Advice Clinic

Looking after your mental health as a student

12th April 2017

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Looking after your emotional and mental wellbeing is as important as looking after your body. Here are five tips for students by BIMM Berlin’s student councillor, Jan Kaspers, to help improve your mental hygiene in everyday life.

  1. Structure your day

Humans have an inbuilt need for structure. Having predictability is important for your brain, which then knows what to expect… and it satisfies your sense for safety as well. As a student, having a structured life is sometimes not easy compared with someone who’s structured externally by their office hours. Having routines, like doing sport at the same time each week, having meals at the same time, and adding little rituals in your everyday life, helps you to feel stable. If your days are constantly different, it signals to your brain that you’re in extraordinary circumstances, which triggers a stress response. If it’s difficult for you to structure your time, start to use a schedule and plan your week. As an extra tip: don’t overload your days. Plan to allow 30% more time than you originally had in mind to achieve things in your day. This buffer will help you to deal with those unexpected circumstances that life frequently throws up.

  1. Sleep Hygiene

Having good sleep hygiene is important for your mental wellbeing. Try to do as little as possible in your bed – the best way is to use it only for sleep and sex. This connects your bed to the sensations of rest and pleasure. If you have problems falling asleep, try not to watch TV in bed or use your smart phone there. The bright blue light of a screen will trigger wakefulness. Also, the constant distraction from your phone will keep your mind active. Instead, get yourself an old-school alarm clock and turn your phone off overnight.

Also, don’t drink stimulating beverages like caffeinated tea or coffee in the evening. The same goes for participating in sports late at night – doing so will help to keep you awake. If possible, go to bed and get up at the same time each day. If you lie awake in your bed for longer than 30 minutes, get up again. Instead of tossing and turning, do something calming, like reading a book.

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  1. Set goals for yourself

Setting goals is important for feeling secure and satisfied – they can be both short and long term ones. If you set goals for yourself, write them down so that you can keep track of them. For defining goals, the SMART rule is very helpful. Make them as specific (S) as possible – this helps so that you don’t lose yourself in vagueness and confusion. Also try to make them measurable (M) so that you can be aware of when you’ve reached your goals. Also keep them achievable (A) and realistic (R). This is important, as we sometimes set goals which are too low or too high, and this is unsatisfying in both cases. The most pleasurable goals are slightly challenging, but not so much so that you begin to dread them. Finally, be aware that your goals are time-bound (T), so define when you want to achieve them by. If you want to find out more about the SMART rule of goal setting, simply search for it on the internet.

  1. Include mindfulness in your everyday life

Mindfulness is experiencing a renaissance at the moment, but it’s actually an age-old concept which hails from eastern meditation traditions. Mindfulness is a way of being, in which you focus on the present moment; life how it is right here and right now. Often our busy, racing minds get distracted and tend to be concerned with regret about the past or worry about the future. As a simple method, you can start initially by being conscious of your breathing. Whenever you feel distracted or your mind seems very busy, sit down, close your eyes for a couple of minutes, and become aware of your breath. Count up to ten and then start all over again. The best way to observe your breath is by sensing your belly rising and falling or by noticing the cool stream of air on the tip of your nose. If your mind starts to wander, just gently return your attention to the assignment and start counting up from one to ten again. Undertaking conscious breathing every day for five minutes is more effective than one hour per week. The more you integrate it into your daily life, the less stress and anxiety you’ll experience.

  1. Practice gratitude every day

Staying positive in everyday life is a matter of focus. Our minds work selectively – if you tend to concentrate on the negative aspects of life, the world will look bleak too. Focusing on what you’re grateful for is an easy and efficient way to stay more positive and grounded. As a simple exercise, take a notebook and for 21 days in a row, write down three new things that you’re grateful for each day. The best time to do this is before bedtime so your mind is filled with positive notions before you fall asleep. In the beginning this might be difficult, as we’re not necessarily trained to think this way, but after a while your mind will start to selectively see positive aspects in everyday life. Once you’re trying to acknowledge positive viewpoints for every negative one that arises, you’ll start to experience a heightened sense of gratitude.

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If you’re interested in seeing a councillor or want to know more about the support available to you as a BIMM student, please email Student Services to talk about your options.

Author

Lucy Donovan

Lucy is the International Marketing Manager for BIMM Berlin and Hamburg.