Four years of deadlines, reading lists, clubs, parties and late nights. How anyone manages to survive it with their sanity in one piece is a mystery. Between the caffeine, sugar, sleep deprivation and stress, studying rarely turns out to be the healthiest time of anyone’s life. For most people, this normally comes out in the form of extra weight from too many nights out finished off with take-out Chinese food. For an increasing minority, however, university and college can end up being four years of anxiety and depression.

This is how I spent my years at college. Stemming from a whole range of issues, I spent a lot of time either crying, faking or hiding my way through university. By the end of my final year, I was using anything I could lay my hands on to scratch myself, my housemate had taken away my scissors, I was scared of using knives and I was so stressed about my exams that I threw up in the library. My parents were so worried that any thought of me staying in Norwich after graduating was out of the question. I was told (yes, 21 year old me was told) that I was to move back home. I was not impressed at all! However, my forced return to my parents’ house has given me two years (ouch!) to think back over my time in college.

Having had two years to reflect, its about time that I shared some of what I learned from my own dark cave. So here goes…

Surround Yourself with Positivity

It sounds like such a cliche, doesn’t it? Like surrounding yourself with positive vibes, energy or something will make you all happy again. I’m going to have to burst that bubble; it’s really not that easy.

Related: 5 Things Every Woman Need to Hear

So how do you surround yourself with positivity? The most obvious one is the favourite of almost every Pinterest-addicted girl I know: QUOTES! And there are so many to choose from. During my first year, I lived in halls on campus. As a big fan of colour and creativity, I covered every flat surface I could in posters, drawings and quotes. In particular, I would write out any Bible verses, quotes from books, and even song lyrics that I liked on post-it notes. These then got stuck all over my wall for me to read whenever I felt like hiding and never leaving my room again. Though they didn’t stop my depression (unfortunately they haven’t found a cure yet), those quotes were something for me to hold on to when everything else seemed to be slipping away. Paper the walls with them if you need to because when you feel like no one else understands you, there will be a quote that makes you remember just how untrue that is.

The other way you can surround yourself with positivity is by choosing your friends carefully. Everyone has those friends who believe they are the fount of all knowledge and everyone has those friends who love to “be in the know”. From experience, it’s best not to go to them when you want to be surrounded by positivity. I had a few friends like that and during one relationship, their advice definitely didn’t help. It actually led me down the wrong path with some bad assumptions.

Instead, surround yourself with friends who listen while making you a cup of tea, who are happy to just scoff ice cream with you until you feel able to talk, who can make you laugh no matter how low you feel. Friends who just want to spend time with you because you are their friend. I’ve had a few of those friends too and they are the most precious ones you will ever find.

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Engage with the Big Picture

When I was struggling, my world would cave in and shrink to the size of my bedroom. I didn’t want to let anyone else in to shine a light in my little cave. At house parties, I started to drink too much. With my housemates, I started to become argumentative and mouthy. I began to avoid the Christian Union and Church because they were “too Christian”. However, there was one place where my world expanded to let other people in: UEA Trampoline Club! Three times a week, for two hours I spent time with some of the funniest, most out-there people I knew.  We weren’t the closest of friends but we had great times just being ourselves, while trying to take trampolining seriously as we practiced for competitions.

So how does this help you to thrive at university or college? Taking time out to do something completely random, spending time out with people you can laugh with, asking each other totally bizarre questions. Each time you do one of those, you are engaging with the big(ger) picture around you. And every time you do that, you learn something. Those hours spent learning how to somersault also taught me how to laugh at myself, terrify myself, question myself and beat myself (my fears, not literally myself). Find yourself a hobby, friends, anything really, that will teach you how to look beyond the person you believe you are to the person you really are. After all, isn’t that what the college years are all about?

Do That Paper NOW

Yeah, you heard me. Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today. That paper that’s due in two weeks? Finish it this week. Those finals at the end of the year? Start revising now. I wish I had followed that advice when I had been at university. Maybe I could have gotten that first class degree instead of a 2:1. But more importantly, maybe I wouldn’t have become so stressed that I threw up when revising for my last exam. Though it can seem really tempting to push everything back to the last moment, doing so will just make you more stressed with less time to do your best work.

Related: How to Write College Papers That Will Dazzle Your Professors

“Why?”, you may ask. Well, how do you feel when you’ve been up all night, fueled by coffee and sugar, just to finish (or even start) that 2,000 word essay due the next day? Sleep-deprived? Groggy? A not-so-hot mess? Sure, you probably feel happy initially that you’ve handed in another assignment but it’s short-lived because you’re just so tired. And tiredness feeds into every other negative emotion. More argumentative. More depressed. More anxious. Is leaving it till the last moment really worth all that? Imagine how much better you would feel handing in that essay when you’re not sleep-deprived? You might even have the energy to celebrate with your classmates!


A graduate of two years, Katy started blogging as a way to find her voice and to stop her getting bored while looking for a job. Two years on, she has a job, helps out with youth work and is applying for a postgraduate degree but still finds time to blog over at CounterCultural. CounterCouture. She can normally be found with a cup of tea at her desk or in the kitchen. After all, part of being British is loving a cuppa now and then. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook!

