It’s hard to deny that a big part of university life has become a drinking/drug culture, and even if you’re struggling with your mental health and know that this lifestyle doesn’t help, it is ridiculously easy to get caught up in. Some people might make it look easy to go out most nights a week, drink until 6am and still manage to get out of bed the next day; but for someone struggling with mental health issues, it can be a completely different story. I know a few people out there that may relate to this thinking of other drugs, whereas my own personal experience at university has mainly been with alcohol, so that’s what this post is more generalised to.
I spent my first two years of university thinking that because “I’m a student”, drinking so much was completely normal and therefore completely fine, and I know a lot of people that suffer from mental health problems that still convince themselves the same. It is almost normalised to completely abandon any self-care in favour of ignoring any of our mental struggles and drowning them in alcohol; it is almost trendy to do so. Daily sessions with new friends are a much more appealing option once you have found your freedom in university life, but I know from personal experience that this, above anything else, can, and normally does, have such a detrimental effect on your mental health, especially if you’re already struggling.
One of the things I found it hardest to admit, to myself and others, was that this lifestyle just can’t work for everyone. I found that as much as I had so many great highs while consistently spending nights off my face with my friends, I had horrifically crashing lows. And it is too easy to ignore. The fact that all of your friends seem to be able to deal with this makes you believe that you can and that it might help, even when you’re at your worst, so you continue to abandon your mental health for the sake of a good time. But when do we start giving thought to the fact that this can lead to long-term worsened mental health, or start considering issues like addiction? Do any of us really want that for ourselves?
Now, I really enjoy a drink, and I wouldn’t dare suggest to any students to cut it out completely, but for the sake of my own sanity, I’ve had to start giving consideration to my mental health at the same time. I don’t want to make it worse, none of us do. So I’ve had to stop ignoring the problem and remember to keep up with my self-care while still trying to have my fun.
So, if anyone can take anything from this, here are a few little tips that I try my hardest to keep up with:
- Remember how much being hungover effects your mental health before you drink. Not after. You don’t need to get absolutely smashed every time you drink, and it definitely doesn’t need to be a daily habit, especially not to alleviate anxiety. I think I used to genuinely believe that there was no point in drinking unless I was going to get very drunk. This wasn’t a pretty time in my life. Also – stay hydrated! This sounds obvious, but I only just realised recently how little water I drink. That one pint of water that you down before bed whilst smashed won’t help all that much. Try to drink water throughout the night and lots all the time to help you not feel so bad, and to feel a lot better in general.
- Remember that you don’t have to explain yourself or any of your decisions to anyone if you don’t want to. Get used to saying “No” just because you want to. This is one of the best things I’ve ever learnt, in all aspects of my life. Nothing is anyone else’s business unless you allow it to be; you do whatever you need to look after your own mental health. Do you. Leave others to themselves.
- Sleep. Exercise. A lot of the basic things we need to do to keep ourselves and our minds healthy fall by the wayside when we’re at uni, especially when drinking or hungover. Try to remember how much you should care about yourself, even if at times you don’t, and keep up with the tedious side of looking after yourself. These are the things that make the difference, and eventually, you’ll start to enjoy them.
- The last thing that I had to learn was that university work is actually kind of important. Having problems with anything to do with your mental health can make keeping up with the boat-load of uni work hard at the best of times. Trust me, it will be harder if you are constantly tired, hungover or coming down. I’ve had to learn the hard way that there are massive implications for letting this come in the way of your work. Remember why you’re here. Make sure you get the support you need from your uni in place for when you need it, it’ll help.
So basically, self-care takes a lot of effort. It is too easy to just give up on yourself and allow the worst to take control. You might lose motivation and hope sometimes, I do regularly. But we’ve all just got to keep trying and stop making it harder for ourselves. We’ve already got enough to deal with.