Being a student can be hard sometimes. But there’s always somewhere to go, something to do or someone to turn to to make you feel better.
It’s completely normal to feel like the demands of your college work and social life are becoming too much to handle. Maybe you’re sad, homesick or feel like you’re not fitting in. It’s OK, and it’s likely some of your friends are feeling the same way. Before you start feeling overwhelmed, here’s a list of places you can go if you feel down at college and how they can all put a smile on your face!
1. Meet friends for dinner
The power of friends and classmates cannot be overemphasised if you’re not having a good day. Expressing your frustrations or sadness out loud to peers can be one of the most effective ways of lifting your mood. Chances are, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
Organise an impromptu dinner with a couple of friends or housemates to take your mind off feeling down and as soon as you sit down to eat, you’ll already be feeling the difference. The great thing about eating with friends, new or old, is that there will always be something to talk about – the food! So even if you don’t want to discuss what’s bothering you, you can use the time to talk and laugh (or cry) about anything and everything. Listening to what your peers are experiencing might put things into perspective.
Plus, the food you eat can make a difference too. When you open the menu, choose foods like salmon, spinach and avocado, which contain nutrients to help boost your mood. Top it all off with a dark chocolate cake – as well as being seriously moreish, dark chocolate reduces anxiety and stress levels.
By dessert, you’ll feel like a new person.
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2. Visit the Student Union
The Students’ Union is probably somewhere you walk past all the time on campus but have never even thought about entering, but you should! The student representatives in and around the union are an invaluable resource and can help you with any obstacles you’re facing during your time at the university. In fact, if they’re finding the same problems often enough, they might even start lobbying or campaigning for change in the college, on your behalf.
If you’re ever wandering around campus feeling lost or down, the Student’s Union is there for you. As a lot of the people involved are older, more experienced students, they’ll be able to give you advice about courses or professors, let you in on some campus hacks or shortcuts and set you up with someone to talk to. Unions also have great relationships with the university’s clubs and societies, so they can recommend ones for you to join or tell you about upcoming events.
3. Try volunteering
If you’re out of sorts, you might feel like you won’t be of much use to anyone, but you’d be wrong. As well as helping others, volunteering for a cause will actually make you feel much better. Research has shown that dedicating time to doing good for other people helps volunteers manage and reduce their stress levels. Not only that, but often, volunteering involves some form of physical activity which means you’re getting out and about more than you would on an ordinary day, and benefiting from all the perks of being active.
The 2013 Health & Volunteering Study found that 94% of people who volunteered between 2012-2013 said that doing so improved their mood. Depending on what you choose to do, volunteering can be productive as well as fulfilling and might help you develop or learn new skills.
If you’re an international student, volunteering is also a brilliant way of getting involved in your local community. You’ll make new friends in the organisation, meet lots of interesting characters and improve your language skills. With many important causes to focus on, you’ll probably forget you were feeling sad in the first place – it’s a win-win.
4. Go for a run
Much ink has been spilled on the health benefits of exercise. But it’s all true. As hard as it might be to drag yourself out of bed before class or to head to the gym at lunch, you won’t regret it. Even if you don’t skip off the treadmill with a big smile on your face, you’re guaranteed to feel better than when you started working out, even if you’re just proud of yourself for putting on your trainers in the first place. Even if you’re just proud of yourself for owning trainers!
If you’re feeling down, exercise is probably the quickest and cheapest fix available. The advantages are endless: it increases the chemical norepinephrine in your brain, which will help you cope with stress better; it releases the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin; it reduces or prevents depression; relieves anxiety; improves your overall mood; boosts brainpower and energy levels. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about your workload or an upcoming exam, regular exercise can even lead to increased productivity and creativity.
What’s more, simply going for a quick run around the block might be the only fresh air you get on a busy college day. This means you’ll also be getting your daily dose of vitamin D, which is also needed to regulate your moods. Need we go on?
5. Spend a day at the seaside
Getting back to nature is a very simple but very effective way to lift your spirits. A recent study found that people who went for a 90-minute walk in a natural area (instead of an urban, traffic-filled environment) had decreased activity in the area of the brain that causes depression.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, a day beside the sea will help you get a great night’s sleep. The sea air is filled with something called ‘negative ions’, which help balance serotonin levels and make us feel calmer, less stressed and ready for a solid night of rest. Being by the sea promotes a state of mindfulness and meditation. Take a moment to watch the waves crash onto to sand and to admire the vastness of the huge ocean. It might give you another outlook on life. In his book, Blue Mind, the author Wallace J. Nichols, explores ‘The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do.’
If you don’t live or study near the coast, it’s worth planning a trip for a day or two – go for a swim, feel the sand between your toes, unplug from everyday life and soak up the the restorative features of a day at the seaside. You can even treat yourself to an ice cream, you deserve it!
6. Watch a movie in the cinema
Whether you go alone or grab a bunch of friends after class, going to the cinema can be one of the most fun ways to make yourself feel better. Spending two or three hours in a dark room, feasting on salty popcorn, sipping sweet drinks and watching a great movie is almost guaranteed to take your mind off your mood.
Decide what you want to see based on how you’re feeling – a comedy is always a good idea if you need to spend the afternoon laughing, try a gripping thriller if you’re feeling bored or maybe a true story might give you advice on your own life. There’s even a school of thought called Cinema Therapy, where psychologists actually prescribe certain films to their patients to help them work through a problem.
You could set up a movie club with your classmates if you find it works for you. That way, you’ll find a hobby and a new attitude at the same time.
7. See a college counsellor
There’s no problem too big or small to bring to a counsellor. If you’re feeling low at university and you can’t seem to shake the bad mood (despite trying exercise, seaside trips, movie-watching, dinners with friends, volunteering and joining clubs), there’s really only one port of call: the university counsellor.
Almost all universities have a counselling service, or can put you in touch with one, so don’t hesitate to let them know you’d like to speak to someone. You might need just one visit, or you might want to set up a regular appointment – it’s up to you to find out what suits you best and most importantly, what will make you feel better.
Whether you feel sad, depressed or confused, you don’t need to feel that way for long, as there is somewhere to go or someone to talk to at university. Figure out what works for you and stick to it!
Important! If you have been feeling unhappy for longer than a few days, or it’s starting to affect your studies or your life in general, then you should go and see a doctor straight away. They will be welcoming and helpful. Look on your university’s website for details on how to make an appointment.