Three young people sit on a bench outside. The person on the right is chatting with the person in the middle of the bench who is looking at them and smiling. The person on the right is speaking to someone outside of the image.

A guide for young people Looking after yourself at uni

Being at university can be a really exciting period in your life, but it can also feel stressful or overwhelming at times. Here are some ways you can look after yourself.

Play Video: University Mental Health Day 2020 University Mental Health Day 2020

The "best years of your life"

It's something we've all heard: your time at university will be "the best years of your life". This may be true for some people, but chances are you will go through some difficult times while at university, just like you might at any other time when big changes are happening in your life. It can be a lonely time, especially if you’re away from home and missing your family and friends.

You might feel under pressure to make friends, decide who to live with and meet course deadlines. And knowing how much money it costs to study at university may make you feel stressed about money, or like there’s lots of pressure for you to do really well academically. On top of that, it might seem like everyone else is coping fine and having the time of their lives.

However you feel is valid, but it is important to remember that almost everyone struggles with life at university at some point. In fact, a 2018 study found that:

  • one third (33%) of students surveyed felt lonely often or all of the time
  • almost nine in ten (87.7%) students struggled with feelings of anxiety
  • over three quarters (75.6%) of students hid their mental health symptoms from friends.

So, if university life is making you feel overwhelmed, anxious and unhappy, you are not alone, and things can get better.

A young man wearing a grey hoodie and looking at his phone while he sits on the grass and leans against a tree.
Moving away for university has so many benefits and brings with it many positive experiences. However, you are allowed to feel homesick and lonely.

Preparing for uni

Whether you struggle with your mental health or not, preparing for uni can feel overwhelming. There are lots of things you may feel worried about, like making friends and finding your crowd, coping with the workload, money and, if you struggle with your mental health, having the right support available to you.

Here are our tips to help you prepare for uni:

  • Speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

    It’s natural to feel worried about starting uni, so speaking to someone else may help you feel less alone.

  • Research what support is available at your uni.

    Most universities have a student wellbeing officer and/or tutors assigned to support you, and some even offer counselling services. Contact your uni’s student union or student wellbeing officer to find out what services your uni has.

  • Make a budget.

    This can really help ease any money worries you have. For tips on how to create a budget, Save the Student have a guide you can use.

  • Make sure you have enough meds.

    If you take medication, whether for your mental health or not, it can be a good idea to get a new prescription before you go to uni. Once you’re at uni, you should register with a local GP who will be able to help with medication, but getting your meds before you leave may take the pressure off. Read our medication pages to find out more. 

  • Remember that you are not alone.

    Most new students feel nervous or worried about starting uni, so you are not the only one! How you feel is valid and support is available if you need it. You’ve got this.

Tips for looking after yourself at uni

Whether you're just starting university or you're in your final year, looking after yourself at uni can be difficult. It can be scary being away from home in a new place with people you might not know that well yet. Or you may be finding your course very challenging. Lots of people find university difficult and however you're feeling is valid.

Take a look at some of our tips below for looking after your mental health as a student.

It's so important not to suffer in silence. It can be scary to open up about how you're feeling, but you are not alone - there are people who want to help. You may find it helpful to arrange set times to speak to your friends or family back home. Or if you'd rather talk to someone you don't know, we have a list of helplines and services.

Most universities have counselling services and you should have a student welfare officer or tutor who can help you get support if you need it. Search on Student Space to find out what support is available at your university.

Even if you don't feel you need to talk to your GP right now, it's a good idea to register now so you can get help if and when you need it. Visit the NHS page for information on how to register.

When we are going through times of change, it can be really helpful to have a routine to give us some structure. Think about basic things you can do to look after your body, like getting enough sleep, trying to eat a balanced diet and doing regular exercise if you can; these can all help with your mental health.

If you are having virtual lectures, it may feel difficult to keep your studies and your personal life separate, which is why it’s really important to establish boundaries. Try to plan in regular breaks where you get away from your desk and do something you enjoy. This can also help break up the days.

Some people find it really helpful to journal, or make a note of how they're feeling so they can see what does and doesn't help them feel better. If you're not a big fan of writing, you could try keeping a doodle diary. This can also be helpful to show to a doctor or counsellor if you feel you need more support.

It’s normal to find it hard to make new friends at university, but try to continue socialising with others as friends are important for your wellbeing. You could organise daily or weekly activities with your housemates, such as having dinner together, holding a game night or starting a TV series together. You could also try joining a society or going to a student union event. This can be a great way to meet people who enjoy the same things as you.

It's normal to find the work you are doing at university a lot more challenging than what you were doing at school. If you're finding studying hard, remember that it's important at times like these to prioritise your mental health. Give yourself a break if you need one!

To help you and others remember to look after your wellbeing, we have developed a poster with tips and advice for self-care at uni. Display this in your student union or around campus.

Download the poster
Two young people walking together through a park.
Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come in such little time. You’ve adapted to change in every way. It’s easy to compare yourself with everyone else, but I promise you aren’t alone in how you’re feeling.

