Benefits of Caring for your Mental Health
Stress is no stranger to most university students. With the high amounts of work on our shoulders on top of a college student’s messy personal and social life, many may find it difficult to take care of their mental health and, worse, cause burnout. After spending almost 3 years thousands of miles from home trying to find my own way, I could say I have had my fair share of tumultuous periods. Although I still am learning to balance it all out as well, I thought I would take the time to write a blog sharing a bit of my experience and perspective with taking care of my mental health as a college student as well as some of the services provided by the university to help students.
Mental health matters
Our mental health tends to be overlooked when we’re busy with our studies, especially with a hustle culture promoting a relentless work ethic and constant productivity. Students are dead-set on performing well in all aspects of life that we tend to forget that we are not machines and aren’t meant to be spending late nights up crouched over the desk working on a paper. Sooner than later, many find themselves burning out, setting themselves back days, weeks or even months on their studies, making all those late nights, really, counterproductive.
It is also important to note that our mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined. Prolonged periods of stress and anxiety as well as depression have been shown to weaken the immune system. On top of that, it may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating, substance abuse, or lack of physical activity, which contribute to obesity, cardiovascular problems, and other chronic diseases which may even linger long after your studies.
Creating healthy habits
Now, you may tell yourself that a night of studying until 4 am while having an 8 am class the next day will just be a one-time thing, many fall into this pattern not long after. It may be useful for one to create a sort of routine that one could follow to keep their mental health in check. I’m not referring to planning every minute of your day, no. Instead, you could prioritise certain things such as getting your 7 hours of sleep, and your 3 meals and set aside a certain amount of time for your other responsibilities and plan your day-to-day around that and your classes.
On top of that, the climate in the Netherlands does not help. Every year, I observe a handful of my peers disappearing during the winter from both social and study-related responsibilities. Coming from a country where it is sunny year-round, I have fallen into seasonal depression (otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder) myself. Around this time, it is important to put a bit more effort into the measures mentioned before. However, one may find that they need extra support as well.
Does the university provide resources to navigate some of these challenges?
The university provides activities during certain times of the year called Surf your Stress. Otherwise, you may also be able to reach out to a student psychologist year-round, provided by the WUR. It may also be useful to take a look at the student guidance page to see what other available resources are available, such as peer coaching or support workshops, if you don’t think a student psychologist floats your boat. Furthermore, for concerns regarding feeling unsafe in the university environment, you can visit the social safety for students page.
The student psychologists provide professional help for any students and both online and face-to-face appointments of up to an hour can be made. To do this, you can simply fill in the registration form with your WUR login. The psychologists themselves are very helpful and will assist you for up to 5 meetings. Everything is covered by the university and is confidential, of course. There is also a walk-in consultation option held at De Bongerd every Tuesday from 3 to 4 pm.
However, in my experience, getting these online consultations is not always so easy and immediate. Most of the time, you’ll be put on a waiting list which at the moment is about 2-3 weeks, which also depends on how immediate your concerns are deemed to be. Furthermore, it is heavily stressed that these consultations are only for “minor concerns”. This refers to more regular problems that can arise in anyone’s day-to-day that cause them a certain amount of discomfort such as failing a big exam or breaking up with your significant other. The psychologists could help by being a listening ear and providing you with some mental health exercises. For more complex psychological problems, diagnosis or long-term help, it is wise to contact your GP, which the psychologist can help refer your case to.
Also, for life-threatening emergencies, immediately contact 112. For suicidal ideation, please contact the Dutch Suicide Helpline at 0800-0113.
Put yourself first
Even despite countless efforts to take care of your mental health, s*** happens. When life presents you with an array of problems, it may sometimes be helpful to put your studies aside for a moment. To help deal with this, you may find it useful to talk to your study advisor to discuss what the next steps are and whether or not you should delay your study until such problems are resolved.
This concludes what I can share about taking care of your mental health as it is usually a personal case-by-case thing. However, I hope you find the information on mental health services to be useful! Do remember that prevention is better than cure and please do not hesitate to reach out. Take care <3!