By Gurpreet Singh, counsellor at relationship support charity, Relate
It’s no secret that having good relationships in your life is really important to your mental health.
Without good relationships, people become isolated. Having a network of people around you means having the emotional support most of us need to get through life.
Of course, creating and maintaining good relationships — with friends, with family, with a partner — isn’t always so simple. That’s why this World Mental Health Day, we’re sharing a few tips on how to improve your relationships and in turn, your overall wellbeing.
When you move away from home and into university accommodation, it can really feel like you’re a fish out of water — taken away from all the people you know and in a totally new environment. It’s not uncommon to find yourself beginning to feel isolated or lonely.
Isolation is a tricky thing because it can begin to build up its own momentum. If you’re feeling low and alone, very often you’re less likely to reach out to others.
Sometimes, it’s easier to start things slowly. Instead of putting lots of pressure on yourself to meet loads of people quickly, try just making a few small changes.
That might mean going along to a society meeting or sports club. It doesn’t have to mean going to parties or the union bar — we know that can feel like jumping in at the deep end. Perhaps there’s a low-key social event like a pizza or movie night in your halls that you could pop along to. It can even be something as simple as saying hello to someone in the hall, or just keeping your door open instead of closed. If you know somebody in your accommodation is on the same course as you, you could casually suggest walking to the lecture together or if you have an exam coming up, see if they want to hit the library.
One slightly surprising tip when it comes to meeting new people — try to show some vulnerability. We know that this can feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re already feeling a little neglected. But sharing how you’re feeling with people can be a great way of creating real connections and it’ll encourage others to do the same with you.
Also don’t forget the existing support networks in your life. There’s no shame in calling home to get a little emotional support — or in travelling home for the weekend if it’s practical.
Depending on how your relationship is going — having a partner can be a great source of support or it can create some tricky challenges.
Arguing with your partner or feeling like you aren’t as happy together as you used to be can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. Relate’s research suggests people in distressed relationships are three times as likely to experience a mood disorder, such as depression as those in healthy relationships.
That’s why it’s so important to give your relationship the attention it needs. It can be easy to assume that relationships should just take care of themselves but that isn’t usually the case. Most couples need to make sure they communicate effectively with each other — letting each other know if something is wrong and talking it through together.
It’s so important to let your partner know how you’re feeling, and for you to listen to their feelings. Otherwise, you risk any sources of unhappiness turning into resentment over time.
This can be an especially big risk if you and your partner are going to different unis — as it can make it even harder to keep talking things through and maintain a sense of connection.
If you want to get some more ideas about how you can strengthen your connection take a look at these communication tips to try with your partner.
You might also find our counsellor’s advice on how to handle being at separate universities helpful.