1. The Freshers Week Friend

You probably met during orientation at one of the many welcome events at your university or residence. It was great having a friendly face to help each other settle in the first few weeks since the move to London was a new experience for both of you. This friendship usually wanes off after some time as you realise you have different interests and make different friends. Or it might be forever at first meet, s/he could turn into the sibling you always wished for. Either way, everyone needs this friendship to get through the transition into a new residence, new university and new city. Even if you do grow apart, you are still able to exchange warm smiles and keep fond memories of those first weeks.

2. The Study Buddy

You’ll meet this friend in the department common room or the library more than once. A friendly chat during a study break and a few classes together, you find yourself engaging in mutually beneficial conversations over this theory or the other. The study buddy challenges you to stay on top of your reading lists and provides that healthy competition that motivates you to do well. This friendship thrives on helping each other succeed and can develop into a lifelong friendship as you explore other mutual interests out of the university walls.

3. The Classmate

You see this friend a couple of times a week, s/he even goes out their way to save you a seat when there’s a full class. There’s always some small talk about the pressure of writing that 5 000 – word paper or an upcoming exam. You enjoy this friend’s company in the university setting and even after several attempts of meeting up or hanging out in a different setting, it never really happens. This friendship one convenience and thrives on proximity — the minute you leave the lecture room each of you returns into your world only to meet at the next class. Social media heart emojis and thumbs up become the only way to keep up with each other’s lives after you graduate.

4. The Party Friend

Always up for a good time, the party friend knows where to get the cheapest drinks on a Tuesday night. After bumping into this friend a couple of times in the student bar, you exchanged numbers and now s/he is that familiar face that lights up and announces your arrival to the rest of the party group at every party. You’ve even grown to have one of those ‘So, where are we heading to after class?” type of friends. This friendship is coloured with a lot of cheering, toasting, bathroom runs, hugs and that one random blackout (that you still can’t remember). Even though you don’t have time to go out every Friday, having a party friend is good for those nights when you just need to blow off some steam.

5. The Friend for Life

This is your person. On meeting this friend it feels like the universe conspired for your atoms to meet at this point in your life. You feel like you’ve known each other all your lives and you find it so easy to talk about anything and everything. S/he just gets you — no judgement. You have so much in common and your differences seem to complement each other. This friendship tends to grow beyond university and lasts a lifetime. If you are lucky enough to find this friendship, treasure it.

According to the World Health Organisation, mental wellbeing is a dynamic state in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. It also entails an emotional resilience which enables us to navigate through and experience the ups and downs of life — the joy and pain, the excitement and disappointment. That ability to appreciate life despite its struggles also requires flexibility as one must continuously juggle and find a balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties and responsibilities. Together with the physical, social and emotional, mental well-being allows us to engage productively and effectively with family, peers and colleagues.

Efforts to strike a balance between the demands of academic life, societal expectations and reality have left many young people feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and deeply anxious. The expectation of ‘having it all together’ at all times plus the race towards unrealistic life goals has fostered a persecutory perfectionism among young adults and this often manifests as anxiety, self-harm, depression, eating disorders, and dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s personal achievements. This is compounded by the feeling of isolation despite various virtual connections and significantly impacts how students feel about themselves and how they engage with student life. Underlying causes vary from person to person, with some having nothing to do with the uni experience, although the demands of the academic journey can become potential stress triggers, ultimately impeding academic progress and personal development.

It’s taken for granted that good grades are achieved at the expense of disrupted sleep, anxiety, periods of stress and depression. While higher education can be overwhelming and challenging, the tendency to dismiss it as a norm, that university is just a period of stress and suffering that everyone has to go through creates a societal and personal stigma that makes the pursuit of mental well-being even more difficult. Students are then often reluctant to seek help, particularly for mental health illnesses, which studies reveal are alarmingly increasing as evidenced by the rise in cases of psychological distress and illness in universities. While mental health difficulties can develop at any stage in life, there has been growing concern in the student demographic as a highly vulnerable group.

Between writing long essays, studying for exams, pulling long hours into research for your dissertation and trying to maintain some sort of social life, it may seem like there’s just no time for anything else. It feels like there is an incredible pressure to excel in everything. It’s true that university is taxing and stressful but your mental well-being is crucial for you to get through that phase of life (and every other phase as well). Life only gets more complex and challenging as we transition and navigate through different stages ( just think back to how learning to write your name was such a big deal and the only worries you had were if you missed watching a certain cartoon after school). The pursuit of mental well-being, you will soon find, is a life-long exercise and it takes more than implementing “11 Steps to Boost Your Mental Health”. It involves taking care of your emotional, physical and mental needs constantly and consistently.

Now that you know this, it’s time to re-commit to taking better care of yourself ( it probably was one of those new year’s resolutions that never really made it beyond the list in your diary). Start today. On one of your study breaks, take a few minutes to jot down your achievements so far. Keep that note safe and every time you ever find yourself comparing yourself to your peers and apparently failing at life, look at that list of achievements. You did that! Now grab a bottle of water and place it within arm’s reach. Take a sip now and then, it’s amazing how keeping hydrated will keep you alert (plus all the trips to the bathroom will give you a bit of exercise). Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier tonight, and unplug — from your phone, from the internet, from social media especially. Instead, play your favourite song and just take those 30 minutes to relax and ease into a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow is another day and you’ll tackle its challenges in the morning.

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