deadlines, assignments, peer pressure, trying to fit in) may a take a toll of your mental wellbeing.
However there are a few things we can do to protect our mental health and well-being. Remember It’s natural to feel a little nervous and overwhelmed.
Tips to help you cope to improve your wellbeing:
⦁ Joining clubs and other associations at University may be the best thing you will ever do – this may help you to develop a broader community and meet new friends with similar interests (street dance club, music clubs, football club, African students club, Christian society, Moslem students society etc.), engaging with your student Union would be a good start. This will undoubtedly improve your wellbeing
Maintain physical activity – (sports, jogging, gym) – physical activity reduces stress and anxiety and improves mood. It can help relieve built up anxiety and stress. Feel the tension quickly vanish as you workout and improve your wellbeing. Most gyms have student discounts.
Keep learning new skills – Learning can help you increase your confidence, develop a sense of purpose, and connect with others. You’ll learn a lot while studying, but it’s good to learn new skills by trying new hobbies because it gives you the opportunity to relax and use other parts of your brain (e.g a musical instrument, new recipe, DIY, new sport, a representative, campaigner etc)
Acts of kindness – Give to others, giving evokes positive emotions and improves our wellbeing. A sense of purpose, and self-esteem. You don’t have to make big gestures. Small acts of kindness e.g. give a listening ear, make someone a hot drink, help them get something from the shops, ask about their day, volunteering, all these can have a positive impact on your well-being.
Stay Connected – colleagues, family, although it has benefits don’t rely on social media too much, visit friends.
Take Notice – become aware of own thoughts, feelings, your body and the world around you – think about your thoughts (metacognition), notice when you feel irritable, that self awareness will help you stay in control.
Spiritual self-care – Faith; what this means for you (listen to positive sermons, worship music, a little read of the Bible, Quran, any inspiring book).This can positively change your attitude to life and your attitude to difficulties. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness can also help if you don’t practice any faith/religion. For more general self care read this Blog
Eat well and drink enough water – A balanced diet is a very important foundation for your mental well-being, as it provides your brain and body with the fuel it needs to function properly. Dehydration will negatively impact on your mood. Think about this; Most of the human body is water, with an average of roughly 60%. Blood is composed primarily of water, in fact, it is about 92%, even the bones are composed of 25% water. We pass out 1.5L per day (urine, sweat etc), so you should aim to drink about 2L of water per day.
Alcohol and drugs – while alcohol and drugs can make us feel good temporarily, it’s not a good way to deal with problems and often makes us feel worse in the long run. Alcohol is a depressant and will negatively affect your wellbeing. If you choose to drink, try to follow the recommended low-risk guidelines and don’t drink several days per week. Remember the more you drink the more tolerant your body becomes to its effects, increasing the risk of alcohol dependence. Drugs especially cannabis are common at most universities and may make you relax and ease your anxiety levels, however, they will catch up on you. Many students who use drugs regularly with time, become paranoid, suspicious or psychotic. Drugs will have an impact on your productivity and academic performance, highly addictive and very expensive in the long run.
Sleep well – poor sleep will impact your mood and concertation and wellbeing. You will feel tired during the day and mess up your circadian rhythm. Poor sleep can lead to anxiety, negative thinking, feelings of depression, all of which can make it harder to fall asleep. Set a goal of 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep hygiene tips:
⦁ Try going to bed the same time everyday. Even if you don’t feel sleepy (it’s like training the body and it eventually gets used to it).
⦁ Keep away from energy drinks. No caffeine drinks 2 hours before bedtime.
⦁ Stay away from screens while in bed. Light from gadgets like phones and tablets confuses the brain that it’s day time
⦁ When you exercise your body may get tired falling asleep consequently
⦁Soft soothing music to sleep. (Plenty of videos on YouTube). A warm bath, hot chocolate or herbal tea may also help – find out which works for you.
⦁ Manage time and learn key study skills – university is very demanding and sometimes stressful and will affect your wellbeing. Learning some key time management and study skills can help you better cope with the demands of college life. Formulate a timetable and allocate different tasks and remember allocating rest time (breaks) and stick to it.
⦁ Learn problem solving – sometimes when our mental health is poor, it helps to ask ourselves if there is something specific that is negatively affecting us. You can also try tracking your mood in a mood diary to help you identify what is positively and negatively affecting your mental health; then you can take action to change or prepare for situations that have a negative impact.
⦁ Enjoy your free time, relax and have fun – remember you are more important that a university degree. Your wellbeing is more important. When we’re feeling busy or stressed, it can be hard to relax and have fun, but it’s really important to our well-being, so we should plan for “down time” in our lives. It’s not a luxury but a priority.