The mind and body are intrinsically connected; so if you feel off-balance in one, it will have an effect on the other. For example, if you are feeling stressed about a looming essay deadline you may also find that you experience a change in your appetite or feelings of fatigue. Looking after your mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after your physical wellbeing, and vice versa.
Whether you are a fresher getting used to living away from home for the first time, or a third year student just about to take on the epic task of writing your dissertation, taking care of your personal wellbeing at university is vital. You may feel like self-care is a waste of precious time when there's reading to be done and lectures to attend; but if you neglect your wellbeing you will likely find that your attendance and the quality of your work will begin to suffer.
Everyone is different, and the things that affect your wellbeing might be different to the things that affect other people's wellbeing. However, some common causes of unbalanced mental and physical wellbeing include the following:
When your mind is preoccupied with thoughts of your ever-increasing uni workload and how to spread your budget as far as possible, and you're unable to get any proper rest because your housemates are too noisy or you're feeling homesick, you'll start to feel pretty run down. Your mental wellbeing will begin to suffer, and you may find that you feel less happy than you used to. This can then cause you to feel less motivated to eat healthily or take regular exercise, and a lack of physical exercise coupled with a poor diet can leave you feeling tired and run down, but perhaps unable to sleep and rest properly, thus compounding the problem over time.
Self care is the practice of an individual taking the necessary steps to look after their physical and mental wellbeing in a number of different ways, along a continuum of needs. The Self Care Forum use the below diagram to illustrate the idea of a continuum of self-care:
At one end of the continuum we have pure self-care which is the responsibility of the individual; this includes things such as eating healthily, taking regular exercise, maintaining a good level of personal hygiene, and generally making the effort to look after themselves.
At the other end of the spectrum are the major physical and mental health conditions that require purely professional medical care. Along the spectrum, between the two extremes, are minor ailments and acute or long-term conditions that may require a mixture of self-care and professional care in order to treat them effectively.
Below we'll go into much more depth about the measures you can take to introduce more self care into your life in order to keep your mental and physical wellbeing on balance. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another, but here are plenty of ideas for you if you're unsure where to begin.
Spending time with friends and family, or making the effort to meet new people, can help to give you a greater sense of belonging and alleviate any feelings of loneliness. There are a number of ways in which you can connect with others, for example:
We all know that old adage “you are what you eat”, but it's true, to some extent. The food and drinks that you fuel your body with are important for your overall wellbeing. Your body needs a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function efficiently; some of these can be made by your body, but most of them need to be consumed regularly. You should aim to eat as broad a range of foods as possible; it can be difficult to achieve this on a student budget but here are some tips that might help you:
For more tips on cooking and eating healthily on a student budget see our article ‘The Healthy Student's Guide to University Recipes'
Physical activity is pretty much a miracle cure for a wide variety of physical and mental afflictions. Whether you are suffering with a bad back, a lack of energy, depression, or low self-esteem, there's some form of exercise you can do that will help you to feel better.
Being more physically active, whether you run, play badminton, dance, or do yoga, will have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing in the following ways:
Being outside during daylight hours can have a positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Exposure to sunlight enables your body to produce vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones and teeth, and for the regulation of the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from foods. Being outside when it's light also helps with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a form of depression that typically appears in the autumn and winter, and often disappears in the spring and summer.
Symptoms of SAD include feelings of worthlessness and despair, lethargy and fatigue, persistent low mood, irritability, sleeping more and having trouble waking, and craving carbohydrates and gaining weight.
If you suffer with SAD you should aim to get outside in the sun for at least 10 to 15 minutes per day. You could achieve this by walking home from lectures instead of taking the bus, sitting outside to eat your lunch, going for a run in the park with a friend, or sitting in your back garden with a book.
Even if you don't suffer from SAD, being outdoors is good for the soul, especially if you can spend time around greenery like a park or garden. Listening to the sounds of nature can help you to relax and feel grounded when life gets hectic and overwhelming.
Sleep is when your body repairs and restores itself, so if you're not sleeping properly, your body can't rest and heal adequately. Getting too little sleep can leave you with no energy, unable to concentrate, and experiencing mood swings. This can then have an impact on your social relationships as well as affecting your ability to attend lectures and carry out other daily tasks effectively.
Common sleep problems that people experience include:
There are a number of ways that you can try to improve your ability to fall asleep, and the quality of your sleep:
During times of stress, anxiety, or depression many people turn to alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to cope. However, any substance that has the ability to alter your brain's chemistry and affect your feelings and behaviours can have a big impact on your physical and mental wellbeing either immediately, or over time.
Alcohol is a depressant, and it alters your brain chemicals. You may be in a good mood when you have that first drink, and you'll immediately feel a surge of confidence and self-esteem; but the more you drink the more the alcohol affects your brain, and it can actually bring negative emotions to the surface. Abusing alcohol on a regular basis can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety, and impede your overall wellbeing.
Smoking and taking recreational drugs also affects your brain chemistry in a way that you can't control. Whether you become physically addicted to the substances you are ingesting, or it is more of a habitual addiction, relying on cigarettes or drugs can have a big impact on your wellbeing.
How to cut down:
Whether you volunteer and help out in the community, or do some random acts of kindness, giving something back to others can give you a greater sense of self-worth.
Here are some great ways that you can give to others:
Whatever you choose to do, by giving back to others you are enriching their lives as well as your own. Knowing that you've done something nice for someone else without asking for anything in return will help you to feel fulfilled and calm. Depending on how you choose to give to others, you could also enrich your social networks too.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and paying attention to the little details of your day. Practising mindfulness can help with mental wellbeing and is particularly useful for those who suffer with anxiety and depression as it can help you to feel more grounded during low periods or panic attacks.
If you're new to mindfulness and wondering where to start here are a few tips:
For more tips on how to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life, see our article ‘Tips For Bringing Mindfulness Into Everyday Life' in which a number of leading yogis share their top tips for improving your wellbeing.