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21 November 2022

A guide to looking after your mental health at university

Starting university can be exciting. You get a fantastic opportunity to make new friends, broaden your horizons, explore your independence and work towards your career ambitions.

But for many, it can be a time of anxiety, stress and apprehension.

How will you adapt to your new surroundings? Stick to your budget? Deal with the hours you’ll need to spend studying? Worst still, what if you fail?

If any of these thoughts are going through your mind right now, don’t worry. This is an absolutely normal part of any big life change, and it can take time to find your feet and fall head over heels with the whole university experience.

You can protect your mental health and make this adjustment faster if you learn how to focus on your well-being and find a balance. Keep reading for our tips on exactly how you can do this.

Be kind to yourself

As we mentioned above it’s normal to feel anxious, overwhelmed, homesick or even nervous when you first start university.

After all, you’re facing a huge amount of change,such as living on your own, adapting to a new environment and getting your head around the academic demands being placed on you.

So don’t expect that you’ll feel fine all of the time or that every other student has everything under control. Just take each day as it comes and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Get plenty of sleep

We know that getting enough sleep isn’t always easy when you first start university and there’s so much going on.

But if you can aim for a regular 7-8 hours per night, you’ll give your body and mind a chance to relax and unwind. This will significantly reduce your stress levels, help you think clearly and ensure that you have the energy to tackle anything that your day brings.

If you’re struggling to drop off, avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, get into a relaxing bedtime routine and get plenty of fresh air and exercise.

Limit your alcohol intake

Student life and drinking seem to go hand in hand - it can be fun to go out and party and make new friends.

But too much alcohol can alter the balance of brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine and end up impacting on your your mental health.

Here are some tips that can help:

  • Make certain days of the week alcohol-free
  • Limit what you drink in each session (definitely no binge-drinking)
  • Alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks
  • Find different social activities you can do that don’t involve drinking

Take these steps to help you avoid the boozy blues and save money too!

Eat well

If you want to feel at your best, you need to fuel your body by eating a healthy balanced diet whenever possible.

We know that it’s sometimes easier to grab a quick takeaway when you arrive back late from a lecture or treat yourself to a family-sized bag of Maltesers and Doritos when you’ve had a hard day.

But if you can include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy meats or vegetarian alternatives, healthy fats and wholegrains, you’ll nourish your brain, have more energy to study, keep bugs and other illnesses at bay and feel stronger and more positive.

Stuck for ideas? Check out this great 7-day student budget meal plan.

Get active!

Have you ever noticed that after you go outside for a walk or get some exercise, you feel much better than you did before?

This is because exercise gets those feel-good endorphins flowing, improves your overall health and will help you deal with any worries, anxieties or other mental health struggles.

Get outside into the fresh air whenever you can, jump on your bike, join the student gym, get involved with team sports or even try a quick home workout online.

Take time for yourself

All the excitement and adrenaline of starting university can be exciting but can leave you feeling burnt out if you don’t claim time for yourself.

Why not find something you love to do and then make it part of your self-care routine?

This could include taking up a new hobby, reading a book, watching your favourite series on Netflix, taking a long hot bath, painting your nails or chatting on the phone to friends and family. You don’t have to be studying all the time!

Get support

If it’s challenging or you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t believe that you have to survive it alone.

Reach out to family and friends and share how you’re feeling. The simple act of getting it off your chest can make a big difference to how you feel, and you might even discover that others have experienced similar challenges.

Alternatively, consider getting in touch with the Student Support services at your uni or using our free, confidential, anonymous text support service. Just text the word ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 and one of our trained Shout Volunteers will reply.

If your life is at risk, call 999 immediately for help.


Struggling with your mental health at university? Follow the tips we've included here and you may find that you are better able to cope with stress, worries or anxiety while having the energy to enjoy your new adventure.

If you need support, you can text SHOUT to 85258 anytime, day or night, to speak to a trained volunteer.

We’re always here for you.