Mental health, stress and anxiety
It is estimated that one in four people will suffer with some form of mental health difficulties during their lifetime. For anyone entering university, adjusting to life as a student and dealing with coursework, exams and being away from home for the first time can be potentially stressful and may also intensify any pre-existing conditions.
Help and advice is available from the Student Support teams at your academic partner, along with access to trained counsellors. This also includes the online counselling service. We have also compiled a list of other external support helplines.
Signs of stress
Learning how to recognise when you’re under stress is one of the first steps towards dealing with it.
- Are you angry and impatient with people close to you?
- Do you feel close to tears over small events?
- Are you behaving differently from usual?
- Do you feel isolated from people around you?
- Is your self-esteem at rock bottom?
Do you have any of these physical symptoms?
- Lack of sleep
- Loss of appetite or irregular eating
- Panic attacks and difficulty breathing
- Tight, knotty feelings in your stomach
- Low energy and lack of concentration
- Loss of interest in things around you
Are you experiencing pre-exam panic? If you worry about exams you are not alone. Go to TheSite.org for helpful advice on how to deal with panic attacks and all student related anxieties.
Common causes of stress
- exams and deadlines
- juggling work, home and study
- moving home
We are all different and what is stress to one is not the same for another. Very often stress can build up from a combination of different pressures and it might be a very small event which tips the balance.
Speak to someone you trust: your student adviser, student support staff at your college, your GP, or a support help line.
Learn how to manage your mental health
If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed, you may find it helpful to learn how to manage your mental health. Here are four tips from our mental health expert Professor Niels Buus.
If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed, you may find it helpful to create a mental health safety plan. Having a mental health safety plan ready means preparing yourself to prevent or manage difficult times by asking ‘what worked before?’ and ‘what might work in the future’? You would usually put it together in good times, so the plan is ready if you need it in the bad times.
There are no rules for designing a mental health safety plan. Some people create an elaborate plan while others have a very basic one. You may prefer to write down the plan on paper or enter it into a mobile phone app, or even memorise the strategies. Some people may write a plan once and for all, while others like to continually add to or subtract from the plan as they see their situation changing. It is about what works best for you.
Here are some tips to help you create your own mental health safety plan.
1. Identify warning signs
You start creating a mental health safety plan by identifying issues that you believe could lead to feeling out of sorts or struggling with your mental health, we think of these issues as ‘warning signs’.
As an example, let’s imagine a university student named Lisa. Lisa feels anxious and stressed with the workload of her university course and pinpointed that this could precede a more significant crisis. Lisa has identified her warning sign as anxiety and feeling stressed with the workload of her university course.
2. Think about triggers
Take some time to think about what triggers your warning signs. Triggers to warning signs could be upcoming deadlines, a recent fight with a loved one, or a financial burden.
As an example, Lisa is missing out on essential learning, because she is skipping some lectures to meet her assignment deadlines. She has a feeling of stress and overwhelming anxiety because she is not managing her time well and not planning ahead for university assignments. Lisa has identified her triggers as not managing her time well and not planning ahead for university assignments.
3. Prepare a strategy
Think about strategies that might ease the stressful situation, what worked or did not work for you in the past. Write down the links between warning signs and possible strategies.
As an example, Lisa talked with some of her friends in the course to hear how they avoid feeling stressed with deadlines. Talking with her friends inspired Lisa to put together a basic set of strategies that she thought would work. One of them is marking out assignment deadlines on her calendar at the start of each semester. She also sets an alarm on her phone’s calendar one week before each assignment is due to help her with time management. Lisa’s strategy is to make more effort to plan ahead for assignments.
4. Use a support network
Ensure you have a trusted support network in place – friends, family members or professionals you can reach out to for support when necessary.
It can be valuable to discuss warning signs – like increased stress levels – as well as coping strategies, with trusted members of your network. These networks can be valuable assets in helping to support you with implementing your mental health safety plan. In this case, Lisa talked with some of her friends in her course that helped her put together a strategy. Many people find that having such strategies in place enables them to feel more at ease.
Finally, if you are in a more severe crisis, mental health professional can help you to explore potential warning signs that you may not be aware of yet and design new strategies to remedy them.
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