Sophie Tupper talks through different ways to look after yourself in the new academic year.
- Try journaling. Physically writing down my most personal thoughts and feelings had never been something that appealed to me; but having trialed this for about a month now, it’s a self-care technique I swear by. Journaling is a great way to externalise and order your thoughts, especially in the absence of your home support network during term time. Head to Paperchase and treat yourself to a pretty journal, and when you’re feeling anxious or stressed just open it up and write. As well as being an empowering way to clear mental clutter, I find looking back on past entries comforting and an useful way to detect patterns in my thoughts.
- Set yourself (achievable) goals. Think of three things that you really want to accomplish this year at university. They don’t have to be really difficult things like ‘getting a first’ or ‘budgeting down to the penny’ – just pick a few realistic targets that are challenging enough to occupy your concentration. This will not only allow you to do some growing and bettering as a person, but also give you something to focus on and work towards.
- Exercise. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, make your best efforts to get that body of yours moving and those endorphins flowing. If you’re feeling up to it, hit the gym and smash a sweaty workout, or recruit a few mates and sign up for a Zumba class at the SU. Jogging and long walks are great too; whatever you choose to do, the important thing is that it’s fun and something you’ll enjoy.
- Decorate your room. Make it your own personal space. Surround yourself with things you love: art, photos of good times and people you care about, indoor plants, cushions – anything that makes you feel comfortable and more at home. Having a safe place to retreat to when you’re feeling anxious, and somewhere to relax and unwind, is so important. If you need some decor inspiration, spend an hour or two scrolling through Pinterest, or trawl the home decor tags on Instagram. I have a whole folder on my phone dedicated to dream bedrooms, art I like and cool colour schemes!
- Practice mindfulness. The concept of meditating can be rather daunting, with most people (understandably) not having a clue where to start. Two apps that I’ve found to be particularly helpful and user-friendly are:
- Headspace → This was the first app I tried as it is essentially a beginner’s guide to meditation. When you first download the app, it suggests the ‘Take 10’ programme: an audio-based course that takes you through 10 minutes of guided meditation a day. This introduces you to the key concepts of meditation and is an amazing anxiety reliever.
- Calm → This app is an adaptation of the meditation book ‘Calm’ by Michael Acton Smith, and focuses predominantly on the three key behaviours of breathing, sleeping and meditating. My favourite features are the ‘Breathe’ section, which guides you through conscious breaths, and the ‘Sleep’ section, which contains numerous bedtime stories to help you drift off into a calmer sleep.
- Listen to podcasts. Podcasts are an effortless way of distracting yourself from negative thoughts. Personally I love ‘Girl’s Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘The Guilty Feminist’ and ‘Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations’ – these can all be found on the Apple Podcast app. I like to put on my headphones, stick on one of these and take a long stroll. You’d be amazed what a little fresh air and storytime can do.
- Pamper yourself. It’s a simple concept, but can have wonderous short-term effects on your mood. Try to make it a complete experience, something to look forward to now and then: run yourself a bubble bath or take a nice hot shower; blast some classic feel-good tunes or some smooth jazz. Setting aside time to properly take care of your body will occupy your thoughts for at least an hour, and the ritualistic nature of brushing your hair, painting your nails or moisturising your skin can really help to relieve the effects of anxiety.
- Read some mental health books. Knowing that other people have been, and are going through, the same thing as you is such a comfort when your mind is gripped by anxiety, and will help you feel like you are not alone with your thoughts and worries. Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ is a wonderful insight into the workings of a depressed mind. Haig writes in such a raw and relatable way that makes it possible to see the light even when you’re in the darkest place.
- Keep a good life balance. It’s so easy to get caught up in the immense workload that a university degree will inevitably entail. But while you’re theoretically at university to get a degree, make sure you establish a balance between work and self-care. It can be really helpful to pre-plan your week around university and dedicate a set amount of time to coursework. Allocate some hours to binge watch your guilty pleasure Netflix series or go for a drink with friends. First year taught me that managing my time effectively is an essential part of being productive without letting anxiety taking over.
- Ask for help if you need it. There’s nothing wrong with speaking to someone you trust about your troubles with anxiety. I know for me, talking openly to someone and hearing a different perspective really helps me rationalise my anxiety and construct solutions. Phoning a friend, a member of your family, or attending therapy sessions can be a great way to relieve any anxiety you have about starting uni and can help you feel less alone at the times your anxiety hits hardest. If you are still really struggling, remember that there is absolutely no shame in reaching out to university support services, or going to have a chat with your local GP.
Information about services available from the university health service is available here, university support contacts available here, or wider NHS services in Bristol available here.
Illustration by Maria Paradinas