Returning to Uni: Taking Care of your Mental Health

Camilla Duke discusses the difficulty of adjusting to life at university after the holiday, and how self-care routines can often be disrupted by the change of scene. By examining the way that this change can affect anyone's mental health, this article champions the importance of re-training the brain to adopt healthy self-care habits.

The last few weeks of winter term at university are inevitably filled with incessant chatter about going home. For many people, going to university can be a stressful experience, so the idea of going home is met with great excitement, especially when so many St Andrews students are far from home. For others, however, going home is what causes this unwanted stress. 

At the end of first semester of the academic year, I found myself in the former category. I loved being at university, but I was also excited to return to the comforts of home. I knew that going home would have its stresses, but the thought of returning to familiarity was thoroughly comforting. When I finally crossed the Atlantic to go home, though, I found myself in a state of confusion. I was happy to see my family and sleep in my own bed and eat home-cooked meals, but I felt a little out of place. I realized that I had adjusted to a whole new existence at university, and this included my routine of self-care and my relationship with my mental health. 

At home, I was never very adept at taking care of myself, but the independence of university allowed me to develop a self-care routine that suited my needs. When I map out my day, I write a list of things I need to get done, and I always include one thing for myself, and I make it specific, so I can cross it off the list in the same way that I do with assignments and errands. On a given day, I might have “read one chapter of Harry Potter” right below “review lecture notes” or “buy shampoo.” But when I returned home for winter break, I was no longer able to determine the course of my own day, so I fumbled to keep my self-care habits in place.  I found myself reverting to old customs, particularly when it came to not taking very good care of myself. At the end of my break at home, I started to worry that I had forgotten how to take care of my mental health, and that I wouldn’t be able to pick up from where I left off when I got back to university. These worries subsided a little when I actually got back, but I definitely had to re-train myself in terms of my self-care habits. I am still adjusting to being back, and I know it will be a process, but I also know that so many other people are going through similar experiences. 

In speaking to my friends at university after the break, I learned that while not everyone experienced this adjustment in the same way, everyone felt the difference. For some, the return to St Andrews was accompanied by an increased level of stress, but for me, it was the opposite. This is not to say that university isn’t stressful - of course it is. The difference that I found was in my ability to take care of myself. The level of independence afforded to me at university differed drastically from what I had at home, and I found that being independent corresponded very closely to the quality of my mental health. However, some of my friends have experienced this adjustment the other way around: they were able to maintain their self-care at home, and the return to university threw them off. Either way, practicing a routine can be a good way to keep self-care a priority, whether one is at home or at university. 

Without keeping track of my self-care, I know I could very easily get overwhelmed with the multitude of tasks I face after a month of idleness. Hopefully, with a system in place, I’ll be able to keep up my self-care habits this semester. Remember to take care of yourself as the new semester starts, and not in an abstract way. Take real steps to keep track of your self-care, before the workload of the semester takes over.