Self Care at Uni


Statistics show that 1 in 6 young people aged 16-24 has symptoms of a common mental disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder.1

Building resilience and encouraging self-care is so important, in particular during these uncertain times. As a parent of young adults, Nutritional Advisor, Tracy Breuning, shares a number of wellbeing and lifestyle tips below to support those that need an extra helping hand to build their 'resilience toolbox', not just during this time but also as something that can be taken forward in life, from university and beyond.


RESPECT PERSONAL SPACE

Living with others and sharing communal spaces can be a delicate balance! Whether at home or in accomodation such as halls or a house share, try to set out some common ground rules and agree boundaries from the beginning, managing everyone’s expectations from the start.

STAY CONNECTED

Keep up with and strengthen your support networks of family and friends. Often university can take us hundreds of miles away from home, make time to pick up the phone and reach out to family and old friends. Studies show as humans we like to feel we belong to something. Positive social connections can boost our love hormone oxytocin, which increases self esteem and optimism as well as dopamine, which can boost our drive. 

Stay connected to tutors and support study groups and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are getting overwhelmed or behind on deadlines.


DON'T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF

Watch out for perfectionism traits and remember self-preservation. Try and live in the present and not ruminate on things that have happened or may happen. If you notice limiting beliefs or behaviours, change your environment and do something you enjoy, which makes you feel good, such as listening to music or going for a walk. Mindfulness is a great tool to help still the mind, so why not explore short guided mindfulness meditations, such as on the Headspace app.

KEEP PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

Exercise can help boost our feel good endorphins. Try to get outdoors at least once a day – a brisk walk or run to increase your heart rate or perhaps cycle to campus. Find a new sport and try out for the university team! Sports activities are a great way to meet others and with your new found friendship you're more likely to stay committed to the sport. And why not add an indoor activity like stretching or yoga to relax at the end of the day. 


SUPPORT YOUR GUT HEALTH

Around 90% of our feel good neurotransmitter serotonin is manufactured in the gut. Support your gut flora diversity with prebiotic foods such as slightly green bananas, apples, oats, asparagus, onions, garlic and leeks. Try your hand at making fermented foods such as sauerkraut which has been shown to have good levels of the beneficial Lactobacillus species.  

In addition, support with a multi-strain live bacteria supplement, such as Bio-Kult Boosted, containing 14 different strains, plus vitamin B12 which contributes to the normal function of the immune system and normal psychological function.

MOOD BOOSTING FOODS

Our happy hormone, serotonin, is derived from the protein tryptophan. Ensuring you have good sources of tryptophan in the diet, such as turkey, beef, bananas, beans, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds is important as we must obtain tryptophan through the foods we eat; our bodies cannot create this essential protein. 


MINDFUL EATING

We are all used to eating on the go and rushing our food but this year has provided us ample time to retrain the brain to slow down and be in the moment! Animal and human studies indicate that mastication (chewing) modifies the effects of stress and is effective for preserving hippocampus-dependent cognitive function.2  Make time to sit at the dinner table and focus on the foods you are eating without distraction. Putting your cutlery down in between mouthfuls can help slow things down further.

KEEP HYDRATED

Water accounts for 75% of our brain mass so it is not surprising that dehydration can cause confusion, drowsiness and memory loss.3  It’s important to stay hydrated, so aim for 2 litres of water throughout the day, and limit fizzy drinks to special occasions or weekends only. Remember caffeinated teas, coffee and alcohol are all diuretics so should each be followed by a glass of water to stay hydrated. Herbal teas are a great caffeine-free alternative.


GET ENOUGH SLEEP

It’s important to keep to a healthy sleep routine to maintain circadian rhythms. Watch stimulants through the day such as caffeine. Manage technology in the evening so make sure you come off phones and laptops a few hours before going to bed and use the blue light filters, which many devices now have built in. Enjoy a calming, camomile tea before bed.




References

1. NHS Digital (2017) Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014.

2. Kagaku Azuma, Qian Zhou, and Kin – ya Kubo. Association between Mastication, and Hippocampus, and the HPA Axis: A Comprehensive Review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2017. 

3. Zhang N, Du SM, Zhang JF, Ma GS. Effects of Dehydration and Rehydration on Cognitive Performance and Mood among Male College Students in Cangzhou, China: A Self-Controlled Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2019;16(11).