With 1 in 4 suffering from a diagnosed mental health condition, it is little surprise that doing everyday activities at university, such as walking to and from lectures, working in the library and even socialising with friends, can at times, seem like an impossible task. Bad mental health days can happen to anyone and at any (often inconvenient) time: you certainly don’t have to have a diagnosis of clinical depression to feel depressed: there is no checklist of who is or isn’t worthy of taking a ‘step back.’ The idea of soldiering on regardless seems to be ingrained within university culture, perhaps out of fear of appearing lazy – or even worse, weak. God forbid if you actually admit the reason you missed a seminar was due to your mental health, and not a physical ailment. I think it comes to something that in 2018, people seem to show more understanding for someone who overslept their 9am due to a ‘heavy night,’ than for a student who couldn’t bring themselves to get out of bed because of crippling anxiety.
Sometimes it all gets a bit too much (cue Zoella thumbnail) and it is so important to acknowledge these thoughts, rather than suppress them or carry on regardless. There have been many times where I’ve forced myself to go into uni and attempt to write lecture notes when ultimately, it’s been counterproductive. I didn’t take any of it in, and instead, spent the hour sat in Elvet Riverside trying not to cry into the pages of Milton’s Paradise Lost (rather ironic really, given the circumstance.)
This led to me think about the things that have helped me feel slightly more human on these rubbish days, so I’ve put together a brief list in the hope that it might be at least somewhat beneficial. Also, little disclaimer – I’m not a MH expert but I do have plenty of first-hand experience. Bad mental health days happen to everyone and sometimes, taking time away from the daily grinds of life to focus on YOU, really is the most important thing.
Take some time out
This might not always be possible, depending what you have on that day. 9 times out of 10, tutors are super understanding when it comes to illness (you don’t need to specify whether it’s mental or physical) and if necessary, you can always self-cert. Whilst I’m not advocating missing contact hours, it is futile turning up when you won’t be able to concentrate or take anything in. Better to listen to the recording online or get a generous friend to lend you their notes.
Make yourself a coffee
Or tea, or hot chocolate – basically induldge in your beverage of choice. It sounds silly but a little thing like a hot drink really can make the world of difference. Feel the warmth from the cup, ground yourself in the moment and take a deep breath. If reading helps, lose yourself in a book! If you can’t concentrate enough to read, focus on just being still and present.
Rationalise through writing
It is easy for thoughts to snowball until you can’t see a way out – leaving you overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Instead of thinking of every stressful or crappy thing going on for you right now, take the biggest problem and write it down. Then draw arrows to possible solutions or something that might make the problem easier to manage. Normally, once the biggest issue is addressed, the smaller, less pressing concerns seem to be not as consuming.
Phone a friend
Not in a ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ type of way, more of a casual chat with someone you can confide in. The amount of times I’ve been pulled out of a downward spiral just by hearing a familiar voice is more than I care to admit, but seriously, don’t retreat into yourself and think you’re a burden – if they are true friends, they will always find time to listen.
It’s cliché and sounds plucked from a self-help book but honestly – taking the time to do something nice for YOU really can work wonders. Whether that’s soaking in a Lush bubble bath (or maybe not if you’re in manky halls), painting your nails, or even just grabbing a hot water bottle and going back to bed with Netflix – if it works for you, then go for it!
Stop feeling guilty
The problem with guilt is, it’s a malicious cycle. You feel guilty for being unproductive, guilty for not doing something about it, guilty for feeling guilty when other people have it ‘so much worse,’ but this then leads to more self-loathing and frustration at your inability to ‘snap out’ of this mindset. Realistically though, you aren’t choosing to feel like this and in the scheme of things, taking a day away from everything isn’t the end of the world: there is always tomorrow.