Tips from our bloggers at university

  • It is okay to be scared. Your bravery for taking this leap if you’re also tackling mental health challenges is amazing and something to be proud of! I was definitely nervous about all sorts of things before I started uni: meeting new people, getting used to a different city, finances, accommodation and transferring care teams. I was also filled with self-doubt and worried that I had got in by mistake and that as soon as the work started I would be kicked out! Worst of all, I felt like I was the only one struggling.
    Rachel, 21
  • As a current university student myself, I have had sleepless nights about how my experience will be changed due to the current situation; however, I think it’s important to realise that every single university student is experiencing the exact same thing. We cannot control what is happening, so why should we spend so much time worrying about something that we can’t change? I know that it’s easier said than done, but please try to understand that you are not alone and the fact that you’re still able to participate in university this year is a huge blessing – try to focus on the positives and be proud of yourself for everything that you have achieved to get you to this point.
    Laura, 21

Where to find support on campus

It's important to find out what support is available at your university. Most universities have counselling services and you should have a student welfare officer or tutor who can help you get support if you need it. Take a look at some of the different types of support you might find, and search on Student Space to find out what support is available at your university.

  • Your GP

    If you’re struggling to cope, a good first step is to talk to your GP - make sure you’re registered with one at your uni. It can help to write down what you’ve been going through before your visit.

  • University counselling

    Most universities have counselling services, which will give you the chance to talk through your experiences in a non-judgemental space. Find out more on your uni’s website.

  • Tutors and student welfare officers

    There may be a tutor assigned to give you pastoral support, or a student welfare officer you can talk to.

  • Student minds

    Student Minds run support groups, especially focusing on depression and eating disorders, which are led by other students.

  • In an emergency

    If you’re about to harm yourself or have already done so, phone 999 or go to A&E and explain that you’re at risk.

  • Disabled Students' Allowance

    If you have a mental health condition, long-term illness or other disability, you can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance. This is support for any study-related costs you might have, such as providing a note taker, any specialist equipment, or extra travel to attend your course.

The most important task for me to do before anything else was to ensure that I had reached out for help.
Laura, guest blogger

Self-care at university: tips from a young person

There are things you can do yourself to help look after your mental wellbeing at university. Our blogger Josh shares the self-care tips that helped him:

  • 1. Exercising

    Jogging, running, swimming, anything that helped get my endorphins flowing.

  • 2. Accepting that I was ill

    This was difficult because mental illness isn’t as tangible as a physical condition. However, trying to pretend I was fine only made things worse. I had to be kind to myself and put in the correct self-care.

  • 3. Maintaining relationships

    Socialising seemed like a pretty arduous task at times, but it helped to stay connected with the world.

  • 4. Cutting down on alcohol

    Drinking might have made me feel better in the short term, but it only masked the problem rather than solving it.

  • 5. Looking after my body

    This meant improving my diet, sleeping well, and drinking plenty of water.

  • 6. Speaking to others

    This was the most important thing I did, and by leaning on those close to me, I was able to get the day-to-day support I needed.

What does self-care really mean?

‘Self-care’ is a phrase you’ve probably come across, but what does it really mean?

Judging by what we see in adverts or on social media, we might think it’s all about candles, yoga and luxury bath bombs. We might think it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. And we might feel like it isn’t for us. But is that really all there is to it?

We've launched a new campaign to scratch beyond the surface of self-care, looking at how self-care can help you, what to do when it feels impossible, and how you can find what self-care works for you.

Find out more about self-care
  • Do some research regarding the support systems that your university provides.
  • When I'm having a difficult time, I try to take a step back, acknowledge how I'm feeling and actively take time to myself to relax.
  • There are many ways to stop stress becoming overwhelming. During my exams, making lists was really helpful for me. By organising my deadlines and what I had to do for each one, I stopped allowing my problems to escalate in my mind.
  • You are allowed to feel homesick and lonely - this is just a normal part of the process.
  • Make plans back home - This might sound counter-intuitive to making friends at university, but keeping home life exciting and having something to look forward to will help with the initial move.
  • It may not seem like eating healthily would affect your outlook or mood, but you may be surprised. Why not try switching up your diet? There are hundreds of recipes and advice online that can be accessed on Google.
  • One of the best things I did in my first months at university was get together with my flatmates to cook every evening. Working on something together and connecting in a way that doesn't involve drinking can help cement strong relationships.
  • If you're struggling with the pressure of exams, it's important to speak to someone. Whether friend, family, staff, counsellor or helpline - there's always someone who will help. Accepting help and using the support network around you is a critical way to cope during the exam period.

Real stories about looking after yourself at uni

Get help now

Helplines and services

  • Student Space

    Provides mental health support to students.

    Find what support is available at your university.

    Webchat service available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, 7 days a week
  • Nightline

    A free, confidential listening service for you to talk about anything that is on your mind.

    Services and opening times vary from institution to institution, but often there is a phone, text, email and live chat service.

    See if your university has a nightline listening service.

    Opening times:
    Varies from university to university
  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday
  • Papyrus

    Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as family and friends; and information about how to make a safety plan.

    Its helpline service - HOPELINE247 - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.

    Opening times:
    24/7 every day of the year
  • Student Minds

    Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.

    They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.

    You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).

More on looking after yourself

We have more information, tips and advice on how you can look after yourself and your mental health

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If you are in crisis right now and want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

All fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required to submit this form.
Please copy and paste the page link here.
Please do not include personal details. This is not a mental health support service and you will not receive a reply.

Please note:

This form is not a mental health support service. We cannot reply to this. If you are at risk of immediate harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E. If you are worried about your mental health, call: Childline (for under 19s) on 0800 11 11; or Samaritans on 116 123.

At YoungMinds we take your privacy seriously. If you’d like to read more about how we keep the information we collect safe, take a look at our privacy policy.