How to keep your mental fitness high during university

Sean Campbell
Sean Campbell

5 October 2020 • 7 min read

While it’s one of the greatest and most memorable periods of your life, it’s fair to say that university is no picnic. It can be hard -- the workload is heavy, and lecturers and tutors can bombard you with information thick and fast. There are long hours in the library working on assignments, and those exam revision sessions can be hellishly intense. 

For a lucky few, the amount of work and pressure is as easy to digest as bread and butter. But for the rest of us mere mortals,  it can all lead to stress, fatigue, and ultimately, burnout. That is, unless you know how to keep your mind in tip top condition! Well, we’ve gone through university ourselves, and along the way we picked up a couple of great hacks and methods for keeping your mental fitness high during university. 

Do nothing (sometimes)

Want to get a lot done? Then rest. Doesn’t make a lot of sense does it? Let’s explain in a little more depth. When you’re stressed out and tired, that’s your body (and mind) telling you it needs a break. But we couldn’t possibly recommend spending the whole day resting -- that would be just as harmful as not resting at all! It’s all about finding a good balance. 

Make sure that when you’re not working, you’re really not working. Take a few breaks a day, and get enough sleep at night. Sure, you’ll probably want to go and socialize with your classmates or housemates, and who are we to stop you? But there’s nothing quite as beneficial as a healthy sleep pattern. 

Physical fitness = mental fitness

Any half baked scientist can tell you that physical exercise does wonders for your mind. So then, let’s get a little bit sciencey to explain this one: Getting your heart rate up increases the flow of blood, and therefore oxygen, to your brain. This is a good thing, since without oxygen… well you know the rest.  Exercise also triggers your body into releasing a couple of wonderful little chemicals called dopamine and serotonin. These have long and complicated functions, but the short way of explaining it is that they make you feel great / happy / stress-free. 

It doesn’t even have to be hard exercise either. You‘ll get some great benefits from just taking a walk every day! But the more, the better. So bear in mind that it might actually help you to take a half hour less at the library everyday, and a half hour more in the gym. 

Feed your head

Literally. Our choices in what we eat have a huge impact on how well our minds function. Sure, we can all get a boost from one or two cups of coffee, an energy drink or a slab of chocolate. But where there’s a high, there's also a crash, followed by a fatigued low. Eating healthier foods pays dividends throughout the day on our mental stamina. Think about it -- it’s pretty hard to eat a huge, fast food meal and feel motivated to work after, right? We’re not saying to cut out all those guilty pleasures, but making sure to eat plenty of fruit and green veg keeps your brain firing better for longer. 

And it should also go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: ensure that you eat enough food. Try not to skip too many meals, and try not to eat on the go!

Avoid the rush

Eating on the go ties in perfectly here. Being in a rush creates stress, and we all know too much stress impairs our mental fitness. We’ve all been there -- we’ve hit the snooze button on our alarm and taken that extra fifteen minutes in bed. Next thing we know, we’re rushing out the door and running late for class. What an awful way to start the day! Let’s be honest, those extra few minutes in bed don’t do us any real good. Why not get up, take the time to have a shower and get ready, take your time, and then stroll along to class in a better mood? You’ll thank yourself later. 

You can easily apply this to your studies and assignments too. Rather than leaving that essay to the last day and having to spend all night in the library, start it a few weeks in advance and put in an hour or two of work a day. That way, when it comes to crunch time, you’ll be less tired, less stressed, and your work will be much better too.

Switch up your focus

A quick personal tale for you. I spend my entire day reading and writing, yet sometimes even the simplest of tasks become impossible, and sometimes the most interesting subjects become boring. Why? Well it’s just too much of the same thing. So what do I do to fix it? I read or write some more. But about another, totally unrelated subject. This way, the mind stays active, but it gets a break from whatever it was focusing on before. When your focus switches back to “work mode”, it’s refreshed and recharged. So if you’re suddenly finding your work unengaging or hard to follow, pick up a novel, watch a movie, or write down a few notes in a journal for a while. 

On a grander scale, make sure that not all of your university life revolves around your degree and your degree alone. You could join a society, or simply spend some quality time engaging with your friends. 

Take a screen break

There are few things more mentally tiring than staring at a computer, tablet or phone screen for hours on end. Tiring out your eyes means tiring out your brain, and a tired brain equals a tired mind! The fancy term for tired eyes is asthenopia, and on today’s uber-techy world, it’s on the rise. 

Every hour or thereabouts, get away from the glare of the screen for a few minutes and give your mind a rest. Even better, get some fresh air and a glass of water before diving back into your work. 

Ask for help

There’s barely a human on earth who doesn’t get mentally run down from time to time. There’s no shame whatsoever in it. If you ever find that you’re becoming overwhelmed by mental fatigue, stress, or even study-induced anxiety and mental ill-health, the very best thing you can, and must do, is share your problems with someone. It might just be a friend you trust, and maybe even just telling them will help you feel better. But on top of that, always remember that modern universities are fully equipped to help students out with their mental health. They employ teams of counsellors qualified for this very purpose, and they will be glad to help you out. The welfare of students is their highest priority. Remember, university is supposed to challenge you, but it’s not designed to harm you. 

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself

We all need to blow off some steam once in a while. Whatever it is that you enjoy -- a late night party, a shopping trip, a rainy day spent in a cafe, or a competitive sport -- take the time to do it! Life is all about finding a perfect balance between work, rest and play. Get that balance right and your mental fitness, happiness and academic achievement will all soar. 

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.


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