We interviewed Katie Saya, the Student Wellbeing Coordinator at UC, to get her tips on how to stay on top of your mental wellbeing at university, especially when life gets busier and more stressful around exam time.
1. Know the support is there and reach out if needed
During exam times especially, it is really important to continue to do check-ins with yourself and seek support as early as possible.
“There is still a bit of a stigma around seeking help and sometimes people think they need to be in crisis before reaching out. However, seeking support can be as simple as having a good chat (or a vent) with a mate. You can also talk to a counsellor like myself, your parents or your resident tutor. Whoever you feel most comfortable with. We have a strong support system at UC so there’s many different people you can reach out to. I’d encourage students to contact the person they feel would offer the best support for them. Make sure it’s consistent throughout the semester so that the stress doesn’t build up and get more difficult to manage.”
“Counselling isn’t just for someone who is struggling. Seeking professional help can also assist with getting some advice, discovering yourself and setting goals. If something is outside of my wheelhouse, I can also support students to access external providers,” Katie said.
2. Finding Balance and Routine
Joining a residential college is a really big transition in many ways; you don’t have that familiar, natural structure that is built into school and family life. When you come to residential college and gain more independence, figuring out your routine is an essential task.
“Work out what balance looks like for you. What do you need as part of your day-to-day to feel happy and successful? Some people love a rigid schedule where they block out each hour of their day. Other people like to have a sense of what they need in the moment. I encourage students to do daily check-ins with themselves. There might be days where you feel absolutely exhausted and need more rest. Make time for that!”
“Developing a schedule is vital, but have flexibility within that. College is very spontaneous and things pop up, so stay on top of your priorities and deadlines. Balance is key here. If you focus too intensely on one thing (like exams) and let your social, physical and mental wellbeing slide, you won’t have the same amount of concentration or energy needed to get through it. Balance allows you to optimise how you function, so you can be successful in all areas of life. If you consider that there’s going to be a more stressful time coming up, you might need to readjust what your priorities are and what you need during that period.”
3. Taking Care of Your Physical Wellbeing
Making sure you are eating well-balanced meals and taking care of your health by getting enough sleep and exercising; it makes all the difference, especially when under extra stress. At University College, students meals are provided.
“Make sure to try and put some green things on your plate and eat some fruit; ideally eat three meals a day to keep yourself fuelled to improve concentration and memory retention. Try to avoid lots of coffee and Red Bull. You’ll get a sugar rush and caffeine hit fast but you’ll crash just as quickly. UC caters for all dietary requirements to the best of its ability and there is a food committee that takes on student feedback.”
“Sleep! It’s hard to maintain a schedule in college because there’s so much going on, but getting eight hours of sleep a night and attempting a routine is crucial for functioning optimally. Sometimes students pull all-nighters or lose sleep during the week and catch up on the weekends, but this is not ideal for your wellbeing. Sometimes you have to prioritise sleep over social events and activities to ensure that you have enough time to recharge.”
“Exercise a couple of times per week. Movement helps stimulate your brain, which improves focus; it will also produce serotonin and other feel-good chemicals that enhance your mood. A good option is our weekly yoga session on Saturdays, which is great for stress and anxiety reduction. You can also access the gym at UC or head over to the beautiful parks nearby. Find the type of exercise you love and add it to your routine as much as possible.”
4. Finding Your Place in the UC Community
Finding your friendship group at college doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes it can feel like a race, but it isn’t.
“Students feel like there are cliques already formed and they can’t break into them. In reality, many are still trying to navigate who their friends are. There are over 300 students living at UC, so it takes time to find who you really connect with. Putting yourself out there can be intimidating at times so be gentle on yourself. Having social anxieties is so normal. If you didn’t find your best friends during O-Week that’s okay, because most people didn’t. Getting involved with the student activities is a great way to meet new people. It’s important to know that continuing to put yourself out there throughout the year isn’t a lost cause.”
“Take small steps to put yourself out of your comfort zone, whether it’s joining a club or doing an activity to find people with similar interests. We are all wired for connection; we all need friends and don’t want to feel isolated living in a college environment. Know that this is an experience that is really common and don’t forget to ask for help along the way,” Katie added.
5. Being Compassionate Towards Yourself and Having Realistic Expectations
Your time at college is also when you are figuring out who you are and want to be, and that means that you’re not always going to get everything right. It’s so easy for us to be hard on ourselves when things go wrong, or we don’t meet the expectations we set for ourselves.
“Try to be as compassionate as you can with yourself and know that it is just a part of growing up and the experience of living. If you’re having a tough time, beating yourself up about it isn’t going to be helpful. Try to be kind to yourself and seek support when needed.“
“I always encourage students to think this way: imagine your best friend is going through the same situation. If they were really struggling with something, what kind of advice would you give them?”
Remember that our worth isn’t tied to one grade or one assessment, even though it can feel that way sometimes.
“Getting good results is great, but it’s about the journey (cheesy but true!) And we don’t focus enough on the actual growth and learning that happens along the way. There’s always something you can take away from every experience.”
If you’re a current student, and would like to book an appointment with Katie, you can scan one of the QR codes around campus. You can also send an email or stop by the office. Katie is at UC Monday – Friday between 9am – 5pm.