Top tips to boost your mental health
University Mental Health Day is taking place on March 9, bringing together university communities to make mental health a sector-wide priority, and to create ongoing year-round change to the future of student mental health.
According to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 5 students have a diagnosed mental health problem, with anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings being the most common mental health problems amongst students.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed at university. Factors impacting student mental health can include concerns such as academic pressure and uncertainty about the future, money worries, health-related anxiety and loneliness. However, no-one should be left to struggle with poor mental health alone, and the University of Hertfordshire has staff who are specifically trained and experienced to support students with mental health difficulties. Mental health support is integrated into all the services provided by the Student Wellbeing team. They provide services for managing specific mental health conditions, general advice on issues related to mental health and wellbeing, helping to meet the needs of studying with a mental health difficulty and more.
We spoke to Professor Helen Payne, Professor of Psychotherapy, who gave us her top tips to help you boost your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Smile: The mere act of smiling to others, even if you don’t think you’re in the mood for it, can lift your mood. It produces “happy hormones”, which include serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin, that can promote bonding and a feeling of belonging.
The ‘Winner’s Pose’: Use this pose to celebrate achievements! Stretch your arms out to the side and upwards and raise your chin high. This produces both testosterone and dopamine – celebrations make us feel good, which can motivate us to try even harder next time to get that win and reach that high.
Connect with nature: Spending time with nature have been shown to increase mood, and reduce feelings of anger, fear and stress.
Frequent social contact: If you’re not having a good day, it can be tempting to keep to yourself. But quality face-to-face social contact with friends or family will make you feel more connected to them and make you feel better in yourself. Having social contact with others will also increase your oxytocin levels. These are typically linked to warm, fuzzy feelings and are shown in some research to lower stress and anxiety.
Serotonin twist: Open your arms to hang around your middle and twist your body to look behind you whilst swinging your arms around. Do this for a minute three times a day or when you are feeling like you need a pick-me-up, and this will raise the serotonin in your gut to promote wellbeing and happiness. You can also bend over arms hanging to ‘shake it all out’ from the hips to release tension hot spots and the build-up of cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
Breathe: Always breathe through your nose to induce a sense of calm and stimulate the “rest and digest” system, known as the parasympathetic nervous system.
Remember to R.E.S.T: Recline/Retreat, Eat healthily, Sleep well, and Treat yourself.
Retreat – Make sure you have time away from your assignments, take regular breaks and move away from your desk and screen. Have a place you can go to relax for half an hour to get your thoughts together.
Eat Healthily – Having a healthy, well-balanced diet can make a big difference when it comes to your mental health. Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon as these can help you in periods of stress and depression. It’s important to have treats every so often, but a regularly poor diet can make matters worse – and once you get into a cycle of eating unhealthily it can be hard to undo.
Sleep Well – It is important to get a good quality night's sleep at the best of times, but if you are already feeling down and stressed it is even more important. There is a close relationship between mental health and sleep. A lack of sleep can influence your mood and emotions.
Treat Yourself – Keep the critic at bay and support your self-esteem by rewarding yourself every once in a while. Be kind to yourself. Maybe you’ve finished that assignment you’ve been working on for weeks, or you’ve just given a presentation. Why not plan an evening to celebrate with your friends and family, buy yourself something you’ve really been wanting, or even just treat yourself to a night in with a takeaway! Whatever you feel like doing, you deserve to have a break from your busy schedule.
Find out more on the University Mental Health Day website, including more tips and resources. If you need mental health support and are a University of Hertfordshire student, you can contact the Student Wellbeing team at any time.
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