This article was first published in November 2017, but has been updated to reflect changes since then.
Leaving home to start university can be a daunting prospect (soooo exciting but also quite nervous at the same time).
It’s not only the thought of studying hard but also managing on your own when it comes to your health and well-being. You just didn’t realise up to this point how much your parents/carers helped you through it (or should we say badgered and cajoled you!).
There just isn’t enough hours in the day to manage it all. But what happens if it all starts to get too much? How do you cope? (Especially when there's a global pandemic?) We explain how to keep your health in tip top shape while at university.
1. Mental health
If you're struggling, it's important to use the university's student support and pastoral care for your mental health and well-being, which are usually second to none.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been partying to the small hours and need help to drink responsibly, or are finding it hard to make friends and feel a bit of an outsider or even if you’re struggling with your course work or exam stress; universities have this covered. They offer first class support and it is exclusive for you as a student.
Your health and well-being is as vital to the university as is your academic achievement. They have fantastic specialists who have dealt with every unique student experience you can think of (and some you can’t even imagine!).
They offer dedicated professional experts in all aspects of mental health, trained counsellors to guide you on any query or question you may have, and multi faith advice to support and encourage you every step of the way.
These are but a few of the services available. Whether you’re feeling low, lacking in self-belief or suffering from panic attacks please ask student support at your university for help. They are there for you, so please take advantage. Try to ask for help if you’re getting stressed or worried about your course or exam work - there are people out there ready to listen your concerns.
It maybe that you think you are coping ok, however a chat with a trained counsellor could help improve your well-being even more. If you can’t deal with talking to someone face to face some universities are now offering e-counselling where you can chat online or receive email advice.
Make sure you always drink responsibly when you’re out and about during Freshers’ Week and beyond.
According to a recent YouGov poll, around half of university students do not get drunk at all during a typical week, so it seems the number of sterotypical students are on the decline.
However, even if you don’t get drunk when you go out,, you could still be drinking more than is good for you. The recommended limit is currently 14 units per week (for both men and women) – which amounts to six pints of beer, or six glasses of wine, or seven double measures of spirits.
While we don’t want to spoil your fun, it’s worth watching how much you are drinking each week and to make sure you aren’t regularly going over the recommended limit.
As well as alcohol, remember to keep drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, and keep your skin and mind clear.
3. Sexual health and vaccinations
Check that your meningitis vaccination is up to date and look after your own sexual health, don’t leave it up to other people. .
If you missed out on your meningitis vaccination at home before leaving for university, you can register with a GP at university and get the vaccination there as well as lots of other really useful health advice.
Living in university halls of residence or in shared accommodation means you’re in very close contact with lots of other people and these vaccinations are vital for your health and well-being.
Sexual health services will depend on your university and the local facilities, but most are likely to have dedicated sexual health clinics and services. To find them, talk to your welfare officer, take a look at the university's website or use the ‘Services Near You’ search tool on the NHS Choices website.
Sexual health services are completely free on the NHS, and available to everyone, so there's no excuse for not getting yourself checked out!
Although many students enjoy pizza, burgers and chips, eating nothing but junk will eventually turn your brain to junk, affecting your ability to concentrate and retain anything you learn in lectures.
We’re not saying that you should ditch fast-food forever but it’s all about finding some balance - if you are healthy most of the time, a few junk days here and there won’t affect you too much.
Try to start each day with a healthy breakfast (for example, porridge and fruit, or eggs on toast) and try to include as much protein, healthy carbs, and veggies as possible during the day. These are all good for your digestion, as well as keeping your brain ticking over.
You might think that eating healthy doesn't go with a student budget, but eggs, bananas, nuts, frozen veg, wholegrain pasta and rice are all budget friendly and if you shop smart you can pick up some great deals.
Visiting the supermarkets toward the end of the day means you will usually find some reduced items that could come in handy.
As tempting as spending your free time watching Netflix is, spending some time outside getting your heart rate going will do will help you stay feeling fantastic when everyone else is succumbing to the dreaded fresher’s flu (or any other weird germs that are floating around your halls).
Don't fancy the gym? Remember there are lots of other ways you can keep fit, including:
- Joining a sports club run by your university – this will help you meet new people and make new friends, as well as increasing your fitness.
- Going walking, jogging or bike riding with your flatmates? You could even set yourselves a challenge – after all, nothing seals a friendship like going through the hell of a marathon together.
- Fitting walking into your everyday life, such as walking to and from lectures or in to town when you go shopping.
There are many benefits of getting a good night’s sleep and experts say that you should get at least eight hours each night to allow that to fully happen.
If you are sleep deprived your immune system gets weak, leaving you open to getting ill. And it’s not just your physical health that’s affected, but your mental health too – lack of sleep can impair your memory and your ability to concentrate. It can also lead to low mood and depression.
This doesn't mean you have to be in bed by 9pm each night, but getting to sleep by 11pm at least one or twice a week will help you stay focused and able to cope with all the pressures of university life.
7. Other resources
Pastoral student support at your university will include information, advice and guidance on how you can relax, de-stress, beat the blues and build up your own confidence. It will always be 100% confidential and never noted on your university records.
Most universities will also have self-help online books and guides as well as lots of useful resources that mean your time at university is spent having fun and studying on a great course and not becoming worried or anxious about your health and well-being.
Your health and well-being is vitally important both to you and to your university, so make sure you explore all the opportunities available to stay in tip-top condition, both mentally and physicallly.
For more tips and advice on staying healthy at university, please see: