Starting university, moving away from home for the first time and becoming independent is an exciting, yet stressful time. Getting to know an unfamiliar environment and meeting new people can be daunting, so we’ve put together ten tips on how to beat stress during your time at university so you can enjoy being independent and responsible for your own finances.
If you need to work part-time to help make ends meet, you might find you have to juggle work with attending lectures and university assignments. But don’t worry – our stress-beater guide will soon have you ready and raring to meet any challenges head on.
According to research by UniHealth in 2017, over 82% of students suffer from stress and anxiety, so you’re not alone. At times it might feel that every spare minute seems to be filled with worry; instead of planning a fun holiday, you’re thinking about that assignment deadline or taking on another job to top you up for next semester. At times like these it’s really important to look after yourself, as burning the candle at both ends can sometimes leave you feeling drained and unable to cope.
While it might not seem like it when you're feeling down, living a more stress free life is easily achievable.
So what are the signs to look out for and how can you beat stress?
The first signs of stress tend to be irritability and sleep problems. If you find it hard to go to sleep, wake up several times during the night and find it hard to concentrate during the day, you may need to change your bedtime habits. The NHS suggests making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Try to go to bed at the same time every day and relax at least an hour before bedtime by taking a bath or reading a book. It’s also a good idea not to smoke, drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least 6 hours before going to bed. Eating a big meal late at night or exercising 4 hours before trying to sleep can also be counterproductive. You can find more information on combatting those sleepless nights and even take a sleep test on the NHS website.
2) Be Active
Being active is great for your physical health and fitness, but evidence also shows there’s a link between being physically active and good mental wellbeing. Physical activity is believed to cause a chemical change in the brain, which can help to change our mood for the better, even create greater self-esteem and the ability to rise to a challenge. Don’t worry, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym if that’s not your thing - try to find something you enjoy that you can easily fit into your daily schedule, such as a walk in the park. There’s also lots of information and advice on the NHS website to help you get active, as well as lots of ideas on getting fit for free.
Eating a healthy diet is an important part of fighting stress. Most of us don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, yet eating fresh ingredients and lots of fruit is really important as they’re a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Too much stress influences our blood sugar levels, so choosing food that help to stabilise sugar levels, such as fruit, can help.
Don’t skip meals - it’s important to start the day with a balanced breakfast, avoiding sugary cereals and too much caffeine. Small regular meals will help to maintain energy levels and mood and decrease tiredness and irritability. Highly refined foods (such as white bread, pasta, biscuits and sweets) all have added sugars, so if possible it’s best to replace these with unrefined foods, such brown bread, rice and oats.
4) Take Control
That feeling of losing control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of wellbeing. There’s always a solution to any problem, but if you think you can’t do anything about it, your stress will only get worse. The act of taking control is empowering, and sometimes just writing a ‘to do’ list can help to focus your mind and make you feel in control. Work out your goals and priorities, and rank the importance of the tasks on your list so you can focus on what’s most urgent.
5) Take a break
Taking short breaks between working will help you to switch off and it’s advisable to always take at least a 30-minute lunch break. Go out for a stroll, do some exercise or walk to the nearest coffee shop for a quick break – you’ll feel re-energised and ready to face the afternoon with renewed vigour.
Longer breaks are important too. Even when you’re stacked up with work, try to take a weekend off. Whether you’re heading home to visit your parents or hitting the road for a quick road trip, make time for some fun - even if it means time away from work. You may even find that you’re more productive once you’ve rested up.
6) Connect with others
It’s important to have a good support network of colleagues, friends and family who you can talk to when you need help. Friends can sometimes help you see things in a different way which can help ease your stress levels. Most importantly, having a good laugh with friends is a great stress reliever.
7) Try to be positive
Try to think about the positive things that have happened, rather than dwelling on stressful or negative moments. You could start a journal, each day writing down three things that you feel went well or that you feel grateful for – it’s amazing how even on the most difficult days you’ll still be able to find something to make you smile.
Anyone who’s ever volunteered knows how great it makes you feel. Helping people less fortunate than yourself can really help to put your problems into perspective, and gives you a great feeling of satisfaction that you’ve done something worthwhile. If you don't have time to volunteer, it could be something as simple as helping someone carry their bags up the stairs or making time for a cup of tea when your friend needs someone to talk to.
9) Listen to music
If you're feeling stressed, putting on some calming music while you work could really help. Slow-paced instrumental music can help lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as stress hormones. Surprisingly, Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are very effective at relaxing the mind, even when played moderately loudly. According to the University of Nevada, listening to rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing, particularly when mixed with other music, such as light jazz or easy listening music.
10) Eat walnuts
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. According to Pennsylvania State University research, walnuts contain fibre, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which have a positive effect on blood pressure. A handful of walnuts daily (about 18 walnut halves) helps lower blood pressure, which can rise as a result of stress.
The NHS website is a great resource for anyone looking for information on how to combat stress. In their Moodzone section, there’s a selection of wellbeing podcasts and audio guides to help you through times when you’re feeling anxious. There’s even a mood self-assessment quiz you can take to help you decide which audio guide to listen to.