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.