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The effect of stress on student mental health, and how to deal with it


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The truth is - university life is stressful. The numbers confirm it: research shows that almost 90% of students experience stress, with 77% experiencing anxiety and a third of young women and one in ten young men suffering from panic attacks. 

In some universities, up to one in four students are using or waiting to use counselling services. Furthermore, in 2015,  a record number of 1,180 students left university prematurely due to mental health issues. 

Image Credit: silviarita, via Pixabay

April is Stress Awareness Month. To highlight what by some is referred to as ‘university crisis', Fresh Student Living has delved into some of the causes for the recent rise in stress and anxiety among young people.

So, why is it that we are so stressed?

Mental health problems can be caused by a vast range of issues and will vary significantly from person to person, but there seem to be some common dominators.

The stress of job hunting

As well as constant pressure from the workload throughout university, experts say that the anxiety, and often depression, that young adults experience lies mostly in uncertainty. We all know the impending worry of increasingly competitive job markets and the associated job hunting pressures. This is particularly prevalent for graduates - recently, there has been a bigger conversation surrounding post-university depression

In 2017, YouGov revealed that 81% of students feel pressure to find a job within six months of graduating. Whilst most students questioned say this is due to career aspirations and wanting to earn money or have disposable income, a minority of students also admit their reasons include expectations from their parents or their peers.

Social media

Social media can also be a big problem; research suggests that young people who spend more than two hours per day on social media are more likely to report mental health issues. Instagram has been named as the worst app for mental wellbeing, synonymous with symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychological distress linked to bullying, body image issues, and FOMO – the fear of missing out. On social media, particularly on Instagram, many paint their university experience to be far better than it actually is, leading to many feeling inadequate about their university lifestyle.

Diane Gault, head of fundraising at YoungMinds, one of the UK's leading charities fighting for children and young people's mental health, explains why social media these days has such an immense impact on student's wellbeing: “Social media is one of the many pressures young people face today. Though it can have many benefits, it also puts pressure on them to establish a personal ‘brand’, to be constantly available, and to seek reassurance in the form of ‘likes'.”

What is being done to tackle the issue?

Alongside a range of leading charities and Higher Education bodies, Students Minds is creating a mental health charter, which will be a UK-wide scheme to recognise and reward those institutions that demonstrate good practice by making student and staff mental health a university-wide priority, delivering improved student mental health and wellbeing outcomes.

The Royal Society for Public Health is also calling for changes to be made by social media companies. Suggestions include introducing a pop-up warning for ‘heavy usage', identifying users who suffer from mental health problems by their posts and discretely signposting them to support. As well as this, they want to highlight when photos of people have been digitally altered or manipulated to reduce feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.

What can you do to combat your stress at university?

Image credit: Pedro Figueras, via Pexels

Develop a study strategy that works

Developing a strict study method could eliminate the anxiety and stress associated with cramming the night before. Study smart; break down large projects into smaller tasks, set deadlines and keep track of your work. Online study planners such as GetRevising are a great help for keeping on track.

Focus on the present

Instead of rehashing mistakes and failures, focus on your goals are and how you are planning to achieve them.

Think positively

Try saying things like, "I will do my best", to gain a clearer perspective on what's important. It may be difficult in times of extreme anxiety or depression, but a positive approach to a situation may help you clear your head. Spotify now also offers a joint membership for the meditation app ‘Headspace’ alongside its music streaming service, which is a great way to clear your head and feel a sense of calm amongst times of stress and anxiety. 



Being active doesn’t have to mean sports or going to the gym. There are lots of ways to be active: find the one that works for you. Along with getting up and moving around regularly, doing mild exercise is a natural way to clear your head, reduce anxiety and release built-up stress and tension. Research has found that being physically active leads to feeling more content when compared to after periods of inactivity.

Limit your time on social media

Some phones now offer weekly reports for your screen time so you can monitor your usage that way. Some people find it easiest to remove the relevant apps from their home screens and tuck them away in one of the back pages. There are also apps that precisely block certain apps for specific periods of the day. Do whatever works for you!

Feed the brain and body

Having a well-balanced diet is one of the best ways to feel good about yourself, and it's beneficial to the mind as well as having a positive effect on your mood, energy and concentration levels.


Talk to your friends and family members

Many students don’t realise that their peers could be experiencing similar feelings. It may be daunting, but don’t be afraid reach out to friends and family members who could act as valuable confidantes during difficult times.

Make yourself familiar with all the services your uni provides

There is often more than counselling services - many universities also offer financial aid, advice drop-in sessions, exam advice, or will have certain societies for anyone seeking companionship as an international student, for example.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone - stress and mental health affect so many of us. Do not feel like you cannot reach out to someone close to you or to your university to ask for help when you are feeling stressed. Universities have services in place to accommodate you for a reason.

If you are suffering from stress or mental health issues, contact your local GP or wellbeing service. For more information, advice and support, visit:  Mind orThe Mix 

Lead Image Credit: silviarita, via Pixabay.

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