Tips through January – how are you?
January is the “Marmite” month. Some devote themselves to giving up things they wish to leave in the past – such as smoking, or committing to dry January. Some take up gym memberships and new diets. However for many, January is a low and a tough month. My birthday is on January 6th – I share the date with the day which has the highest suicide rate in the UK.
January is also the month which sees the highest number of university drop-outs, often for mental health reasons. So I think an open conversation on the topic, specifically for students, may help. It’s important to remember that, diagnosed or otherwise, even those of us who consider ourselves to be in good mental shape can experience periods of poor mental health and wellbeing.
Having dealt with my own mental health problems at university, and not knowing where to turn, I felt it would be good to get some first-hand insight from a student who has dealt with her own issues. I spoke to Jennifer, who talked openly and offered some help on the matter, starting with some small but effective tips.
Jennifer: “I have experience of anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder while at university. I took some time off to focus on recovery, and I am now especially mindful of looking after my wellbeing while I’m here. I’m aware that mental health issues affect everyone differently, but here are just some things that have helped me over the past year.”
1. Give yourself a break. Do what you can manage, and don’t feel like you HAVE to push yourself to do more. If you find yourself spending an entire day in bed watching TV and doing nothing – just let yourself have it. Do not beat yourself up if you have to take a break from studying, seeing friends, or going out. Having a mental health issue, long term or otherwise, is mentally draining, and it’s not always easy to stay busy when you feel permanently exhausted.
2. Try to establish a daily routine. It can be difficult to get out of bed even, when you are struggling with depression or another mental health problem. So try to incorporate small tasks into your day that help you maintain some consistency. For example, make it a rule that even if you don’t leave the house, you have to shower and get dressed every morning. If you struggle with stress, for example, tell yourself you cannot work past 7pm, or have to have one whole day off a week.
3. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Prioritising your mental health is brave and important. If you are unsure who to go to, see your department’s welfare tutors first. They can direct you towards counselling or professional services if necessary, but they can also help you manage your timetable and workload.
4. Eat properly. I know this is much easier said than done, but not eating correctly can be really damaging to your mental health. Eating and cooking may feel like a chore, but proper meals will keep you energised, help you sleep properly, and (here’s the science) will help maintain serotonin levels. Try asking friends to cook and eat with you, or follow a meal plan or prep things in advance.
With my thanks to Jennifer, I’d like to emphasise that if you are suffering from a mental health issue that is interfering with your daily life, or poses you a threat, then please see your GP.
There are lots of services available at Birmingham if you need a bit of help or advice. You can find out more about Birmingham’s health and well-being services here.