Written by Jill Jaworski
Students manage a lot: keeping up with classes, preparing for midterms and exams, making new friends and navigating the transition that happens after high school. The student experience is often stressful, and can feel isolating, as students learn to cope with new expectations and a demanding workload. This is exactly why it’s important for students to look after their mental health and to build good habits that will help them become more resilient in the future.
Here are five straightforward tips to help take care of your mental health:
Build a Support Network: Students often believe they have to “go it alone” because they feel that stress is just part of the student reality, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Even if you’re far away from home, technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Building in a routine Skype call, making a friends or family group chat, walking and talking on the phone, or setting up virtual movie or games nights are all ways you can sneak in welcome breaks from studying and maintain connections that you already have. School also opens up the opportunity to meet new people – whether you feel extroverted or shy, there are lots of ways to make new connections. Many schools have a directory of clubs and organizations, musical ensembles, fitness classes, intramural teams of all levels, book clubs and more – and of course, study groups are a great way to socialize and study at the same time.
Prioritize Sleep: All-nighters are almost synonymous with midterm studying, but sleep is important for concentration, memory consolidation and recall, and information processing. So, it’s a better idea to prioritize sleep over pushing back your bedtime to cram. Prioritizing sleep can also help you keep your energy levels up and stay productive. Sleep is also important for protecting your mental health as it helps you mentally recover, and a lack of sleep can make individuals more prone to depression and can exacerbate anxiety.
Focus on Exercise and Nutrition: Exercise not only helps you stay physically healthy, it can also help you keep your energy levels up, boost your mood, and stay social – all important factors for your mental health. Exercise is a great way to build your confidence and give you a routine feeling of satisfaction. Diet can also impact your mental health so make sure to skip the fast food, and load up on nutritious foods that will fuel your body and your brain. Many schools offer a fruits and veggies stamp card similar to coffee cards, which will help keep you healthy and stretch your budget at the same time. There are also plenty of suggestions online for healthy meals on a budget. Everyone needs a healthy mix of sleep, exercise and quality nutrition, and while it’s not possible to maintain perfect balance, it’s important that all these areas get your attention.
Take Time to Manage Your Stress: It’s important to set aside time to manage your stress, and this will look different for everyone. Whether you take a moment to reflect on a gratitude prompt, practice mindfulness, read a good book with a mug of tea, watch a few (a few!) episodes of a favorite show on Netflix, listen to music or enjoy watching sports with friends, finding what helps you take your stress levels down a few notches will help you protect your mental health. Again, exercise is a great way to help you manage your stress, and everything from yoga to walking, or swimming to lifting weights is effective. Talk about how you are feeling with your support network, and lean in to supports as you need them.
Make Good Use of the Resources Available to You: Many schools have health services and healthcare professionals right on campus that are covered through student health plans. These services are designed for students, so the professionals within these services know the student experience well and will be there to support you. If you feel like you would rather talk with a fellow student, many schools also have student-led support services with trained staff and volunteers.