8 thoughts on “How to Thrive in College With Depression

  1. I clicked to see if there would be a cure for my loneliness lol. Your tips still could help with that, especially the one about thinking about the big picture, which is to GET OUT AND MAKE MONEY! lol. I’m glad you’re finding ways to cope with depression.


  2. Thanks for these tips! I’m starting Uni in the fall and although I love learning, academia stresses me out more than anything else, and it tends to turn me into the worst version of myself. I’m scared that when I get there and my support system is so far away (we’re talking a different continent) then I’ll sink farther than I’ve ever gone. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay ahead of it. Thanks for taking the time to share your story and your advice.


  3. Have you looked into PMDD? I don’t know anything about your symptoms, but this was the major issue I dealt with in college and it took a while for me to pinpoint my depression to hormones.


  4. When I was put completely out of my comfort zone and felt more alone then I have ever been in my life but that’s when I found myself, learned to love myself and cured my depression.

    This isn’t about me or curing depression though, it’s about the learning to find yourself and not to get so caught up in society and this rat race we live in. I don’t know where I’d be today if I never traveled to the other side of the country with no friends, family and experienced a completely different way of living. Might not even be here at all.

    What I learnt was that happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a mood, an emotion. I know I keep repeating that but really think about it and it makes sense. I learned that it’s OK to be sad, people get sad all the time and it’s OK to be angry, frustrated and excited etc. These are all emotions and they don’t last forever. Same goes with happiness, it comes and goes and the more you think of it like that, the more you appreciate and embrace feeling happy.

    I stopped trying to rush out of feeling any emotion I felt. I still feel upset and angry sometimes but I just had to think about why I was feeling like that and what I could do to change feeling like that. I didn’t necessarily need to change the situation that was making me feel like that, I just stopped numbing myself to every emotion I felt. It’s better to feel pain then nothing at all.

    You don’t always have to be strong, you just need to be a fighter. Just feel whatever your feeling and don’t be afraid of emotions, you are human; it is natural for you to feel things that aren’t always physical. Embrace it.

    I remember I was too afraid of feeling happy; Because I knew it wouldn’t last, I thought what’s the point of even feeling like this when I’m just going to feel like shit when someone or something ruins my happiness? I came to the conclusion that people, friends, family or strangers are going to make you feel like shit sometimes, there a certain people out there that will purposely try make you feel smaller then they are and this is ALWAYS them having a problem with themselves, it has nothing to do with you. Ignore it.

    Life is always going to get in the way of your plans and things always change in a blink of an eye. Learn to adjust to change because no matter what’s going on around you, at least you have yourself. At the end of the day all you have is you and yourself, so you have to learn to like you.

    Another thing I have learned is you can never convince someone how amazing they are and make them realise their worth, I know because when people tried to tell me, I didn’t believe them, I listened and agreed but I always ignored it. You have to convince yourself. No one will save you. Everyone is too busy trying to save themselves.

    As I said I’m not trying to be an expert I just really want people to see this world for what it really is and count their blessings everyday, my life is far from perfect but I’m grateful for everyday because I know I’m here, I’m alive and one day I’ll be gone, dead. So when I’m on my death bed I can say that I made the most of everyday and I was always kind but at the same time didn’t take shit.

    Everyday is beautiful no matter where you are or what your situation is, there’s always going to be someone who has it worse then you and someone is always going to have it better. Thats just life.

    Eliminate toxic people from your life, eat good food, read good books, go for walks, love those who care about you, think positive, embrace the earth, read inspiring stories, learn from and accept your mistakes (never regret them) and embrace what you have (not what you don’t have).

    Your vision of you being forever happy when you have a certain something or you’re in a certain place will not happen unless your happy with yourself. Happiness is a mood, it’s not permanent.

    – K x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was dealing with severe clinical depression even before I entered college and I’m fairly certain none of your ‘tips’ would have worked for me. Statistics show that positive affirmations and uplifting quotes work primarily on people who are neurotypical, those with mental illness tend to find themselves alienated from that kind of stuff or feel that it doesn’t/can’t apply to them. That’s certainly how I felt too.

    I do feel that if I had had any friends at all during my college years, I might have been okay. But I felt so out of place at university – I was a bit older than most of my classmates, I’ve already suffered so much trauma in my life, and it was REALLY hard to connect to anyone real. Everywhere I went, I heard off-hand jokes about ‘craziness’ and going ‘psycho’ and that kind of stuff hurt. So I ended up suffering alone in my dorm room for three years before dropping out to get my sh*t together.

    Just being positive and trying to stay on top of homework/keep your friends around isn’t enough. If you’re dealing with legit mental illness, you NEED to seek help. Talk to your school counselors. Get referrals to someplace better if they aren’t equipped. And maybe seriously consider if you can handle the stress of being in college without having a solid treatment plan in place.


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