How to improve student mental health and deal with study anxiety

In this article I will share some tips on how to take care of your student mental health at university. I find quite funny (and frustrating) how nowadays everybody talks about mental health but does very little about it. Not to even mention those who believe it’s all an excuse!

It looks like politics, where they all want to sound good and jump on the most appealing trends. It’s the same story over and over again, everyone talks but nobody acts. While this happens, problems are not really tackled with practical things but only constantly discussed.

The reality is that no one really cares, and as a result student mental health is getting worse day by day. Thus, overall student wellbeing is going down with it, that’s the real trend! Every student reflects that in a different way, however, anxiety is by far the most “feasible” consequence.

Is student anxiety real?

Yes! Student anxiety is very real. It is worth specifying few things about it because people don’t seem to understand it yet (but still they like to judge). Even worse, some consider it as an “excuse”, something that does not exist. Students express their anxiety it in different ways, below some of the most common:

  • Social anxiety: students struggle to fit into the environment and make friends at university. They are afraid of anything they say because they constantly feel judged and observed. As a result, they tend to isolate and avoid social events.
  • Inferiority complex: students feel “inferior” compared to others and think every other student is smarter than them. This gradually drains their confidence as it worsens and, again, leads to isolation and depression.
  • Study anxiety: students feel overwhelmed with university workload and struggle to cope with it. The thought alone of how much they need to study gives them anxiety; and they think they will never be able to go through all that study materials. This leads to procrastination as they are afraid even to start studying.
  • Exam anxiety: really similar to study anxiety but this is particularly focused on exams and assignments. Unsurprisingly, exam anxiety builds up more and more as the exam day or assignment deadline gets closer. As a result, students are unable to effectively prepare for exams and therefore they might perform poorly.
  • Future anxiety: students are scared about their future after university. They think they won’t find a job and be successful in life. Future anxiety can ruin their university experience and make them doubt going to university in the first place.

I have “experienced” some of the above during university myself. If you are not new to this blog you know what I’m talking about.. I know how hard it is!

Improving student mental health & anxiety, what is getting done?

The are some positive aspects of all those talks around student mental health and anxiety. For example, I acknowledge the fact that more people are aware of it; there are counselling services available at most university; more research is being conducted on this topic and so on.

However, most students don’t find those very helpful, some not at all. In all honesty, I can also see why. Just think about it, the general advice on student mental health is quite standardized: stay active, eat healthy, get some good sleep and so on.

Student Essentials

Here you can find all you need for your University journey!

I mean those are certainly useful and I absolutely agree with that, but are they the solution for your anxiety? What about talking to someone from the mental health service, either on the phone or maybe face to face.

It might sound ok while you are there, but as some point you are going to be alone, it is there when it all starts again. You can’t talk to someone reassuring you 24/7. So as soon as you are back in your flat anxiety starts again.

How to deal with student anxiety? Help yourself first to improve your mental health!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that nobody cares because they are all bad people, I’m saying nobody cares because it is not their life! Everyday they see and hear hundreds of students sharing their mental health problems.

Even if they are passionate about their job, it remains a job! Once the day is over they’ll go back to their life and you are going back to yours, that’s it. They might be able to help at some point, but the first person you need in order to improve your student mental health is.. you!

Ultimately, you are your best friend, counsellor, researcher and so on. You got to take care of your mental health at university, nobody can help you if you don’t help yourself first. Remember the anxiety list above, what do they all have in common?

They are all personal feelings! It’s all about how you perceive things, nobody tells you that you are inferior to other students, nor that you will fail at university and never find a job. Actually yes, there is one person telling you that.. yourself!

Dealing with student mental health and anxiety, my experience

As I said earlier, I also struggled with mental health and anxiety at university. I wrote about it many times on this blog, so I’ll put a summary of how I dealt with it and the links to the main articles if you want to find out more (if you have been following this blog you might find some repetitive links, my apologies);

Mental health: How to deal with social anxiety and inferiority complex

The key here is to boost your confidence! Firstly, stop comparing yourself to other students, we are all different. We all have unique strengths and weaknesses. At the moment you are most likely downplaying your strengths and highlighting your weaknesses!

If you have social anxiety and an inferiority complex (like I did), you most likely feel judged and observed at all time. It’s like feeling under the spotlight, you are never sure what people around you are thinking about you.

Well, let me tell you that it is just in your head; and actually that feeling can make you look nervous and uncomfortable. Then in that case you will draw attention to you, you don’t really want to do that then, do you?!

Do not prepare what to say or how to speak in advance, you might think it makes you sound cool but in reality it makes you sound unnatural and “fake; be yourself! Talk freely about your interests, no matter if you think you are a “weirdo”, I’m pretty sure there are many other students who share your same ones.

If you are struggling to make friends at university, finding those students with similar interests to yours is a must! However, if you never speak about your real interests you will never find them. You can find out more about confidence at university here: How to become more confident at university if you are an introvert person.

Mental health: how to cope with study and exam anxiety

No matter what degree you are studying, university is challenging. Regardless of your subject(s), you will still have to study multiple topics at the same time; meet assignments’ deadlines; prepare for different exams (something really close to each other); contribute in group projects and so on.

I hate when people say some degrees are easy, it’s a lie. The university workload is very demanding and can make you feel overwhelmed. The real problem of study anxiety is that you are even afraid to actually start doing some work (or start preparing for your exams)!

The thought alone of how much you need to get through impedes you. Relax, take a deep breath and start to organise your studies, make a plan! Focus on one thing at a time, what needs to be done first? Only you know what strategy works best for you.

You might want to plan it around the chronological order of your assessments/exams; or around what you know best (or least) first. What about your study methods? If you think you are not effective when studying, this other article might help: my 3 best study methods for effective learning and exam revision.

Trust me, sometimes all you need is a start, you will then realise that it’s not that bad once you are doing it! If you do it without a study plan you will most likely feel overwhelmed, get organised and show them what you got!

Mental health: how to deal with future anxiety

I have been there too, doubting myself and my future. Will I find a job after university? It wasn’t just a matter of getting good or bad grades, (I was average 2:1 but thanks to my last year and dissertation I turned it into a first) it was a genuine question.

Unemployment was on the rise and graduates were struggling to find jobs. The economy was struggling due to the Brexit transition out of the EU, I was so scared for my future. When things were looking more promising during my last (and most important) year, a pandemic hit the world!

The reality is that the job market, particularly for graduate and ambitious positions, reflects what is happening on a large global scale. Basically, you have little control on it, but there is one thing for sure: it always bounces back up!

I have seen this myself many times, from Brexit to Covid, so don’t stress too much about it! Focus on your university journey, make the most out of it, expand your network and everything will be fine at the end! Few articles I wrote that might help you:

Conclusions

Student mental health is a very serious topic and unfortunately it seems to be getting worse. Whereas the pandemic has certainly contributed to that, I do believe it has mainly “uncovered” something that was on the rise anyway.

I find the response to student mental health problems from universities quite generic, with a lack of individual support. This might improve as more research is conducted and more insights are shared.

Ultimately, I think there will never a bit a one-size-fits-all solution to student mental health and anxiety. We are all different and unique in the way we feel and express emotions. This is why I wanted to write this article in the first place, because I want you to understand that YOU ARE UNIQUE, take care of yourself!

I really hope you find this helpful, and again I apologies for the repetitive links between articles. Lastly, let me state the obvious as usual; everything you read on this blog is based on my personal experience and opinion, so consider it that way. Thank you very much for reading!

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