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Staying Mentally Healthy

Majdi Khamis spoke to nearly everyone involved with keeping AUT students mentally healthy to compile this epic guide, all with the hopes of helping you find the help you need. Illustration by Angel Chen.

It goes without saying that being mentally healthy is your key to success when it comes to studying. Therefore looking after your mental health will not only improve your grades, but also your quality of life. So here is a guide that will hopefully help boost your success and enhance your mental wellbeing while you are studying at AUT.

Being what you’re eating

Several studies and researches found out that there is a strong relation between what we eat and the state of our mental wellbeing. The New Zealand Mental Health Foundation explained in its report called ‘Feeding Minds’ that there is a strong relationship between diet and the development of some mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s find out what the science says:

• The body extracts nutrients from food. Some harmful nutrients release oxidants or toxins, which could damage the brain cells. On the other side, healthy nutrients act as injection shots of goodness, improving our mood and overall wellbeing.

• Healthy eating will give you all the required nutrients so that your brain can function properly.

Now I bet you are wondering how to protect your brain and get the most of your diet and, in my opinion, it’s all in this simple diet equation: complex carbs + protein + essentials fatty acids + vitamins and minerals = a superb mental wellbeing. In other words, try maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, and don’t forget to stay hydrated.

Exercising happiness

No one can deny the amazing health benefits of exercise to our mental health. Let’s dig into the science:

• Physical activities stimulate the brain to release what is known as happy hormones (endorphins and serotonin).

• Exercise acts as a natural healer for mild to moderate depression. Several studies suggest that exercise has similar effects on the brain as antidepressant medication, thanks to the endorphins.

• Feeling stressed after a long day of lectures? Then it’s time to hit the gym. Working out regularly will reduce mental stress, alleviate anxiety, improve memory and help with relaxation.

• Do you suffer from poor concentration during study? Then working out is your medicine. Several studies conclude that aerobic exercise on a regular basis increases the size of your hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning abilities. Based on this fact, regular aerobic exercise will sharpen your memory, boost your concentration and strengthen your ability to learn new things.

• Most of us want to get smarter and achieve the best outcome from any given task. If that is something you are after, then doing a regular cardiovascular exercise would be one of your greatest tools. That's because cardiovascular exercises help increase the number of new brain cells you create. This would definitely help in improving your brain functions.

Alongside all these benefits, physical activities can improve sleeping patterns, raise self-esteem, boost confidence, improve positive self-image, and make you stronger mentally and emotionally when you face a challenge in life. And most importantly, it acts as a defensive shield to protect you against many mental health problems. In fact, exercise is an irreplaceable tool that aids study success and helps you achieve a good outcome in just about anything.

Taking a deep breath

As university students, we all experience stressful situations, scaling in intensity from mild to high depending on the circumstances. It’s obvious when we’re overwhelmed – we can’t think clearly and our productivity decreases. It’s essential to learn how to cope with stress, and practicing some relaxation techniques can help. Some benefits of relaxation techniques include having a high quality of life, increasing your productivity and mood, calming the mind, muscle relaxation caused by anxiety and improved sleep. Some of these relaxation methods are:

Meditation: is a powerful relaxation tool. It involves clearing your mind from everything, putting your attention in the present, and focusing on your breathing. Meditation is usually practiced in a comfortable seated position. Many studies show that meditation is useful for dealing with stress and anxiety. It also helps increase attention span.

Yoga: is a combination of breathing techniques and flowing movements. Its goal to is to enable you to mentally focus on every movement while breathing thoughtfully. Practicing yoga improves mental functions incredibly and helps you deal with stress.

Mindfulness: is the practice of living in the present by being aware of your body, emotions and mind. It creates a feeling of calmness and relaxation of the body and mind. Several researchers indicate that practicing mindfulness regularly has many benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety and alleviating depression.

AUT’s helping hand

When it comes to mental health, AUT has lots to offer students. There are plenty of workshops, sessions and friendly support staff available to help. Here are some services that will greatly support your mental wellbeing:

Free Counselling Sessions: AUT students can get free counselling sessions and mental health support, delivered by experienced professionals. They are well trained to support you if you are struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or any other personal or mental health-related issue. Book an appointment through the Student Medical Centre.

AUT Resiliency App: is designed to help students build mental strength and increase their ability to withstand stressful situations. It is free to download.

GRAD Resiliency Workshops: is a series of four workshops designed to cover grief and loss, relationship issues, anxiety and depression. They provide an opportunity for students to learn skills to manage their mental health. These workshops will be piloted in the City Campus during Semester One, then made available across all AUT campuses.

Postgraduate Support Group: is designed to provide support for postgraduate students, which enables them to learn skills that will help them manage their wellbeing successfully while studying.

Rainbow Support Group: started in Semester Two last year and was created to provide support for Rainbow students who are questioning their identity or coming out, and to give them opportunities to learn skills to manage their wellness. To get in touch, visit the Rainbow Student Room (WB212, City Campus) or email Audrey:

Meditation Classes: are free to AUT students. Visit a Multifaith Room at any of AUT’s campuses for more information.

AUT Campus Gym: isn’t free, but if you sign up it allows you to take a break from your study and enjoy a yoga class or two. It also offers mindfulness classes to members, as well as other group activities and facilities.

Te Puna Oranga: ‘The Spring of Wellbeing’ is a new initiative at AUT that will be approaching wellbeing collaboratively and holistically. They are focusing on ‘keeping each other well’. Watch this space.

It is vital to stay mentally healthy while studying, both for your grades and for your general wellbeing. Physical activities, diet and relaxation methods could seriously help, as well as seeking support. I wish you all a happy and healthy year at AUT.

If you or anyone you know is at risk, here is where you can find help: City Campus: (09) 921 9992, South Campus: (09) 921 999, North Campus: (09) 921 9998, Urgent enquires: (09) 921 9999 ext 8888 Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7), Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (available 24/7), Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7).

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