Going to university

Students can experience struggles with all aspects of emotional and mental health. These range from difficulties in managing stress, change and pressure, right through to more serious mental illness and mood disorders.

Managing student stress

Finding your independence is one of the best things of university life, but it can come with its fair share of stress. Study goals, money trouble, living away from home – these can all play on your mind.

Student stress can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • struggling with your mental health
  • loneliness, homesickness or relationship difficulties
  • finding it hard to save money or deal with debt
  • not knowing how to balance work and study
  • worrying about revising for exams
  • struggling with writing essays or dissertations
  • feeling unsure about what to do after graduation
  • harmful use of, or withdrawal from, alcohol or drugs.

There are a number of common reactions to stressful circumstances such as these, including:
Behavioural – these could involve avoiding or escaping from the situation and turning to alcohol or drugs, a change in appetite or an inability to concentrate.
Physical – you may experience an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, headaches, butterflies and over-breathing.
Psychological – stress can lead to fear, panic and the feeling that something bad is going to happen.

This doesn’t have to be a gruelling gym session – you simply need to get your heart racing, for example by going for a brisk walk or a bike ride.
Exercise releases endorphins, it makes us feel good.  We feel great following doing some exercise and it also often goes hand in hand with other positive steps towards good mental health, such as spending time with other people or time outdoors.

If you’d like to get moving but are struggling for ideas see what schemes are available at your univeresity and get involved with clubs and groups. There’s usually a huge amount of different activities on offer from hiking to dancing, football to boxing and martial arts to yoga.

Mindfulness is a popular way to deal with tackling stress or anxiety. It can significantly lower stress levels.

When we are stressed our minds sometimes behave in ways that hold us back rather than help. Rather than going over a problem over and over again, take time out to focus your mind on something relaxing and positive.

Talking to someone
Accepting that you need help and talking to someone is often the first step to feeling better.

Speak to your friends and family – they know you best and care about you the most. Going out somewhere with a friend just once a week can reduce your stress levels and improve your mood.

Visit a friend and tell them about the problems you are facing and then tell them about the good things in your life, ask them to help you work through it. Sharing difficulties can help. However, going over and over them often doesn’t and is likely to make your friend switch off, so ask them to listen first and then help you to get a different angle on things.

Talk to other students on your course and you will probably find that you’re not alone. This can help put things in perspective. Ask them what techniques they use to manage stress.

Alternatively, make an appointment with your student wellbeing service. The majority of universities have these and they should be your first port of call if you’re worried, stressed or upset about anything. They’ll provide a listening ear and can signpost you to specialist services who can offer specific support if needed. While wellbeing services don’t provide counselling support, most universities offer free counselling and support groups. Sessions tackle wide-ranging themes, from surviving freshers’ week to coping with post-Christmas exam stress.

Time management
People often get stressed when they feel that they’re running out of time to complete a task – this could be study or work related or even come from feeling overwhelmed with social activities. However, simple time management techniques can help you to feel more relaxed and focused.

Try creating a written schedule, breaking your tasks down into manageable chunks, planning and allocating yourself time every day to relax or spend time with friends. Divide your work into urgent and non-urgent tasks, and important and non-important tasks.

Getting enough sleep
Taking time to relax before you go to sleep can help the quality of your sleep. Try to go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time each day. Seven to eight hours is recommended – we know this is not always easy to do if you are working part-time or have planned a night out, so don’t worry if it’s not the same time every night.

Stress can change your sleeping pattern so try to do everything you can to relax yourself before going to bed. Take a bath to wind down, watch your favourite TV show or sit quietly and read.

Avoid screen time as much as possible and switch off laptops, phones and tablets at least an hour before going to sleep.

If you study in the same room you sleep in, cover your books and desk with a sheet or a screen.

  • Take your mind off it. Do something you enjoy and that will distract you for a while like listening to music, reading, baking or crafts.
  • Eat healthily and consume fresh foods.
  • Change your mind set and adopt a positive attitude.
  • Take a break from social media. Comparing yourself and your productivity to others is a recipe for disaster.
  • Laugh. Laughing out load actually increases oxygen and blood flow, which immediately reduces stress. Spend time with a funny friend, watch something silly or book tickets to the local comedy club.

If you’ve tried all these coping strategies but can’t conquer the cycle of stress, it’s a good idea to visit your GP to check that the symptoms you are experiencing are in fact stress related, and that there are no underlying issues.

How to balance work and study

The rising cost of university means that students are turning to part-time work to pay the bills – discover how to hold down a job without letting your degree suffer.

While many students work to top up their loans and earn spare cash, that’s not the sole benefit of finding a part-time job.

Having a part-time job can be very rewarding, both financially and socially if you have moved away from home and can help improve your CV.

Before you apply for any part-time job, you should first think about your timetable. Shops are busiest in November and December, and you may be given lots of extra shifts. This could be perfect for you – but not if you have lots of essays due or exams to revise for.

Be honest about the amount of work you can take on. Employers needing staff to cover shifts during term time often take advantage of eager students who need the money, and will often expect part-time employees to be flexible and work more hours during busy periods. Even if you’re willing to do this, highlight when your lectures are, as well as coursework deadlines and exams.

While it’s important to be careful when taking on extra responsibilities, part-time work can be a great addition to your schedule – motivating you to stay productive throughout the day. For instance, if you have a shift in the afternoon or evening, you’ll need to wake up earlier to study in the morning.

Taking on the extra responsibility of a part-time job won’t make doing well in your degree impossible, but you’ll need to be organised and have good time management to make it happen.

Also, don’t try to stay on top of your workload by memory alone. Buy a diary or planner and write down all shifts, lectures, seminars and outside commitments. You can use it as visual tool of your time, helping you to stay organised and fit everything in.

If you ever do find that you’re working too much, talk to your manager and ask whether it’s possible to reduce your hours. Ultimately, your health, wellbeing and degree should come first.

Money-saving tips for students

It’s important to keep track of your spending. Create a spreadsheet of your finances so you can see how much you have to spend each month. Include your income from student loans, scholarships and bursaries, any parental contributions and part-time jobs, as well as regular outgoings such as your rent and mobile phone.

You’ll need to be smart with food shopping. Do a cost-effective ‘big shop’ at the start of each week and keep the number of takeaways you have to a minimum. Buy supermarket value products rather than well-known brands, and shop at the end of the day when many items have the prices reduced. Share the cooking with your housemates and plan your meals in advance. You’ll save money by making packed lunches rather than buying a sandwich or going to a coffee shop.


Leaving your home, family, friends and all that’s familiar to move to university would be a big deal for anyone – however, there are steps you can take to ease the feeling of homesickness.

Homesickness is a feeling of stress or anxiety caused by separation from people and places that you know. Leaving home to go to university is a very common cause of this.

It can affect anybody – whether you’re a home or international student. It doesn’t matter whether your university is just a few miles from your hometown, or on the other side of the world.

Homesickness occurs most frequently at the start of the academic year, however in some cases, some students adjust to life at university a lot more quickly, but experience these feelings of homesickness after a month or so – as the reality of university starts to sink in. It’s also common to be homesick in the weeks following the Christmas holidays, after spending quality time with friends and family back home.

Fortunately, homesickness is usually a short-term issue. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), while it typically affects 50-70% of students during their first few months at university, most students’ symptoms fade after their third week.

Symptoms of homesickness include:

  • a disturbed sleeping pattern
  • feeling angry, nauseous, nervous or sad
  • feeling isolated, lonely or withdrawn
  • feeling overwhelmed, insecure, anxious or panicky
  • feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth
  • headaches
  • a lack of appetite or concentration.

Homesickness can lead to issues such as depression, so it’s important that you confront it. However, always remember that it’s perfectly normal to miss familiar surroundings and struggle to adapt to new ones – feeling homesick isn’t a weakness or something to be embarrassed about.

The most reliable way to beat homesickness is to immerse yourself in university life, even though this can be daunting at first.

A great way to meet like-minded people is to join clubs. It’s also a good idea to visit places of interest in your new town or city and get involved in local events.

