Don’t you forget about me

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Trying to maintain a balance of work and play is a strenuous and seemingly impossible task.

With that important assignment due, your cousin’s wedding, your partner’s little sister’s birthday and your mates wanting you to go out and have a few drinks while getting down to Beyoncé, there is so much to consider and balance constantly. 

However, you may have noticed that I forgot to mention one really important aspect that so many of us forget to add to our lives: Ourselves! 

Self-care and mental health awareness in students/young people are vital, and new research from Headspace points out that, “Worryingly high numbers of Australian university and TAFE students are stressed and anxious.” 

In an effort to find ways to alleviate some of this stress and tension, I contacted a mental health professional, Ashton Hayes of Willowtree Wellbeing, for tips and tricks to focus on our own mental health and self-care in correlation with our busy lives. 

Below are my questions and Ashton’s answers.

With the advent of university, work, family and social life, how high should self-care and mental health awareness be on a student’s priorities? 

Self-care is critical. I think that a lot of people perceive self-care as being an act of selfishness, that if they are focussing on themselves then they are not focussing on others. I believe that self-care gives you the ability to do more for others. If you are feeling mentally and physically well, then you are more able to support those around you when they ask for help. 

Why do you think this is so important? 

Students are often pulled in so many different directions and it can become overwhelming at times. Focussing on how you can rest and replenish will give you that extra strength to make it through when you have a lot on your plate, for example, when you have lots of assessments and you still have to work and you may have family obligations which can’t be put on hold. In order to ensure you don’t “burn out”, you must take care of yourself. If you had a friend who was struggling, you would reach out and take care of them. It’s okay to treat yourself as you would treat a friend.

What strategies can busy university students implement to work towards prioritising their mental health? 

Give yourself breaks throughout the day. I know that when you are very busy it can seem as though taking a ten-minute break will put you significantly behind. But it is critical to take time out to breathe. If you schedule in a ten-minute mindfulness break, which can be at any time of the day that suits, you can find yourself feeling less overwhelmed. 

If you can meditate, that’s great. You can do your own thing or use a guided meditation app – I recommend Insight Timer which has hundreds of guided meditations which can last from a few minutes to an hour – or even take some time to write out how you are feeling, do some journaling or make note of things you are grateful for. It’s a short period of time to do something which will have long term benefits.

What activities can students take to practice self-care? 

People often think of self-care activities as being massages or facials or yoga classes.  And whilst these are all great options, there are also plenty of low or no cost things you can to do take care of yourself and your mental health. Things like spending time outside and breathing in the fresh air. Move your body, go for a walk or even just some stretching outside when you can. 

Try to incorporate fresh fruit and veggies into your diet, even a little bit goes a long way. Make your bed, change your sheets, tidy your study space. These may seem like tedious tasks, but having a small tidy up can make a huge difference to your mental health. You don’t have to spotlessly clean your whole house, just set a timer for 10 minutes and do what you can to clear things up a bit.

Make sure you take time to interact with other people. Grab a coffee or have a social study session. Just make sure that social contact is something you engage in as much as you can. Isolating yourself for too long can be detrimental to your mental health.

Utilise mental health services, whether that is a university counsellor or someone you see outside of the university. There are lots of services you can use, which range in prices depending on who you see. Sometimes, just speaking with someone who is outside your family and friendship group can help you see things differently. There is no shame in seeing a counsellor, they are there to help you and will do so without judgement. You may have to try more than one counsellor to find the right fit, but it’s important to seek extra help if you find yourself struggling.

Do you have any other comments on the topic of mental health and self-care?

Good mental health is really important. It gives you the strength to cope when unexpected or overwhelming experiences come your way. It may seem as though running on empty is just part of student life, but it does not have to be. Taking care of yourself is not selfish.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s just another form of self-care, and it’s a great habit to form in university because it will serve you well once you leave and start your career.

Starting off with self-care can be as simple as giving yourself a mindfulness break and taking deep breaths. Over the course of this semester, and throughout your life, try and remember to give yourself a break and allow yourself to breathe. 

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