12:00pm Sunday 25th August 2013
By SNJ Reporter
GETTING a qualification, and having fun, may be the prime objective for most students, but don't forget to incorporate some time for all-important wellbeing boosters in your timetable. Abi Jackson swots up on student health.
Find a balance
Of course, if you want good grades you'll need to put the hours in, but overdoing it with all work and no play will not do you - or your grades - any favours.
Not only is taking time out from work crucial to your academic success, factoring in some fun and downtime will help you manage the stresses of student life.
"Student life can be exciting and new and also quite challenging,’’ says hypnotherapist and mentor Kam Birdee (http://www.kambirdee.com), noting that for many, it's their first time away from the comforts and stability of home and family.
Budgeting and worrying about money can be a huge stress factor too, as can juggling a new social life, coursework and, for some, a part-time job.
"Balance is key,’’ says Birdee. "Make a note as to what time you're allocating to the activities you carry out during the week - shopping, cooking, socialising, study, laundry, resting.’’
This will keep a sense of structure to prevent you feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
Birdee suggests keeping a 'stress diary' too, so you can see if any patterns of stress triggers arise, then you'll be better equipped to avoid them.
And remember your family are always at the end of the phone if you're missing home, she adds.
Nurturing friendships and socialising is important too.
Heather Spiro, an associate director at Manchester Business School says: "There are lots of opportunities for students to immerse themselves in life beyond the classroom and it's very important to take advantage of this, not just for their general wellbeing but for their academic success too.
"We recommend students get involved in as many extra-curricular activities as possible, including cultural evenings and sports tournaments, to allow themselves the chance to have fun and relax while making friends.’’
Move and groove
Personal trainer George Coote (http://www.coote-fitness.com) finished his degree two years ago, so understands student life.
But he's a big believer in the power of exercise - not just for the short and long-term health benefits, but because getting your blood pumping could help you relax, manage stress and boost confidence levels too.
"Exercise isn't purely a way to change the appearance of your body; it has a host of other benefits which include a sense of achievement and wellbeing, as well as releasing endorphins and other hormones that stimulate the body and mind.
"It allows you to take your mind off coursework, even if it's just for 30-60 minutes, and will vastly improve focus when you return to your studies.’’
Most of us moan that we don't have enough time, but Coote's not taking any excuses: "In my experience, time's not an issue for students - it's merely the allocation of time that's the issue, and a routine can reduce the amount of time wasted in the day.
If you feel you don't have enough time to do a proper work-out then why not try doing exercises little but often?
"Every half hour, get up from your desk and do 10 press-ups and 10 jump squats. You'll be amazed at how many you rack up.’’
Check out what's on offer at your university - most will have sports teams and clubs and there may be a subsidised gym.
"There are some excellent work-out DVD's which are inexpensive,’’ suggests Coote.
"Alternatively there are YouTube channels dedicated to home fitness.’’
Half an hour of movement daily is an achievable aim.
Remember that things like taking the stairs instead of the lift count, as does a power walk, or even putting on music and dancing!
Feed your Future
When money's tight it's easy to neglect your diet, but good food choices are vital for overall health and wellbeing and will help keep your immune system strong, improve sleep and help you stay alert during lectures.
Nutrition and wellbeing expert Annie Aulds (http://www.wisteriaholistichealth.co.uk) runs workshops for corporate staff, teaching them how to reduce stress through good nutrition and mindfulness, and says the same principles apply to students.
"Would you put petrol into a diesel car? I hope not, but so many of us put the wrong food into our body and wonder why we don't feel great,’’ she says.
"Nutrition's the key to a healthy body and a healthy mind.’’
A 'perfect' diet is unrealistic for most, but incorporating a few achievable things could make a difference.
Aulds's top tips include drinking at least two litres of water daily.
"By increasing water intake your digestion, brain function and energy levels will improve,’’ she says.
At mealtimes, make sure you combine carbohydrates and protein.
"We often only consume carbohydrates (eg. pasta, bread, rice) which causes energy to rise and fall quickly.
Combining carbohydrates with proteins, like eggs, lentils and fish, will slow down digestion meaning we're fuller longer and energy remains balanced.
"Make sure you eat breakfast (porridge is a good choice) and don't skip meals.
This'll keep energy levels consistent and improve concentration, and help prevent cravings for sugary snacks.’’
Aulds suggests fruit as snacks, to top-up vitamin levels, or nuts - packed with essential healthy fats.
Opting for wholegrains (brown rice, pasta and bread), instead of refined processed foods, will help you feel full and improve sleep.
If you want to take a supplement, she suggests Omega 3 and 6, found naturally in oily fish, essential for a number of things including brain function.
Cooking for one can sometimes be tricky - so how about starting a dinner club with housemates and taking it in turns to cook a healthy dinner for each other a couple of times a week?
Invest in a student cook book too and be creative - you'll be surprised at what you can whip up on a budget if you put your mind to it.
Alcohol will be a big part of student life for many.
There's nothing wrong with enjoying a few nights out but, as well as feeling rubbish, hangovers won't help your productivity levels!
On a big night out, alternating alcoholic drinks with water or a soft drink will help prevent you getting too drunk and minimise the dreaded morning-after headache.
Don't suffer in silence
For some students, struggles with stress and anxiety can be signs of a more serious mental health problem.
Student suicide rates have doubled in females and risen by over a third in males over the last four years, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, and in 2011 The Royal College of Psychiatrists noted that mental health problems among students were on the rise.
"University is a time of massive transition. For many it's the first time away from home which brings with it new choices and worries about academic life, finances and future employment - all while we're told we should be having the 'best time of our lives!’’' says Rosie Tressler, development officer at Mental Wealth UK, a national network which promotes positive mental health and wellbeing, and mental health awareness, in campuses across the UK (http://www.mentalwealthuk.com).
"Students are at a vulnerable age, with the majority of serious mental health problems typically commencing in young people.’’
It's believed that around 4% of students turn to university counselling services for support, but not everybody will seek help.
While worrying and feeling low or stressed from time to time is perfectly normal, when symptoms are ongoing, become overwhelming, or stop you being able to carry on with normal everyday tasks, seeking support early could help prevent things from spiralling.
"It's crucial students access the support they need to navigate through the student journey.
Unfortunately many are still not open to talking about mental health and misunderstand what it means or what to do if they experience poor mental health,’’ adds Tressler.
If you're worried speak to a campus counsellor or GP or, if you need urgent support, call a helpline like Samaritans (08457 90 90 90).
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