KRISTIN DE DECKER
The new semester brings the promise of a fresh start and with that, new tests and assignments begin to overcrowd timetables. Due to the high intensity of the semester, it is easy to become overwhelmed by trying to balance academic achievement, social commitments and physical exercise. A good foundation for the semester can be set by thorough planning and can be vital in coaxing us out of our holiday moods and back into university life. UP has numerous avenues available to students that can improve and strengthen mental health, physical wellbeing and academic stability.
Over time more emphasis has been placed on the importance of psychological wellness in our everyday existence and UP has followed suit. Mental health has a significant impact on all spheres of students’ lives and Student Counselling is aware of this fact. Clinical psychologist and head of Student Counselling, Dr Linda Blokland told PDBY that students should “see [their] psychological wellbeing as an integral part of general healthcare”. She advises that students “eat healthily, exercise, sleep regularly, follow a structured programme to ensure that [they] have adequate study time”. In the same vein, UP spokesperson Thamsanqa Mthembu encourages “students to plan their academic programme properly, so that they have enough study time, including enough time for their assignments”.
Moreover, Dr Blokland noted that “a social life is always part of a balanced lifestyle”, suggesting that students also need to make provisions for family and friends in their schedules in order to have a healthy and holistic second semester.
“students to plan their academic programme properly, so that they have enough study time, including enough time for their assignments”.
This can prove difficult when academic pressure is at its peak. Students struggling academically or seeking academic advice are encouraged to speak to the faculty student advisors, specific to each department. Additionally, students are encouraged to consult their relevant study guides which contain vital information pertaining to each module, as well as attend any tutorials available in order to strengthen and solidify their knowledge base. Being academically proactive can significantly reduce stress and the risk of later academic exclusion.
Dr Blokland highlights that “anxiety is a normal healthy response to stress but when it interferes with your daily activities then you should seek help.” The Student Counselling Unit is vital resource available to students that Dr Blokland flagged as an effective tool in managing such anxiety and overwhelming stress. Psychologists can be consulted by students on Mamelodi, Prinshof, Onderstepoort, Groenkloof and Hatfield Campuses during specific time slots. Dr Blokland also told PDBY that the Student Counselling Unit has equally formed a “number of groups […] to help students help themselves”, such as a Narcotics Anonymous group and a Sexual harassment/trauma group, among others.
Physical health is another critical aspect of daily life that can positively translate into academic focus. Head of Psyche’s Mini-outreach, Sarah Oeschger, suggested to PDBY that students “take care of themselves in terms of eating healthier” which entails having a “balanced diet that suits their specific body requirements”. Oeschger equally noted that students should not “forget how mental health is tied to physical health”. This echoes Dr Blokland’s emphasis on the importance that students do “not separate physical health from mental health” as “they are integrally linked, with one aspect of health impacting on the other”. Doing regular exercises is thus pivotal in achieving optimal functioning. According to the U.S National Library of Medicine, exercise can “help you control your weight”, “reduce your risk of heart disease”, “improve your mental health and mood”, “help keep your thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp as you age” and “improve your sleep”, among others. These benefits are accessible to UP students, as anyone can partake in a myriad of sport that the university has on offer, ranging from water polo, to hockey, rowing and many more.
Additionally, students can consult the Sport, Exercise, Medicine and Lifestyle Institute (SEMLI) Nutrition dieticians, via appointment, or consult Student Health Services for a comprehensive range of services, free to all registered UP students. While sport provides the opportunity to connect and bond with a group of people, the different societies on campus can provide the chance for tangible human interaction and exchange.
“Anxiety is a normal healthy response to stress but when it interferes with your daily activities then you should seek help.”
Oeschger suggests that students should “try branch out in terms of their social groups and try get involved in more activities and societies around campus” as “for some, being part of a social group will help boast their mental wellbeing”.
Mthembu told PDBY that students should equally look to safeguard their future wellbeing and security by being financially savvy this new semester. He suggests that “saving money will assist students in ensuring that they are able to spend on the critical items” and that “in their spending and use of their financial resources, we want to remind students to keep in mind that the country awaits their skills and the sooner they graduate the better”. In line with this, Mthembu encourages students to utilise the “ready for work programmes” UP has on offer in order to swell confidence and practical skills. This new semester will bring many challenges and students are therefore encouraged to utilise the facilities and services when navigating such adversity and stress. Students are reminded to stay positive, keep active and speak up when feeling frazzled.