With it being University Mental Health Day, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you an update on how my university journey is going, and as the main aim for this year is to 'empower', I hope my story empowers you to keep fighting on!
As my time at university comes to a close, I can't help but go into 'panic mode' and worry about what the future has to hold. Recently, I have been struggling to cope with not having a plan and a path for my life, as in a couple of months' time I will be unemployed and on the job hunt! This is normal to feel like this, but for someone who has a mental illness, it can be ten times harder.
If you have followed my university journey since the beginning, you will know that it has not been easy for me. When I began in 2015, I felt like a tiny fish in a massive pond; I was not quite ready for the jump from my small school, to a university with over 20,000 students. During my first year, I struggled to cope with the work load and my mood dropped dramatically. I hated going there every day. I live at home, so I also missed out on the Freshers events and I found it hard to make friends. This left me feeling very isolated and depressed.
It was in the summer after my first year where I was 'officially' diagnosed with social anxiety and depression. Even though it was great to get a diagnosis, it did leave me with that 'now what' feeling. You've suddenly got this label that you have to live with. Going into my second year of university was scary! The pressure built and suddenly everything seemed a lot more difficult, now that I had the diagnosis. For the majority of the time I was fine, but then other days I couldn't even leave my bed or show my face in a lecture. I would be crippled with anxiety or dark thoughts.
However, going into my last and final year, things have improved massively! I am now no longer in a relationship, where looking back on it, I felt like I was not able to be myself and I became very unhappy. I am now independent, strong and ready for the future (however scary it may seem now)!
So, you may be asking how I managed to improve so much this year.
Well, I am going to give you my 5 top tips to coping with life stress whilst at university:
1. Don't look at the year as a whole!
Every single year at university begins in a blind panic. I list all the deadline dates for the whole year and completely overwhelm myself. This is definitely something that you should NOT do. Break the year into terms, weeks or even days if you need to. Take it deadline by deadline!
2. Give yourself a break!
Admittedly, I did not give myself enough breaks in my second year of university. I would work pretty much 24/7. Any free time I had was spent writing assignments. This left me having a lot of sleepless nights and panic attacks. This year however, I have noticed that I am letting myself have a break, if I feel like I need it. When I feel myself getting too stressed, tired or anxious, I stop, close my laptop and go to bed. Pushing yourself, will only make things worse.
3. Ask for help!
In my first year of university, I felt ashamed to ask for help. I would suffer in silence. However, halfway through my last year, I began cognitive behavioural therapy and told my lecturers about my mental illnesses. This helped massively! It took the pressure off and the CBT trained my brain to think more positively!
4. Make time to do things you enjoy!
When you're at university, you can isolate yourself in your work and forget that you do have a life outside of your studies. Make sure you do things you enjoy! Keep your brain active and engaged in leisurely activities. This could be something simple like having a bath, seeing some friends, writing a blog post or going on a run! Don't lose who you are!
5. Talk to people!
When I shared how I felt about university at the end of my first year, I had such a massive response. So many people felt the same way as me, including one of my friends at university. Everything you are feeling and experiencing, might be how someone else is feeling. The best thing I ever did, was share my story and talk to people about how I felt. This opened up so many doors for me, as well as allowed me to meet new people and make so many friends! I no longer felt isolated and it helped me rationalise my thoughts and stress!
This last tip in particular is something I am very passionate about. I have been blogging for 5 years now, starting off as a beauty blog and now developing into a lifestyle and mental health blog (with the occasional bit of beauty). When I hit 'publish' on my first post about my mental health, I did not think it would open as many doors as it has done for me. I have become a sub-editor and press ambassador for Student Minds, a media volunteer for Time to Change, I have been featured in the Guardian, BBC Newsbeat, The Mighty and filmed a documentary with the BBC, which should be hitting your screens very soon *squeals.
However, one recent thing I am particularly proud of, is my work with Samaritans. On one day in the Summer when I felt particularly depressed and wanted to do something with my day, I emailed Samaritans my story and they decided to make me and my story, the face behind their February Appeal Campaign! I did not expect it to happen at all! Samaritans have helped me a lot in the last 6 months. As some of you may know, I went through a lot of personal issues in the summer and I'm still going through a lot of them now. However, Samaritans were there to help me through it all.
On days where I'd wake up feeling helpless, I'd give them a call or email and they'd give me a reason to fight another day! This is why it was such a privilege to work with them on their recent campaign! We had been working on this since around September, so it was so nice to see everything come together, and the feedback we have had so far, is so heartwarming! I was even more proud at the fact that, I did this all off my own back! I can't wait for everything else I have planned with them for this year... so, keep your eyes out for future projects!
Sharing my story has also inspired me to create my own mental health project, Student Stigma. I was awarded £250 funding from O2's Go Think Big, in which I have used to set up this project. I still have a lot of plans in the works, but it is doing well so far! By starting this project, I have allowed others to have a safe place to share their story and help others in the process! I am so proud to say that I have given people this opportunity, and I think it is so important to raise awareness about student mental health, in schools and all the way up to university!
So, if you are starting university in September and you're feeling anxious and worried about the whole process, PLEASE look after yourself. Talk to people, ask for help... do whatever you need to do, to make your university experience worthwhile and rewarding!
You can read more about Sophie and her story on her blog Petals of Perfection