Mentally Healthy Students: mental health tips for transitioning from university to work

Rob Cooper

In March 2020, Rob Cooper a final year law student – and one of the Careers Service Welcome Desk Assistants – attended a workshop put on by Mind about preparing students to manage their mental health during the transition from studying to the workplace. We asked Rob to share his key takeaways from the workshop, here’s what he had to say.

We started the workshop off by first questioning what good mental wellbeing is; what do you think? We thought that the ability to adapt and cope with new situations was integral, especially in the context of starting a job.

Good mental wellbeing is however very subjective, although it broadly focuses around being happy and feeling like you’re able to cope and thrive; not just survive. The coach from Mind, who lead the session, said that when making a large change in your life, mental wellbeing is linked with your core identity of what makes you, you. The stronger the core is, the more you will feel able to deal with the challenges that come your way.

In light of this, when making a large change in your life, you can help insulate your mental wellbeing from adversity by finding ways to fulfil your core values in your new job or lifestyle.

For some that may be joining a local sports team, finding the local green space as your escape, volunteering or finding your local place of worship. By becoming more self-aware of what your core values are and where your sense of self and uniqueness comes from, you can incorporate those things into a world that is otherwise unfamiliar, giving you a solid foundation on which to build a new life.

This all sounds great doesn’t it, find your core beliefs and make sure you nurture them? But what if you don’t feel like your current core beliefs and traditions are helping your mental wellbeing?

jar full of marbles

A helpful analogy that captures this, is the jar. Mental health is like a jar filled with marbles, the marbles being your mental health problems. These marbles are split into two types, you could think of them as different colours if that’s helpful. First, the genetic marbles, the mental health issues you’re predisposed to, or possibly a ‘label’ you’ve been given.

Everyone is born with a varying number of genetic marbles, leaving varying amounts of space for the second type of marble. Second, there are marbles that represent environmental factors that negatively affect your mental wellbeing. Examples could be loneliness, an injury, a death of someone close to you, and many more.

Although you don’t have control over the amount of the first type of marble you have in your mental jar, and you may have limited control over the amount of the second type, you have complete control over the size of your mental health jar.

You can make your mental jar bigger if you want, and it becomes smaller if you don’t pay attention to your mental wellbeing. A bigger jar means you can handle more environmental factors, without your jar overflowing.

This analogy works well because it isn’t defeatist, you are the one in control. Everyone has different things that shrink and expand their jar, whether that’s exercise, satisfying your natural curiosity (reading? TedTalks? podcasts?), meditation, speaking to someone about it, or any number of other things, you need to find yours.

My key takeaways from the workshop were to be mindful of your jar, and keep it in check, especially when making a big change such as starting a new job. I think it’s also important to add, if you’re looking, but not finding work, don’t panic. It’s easy to compare yourself with those who are starting work straight out of University, but just because you’re not, doesn’t mean you’re a lesser person, your time will come.