Even when you need to do something on your own, such as a piece of coursework, try to get out of your room. For example, study in the library or take your laptop to a coffee shop. Being among other people will help you feel less isolated.

Exercising, eating well and regulating your sleeping pattern are also essential.

In addition, it’s important that you manage your relationship with home. Regular contact with friends and family is important, but at the same time you need to give yourself space to focus on your new life. Constant phone calls or social media messaging will keep the  negative feelings there for longer.

If you’re homesick at the start of term, it may be tempting to head straight back home at the weekend. However, you need to use this time to get to know your new surroundings and meet new people. Instead, plan a visit home for a few weeks’ time, so that you can look forward to it while making the most of your first weeks at university.

Don’t be down if being a student isn’t immediately the amazing experience you were expecting – that will come in time as you settle in.

You should avoid:

  • bottling up your feelings
  • locking yourself away in your room
  • rejecting opportunities to meet new people
  • failing to attend lectures and seminars
  • drinking alcohol more than you normally would.

How do I look after my mental health at university?

There are plenty of things you can do to look after your mental health while studying.

  • Eat as healthily as possible and exercise regularly – healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive and just 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day can help.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep – with impending deadlines and nights out it’s unlikely you’ll get the recommended eight hours but where possible try to establish a sleeping pattern.
  • Keep your living space tidy – it’s hard to focus when you’re living in a jumble so de-clutter, tidy away mess and open windows to let the fresh air in.
  • Don’t take too much on – you don’t have to say yes to every social activity or study group. Make time to relax and do something you enjoy.
  • Set achievable goals – mental health struggles can make simple tasks feel overwhelming so don’t overload yourself.
  • Keep in touch – this may feel hard but it is important to keep social connections
  • Drink sensibly – alcohol is a depressant so keep a check on your consumption levels.
  • Join a club or society – spending time with like-mined people doing something you enjoy can be a great mood-booster. It can also provide a sense of community and friendship, which is great if you’re feeling lonely or homesick.
  • Download some apps – there are lots of apps that can help with your mental health
  • Find outlets that work for you – this could be running, baking, arts and crafts or writing – whatever makes you feel better
  • Seek support early – don’t leave it until you’re at crisis point

Your universities wellbeing service is an excellent place to start.

Wellbeing teams can provide a listening ear and can signpost you to the most appropriate services such as appointments with dedicated mental health advisers, drop-in counselling or mindfulness sessions and support groups. To find out what support is available at your university contact student services or look on their website.

Outside of university try:
Your GP – if you’re worried about your mental health visit your GP.

The Samaritans – if you feel you need immediate help, call 116 123, any time of day.
Family and friends – talking about your struggles can be a huge relief. Don’t feel like a burden, your family and friends want to help.

There’s lots of help out there, both inside and outside your university, so you should never suffer in silence. The first step to accessing this help is admitting that you’re struggling.

These are some of the signs to look out for:

Disengaging from university and other activities and commitments – you may struggle to engage with your student work, peers and tutors.

Socially withdrawing – becoming more isolated and not looking after yourself.

Problems with motivation and concentration.

Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.

Indulging in addictive behaviours or taking unnecessary risks – such as using drugs or alcohol.

Physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues and physical pain – there’s a strong connection between the mind and body.

Low mood or increased irritability.

Lack of energy and motivation.

Constantly feeling tearful, angry or on edge.

Avoiding certain situations.

This isn’t a checklist of symptoms and students who are struggling may experience all, some or none of the above. If you feel low, regardless of your symptoms reach out and seek help.

Students are particularly vulnerable to mental health struggles as they’re often living away from home and dealing with the stresses of adult life for the first time.

Good mental health allows us to adapt and effectively manage the changes and stresses that come, not only with university life, but day-to-day life.

Mental health and wellbeing impacts on our ability to engage with the world around us. It affects the way we think and feel, as well as how we behave. Therefore, looking after your mental health and wellbeing is one of the best things you can do, for you.

Explore Rotherhive


RotherHive is developed by Rotherham Place Partnership

© Copyright Rotherham Place Partnership (Previously NHS Rotherham Clinical Commissioning Group) 2024