No one should feel like they need to abandon self care in favor of essays, exams, finals and loans. But when has a professor ever said, “Yeah, don’t worry about that huge paper. Take a mental health day.” Probably never, right? But you can put a lot at risk when you place your wellbeing on the back-burner. Instead of letting stress run your life, take these five psychologist-certified tips that will help you gain control of your life and mental well-being.
These 5 simple mental health tips will help you in college.
1. Reach out to professional sources on campus or online
At college, avoiding an overwhelming schedule seems nearly impossible. Your wellbeing may sit at the bottom of your list or priorities, while grades and papers sit at the top. But experts advise allocating some of your energy into seeking support. Melissa Cohen, life coach, therapist and creator of aredefinedyou.com, emphasizes the benefits of seeking professional help. “Students should seek professional help if they feel that they are overwhelmed. Time management and organization will help with stress. Balance is key. Students should do things that make then happy and take time for themselves (self-care),” Cohen said.
Remember to do the things that make you happy whether that’s something as simple as a nap, or something more energizing like a brisk walk around campus. Self-care activities like napping, exercising, reading, listening to music and even watching TV can help you cope with or manage your emotions until you have the proper means to deal with them.
Students rarely develop the skill to perfectly juggle classes with friends, family, clubs and activities right off the bat. Don’t lose hope if things don’t fall into place right away. It might seem scary and uncomfortable at first, but you may need to just bite the bullet and seek help if you need it. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) advises those who seek professional help to ask their doctor or nurse to help them find a specialist, to speak up if they need immediate help and to look for a specialist who fits their needs. Work at finding the right schedule for you.
2. Create your own support group with friends and peers
The task of caring about yourself doesn’t need to fall solely on you, and it shouldn’t feel like a burdensome chore. The presence of a support system really helps a student’s well-being. “A good support system is vital. Friends and family should listen and encourage them to take care of themselves. If a person is experiencing symptoms, they should explore with a professional what is going on and develop coping skills and techniques that they can apply throughout their entire lives,” Cohen said. Fostering open conversation about your mental health with the people close to you can help you create a network of supportive relationships to last you through your college years. Give your mom a call once in a while.
Therapist and Founder of Aspire Counseling Jessica Tappana emphasizes reaching out to friends to build these relationships. “Friends can encourage a student who they notice is feeling depressed, anxious or seems stuck to reach out and find help. If you’ve had a positive experience with therapy yourself, you may share that with a friend to make it less scary for them to reach out for help,” Tappana said. Try building up your confidence through openly discussing your mental health around family in friends. They may offer some helpful advice or stories of similar experiences in mental health care.
People your age often experience the same generational hardships that you do. Approximately 1 in 5 adults face mental health issues in a year, and 1 in 25 adults face mental health issues that interfere with one of more major activity in their lives. Whether debt, homework, the job market or just romance prompts your stress, your peers could offer you some experienced and comforting advice on the topic.
3. Organize your calendar and make time for the things you like to do
When in the middle of a particularly busy semester, surrendering to stress from the avalanche of homework, club meetings and classes can often seem easier than making an effort to organize your schedule, talk to your professors or work on completing your homework early. In the long run, this attitude will only hurt you. “Take time to do things that you want to do, not only the things that others want, or you think they expect you to do. Ask questions, manage expectations and set clear goals,” Cohen said. These tips can fit into your schedule with little effort. In classes, don’t strain yourself to understand everything within the first 30 minutes.
Like the experts advise, make time for important things: ask questions to your professors, your advisors, your peers and anyone you believe could help you. Ask someone for your science class’ location instead of wandering around campus. Give yourself more than enough time to finish your papers. Draw a physical copy of your schedule and try color coding it to make it as understandable as possible. Write a chronological daily to do list and cross off completed tasks. Taking your responsibilities one at a time and finding the time to answer questions about your college or university can help you achieve a low stress semester.
4. Take a day off to focus on your mental health
Avoiding your mental health can feel as easy as procrastinating homework—an issue that plagues a majority of college students at some point in their academic career. But the risks of putting aside your mental health far outweigh any pros of procrastination. “When a person does not maintain their physical health, they risk getting sicker. It is the same with mental health, and could result in physical symptoms: withdrawal from social activities, decrease in grades, depression, panic attacks, etc.,” Cohen said. If you broke your leg, you’d find help and take care of it immediately. Your mind and stress levels should receive the same treatment.
Avoiding looking after yourself can result in unpleasant physical as well as psychological outcomes. The NAMI reports some common warning signs of mental health issues as feelings of sadness or withdrawal, self-harm, risk taking behavior, significant weight gain or loss, hallucinations, repetitive drug or alcohol use. “If you don’t take care of your mental health, it could have a lasting impact on your future. If stress, anxiety or other mental health concerns aren’t treated you may find yourself drinking too much, using substances, dropping out of school or making choices that take you away from the path you envisioned for yourself.” Tappana said.
According to the NAMI, 31 percent of college students experienced such harmful depression that functioning became difficult, while over 50 percent felt such overwhelming anxiety that their academic work suffered. Making mental health a priority can decrease the prevalence of these feelings and how they can negatively affect you. Taking charge of your mental state can lead to better results in your academic life. As a rule of thumb, you should always consider your future self when decision making. Taking the time to make better choices now can result in reaping the positive benefits of those choices later on.
5. Spearhead a campaign to promote open discussion on campus
The taboo around outward discussion of mental health and illness can make it difficult to focus on maintaining mental health. The NAMI reports concern of stigma as the number one reason students don’t reach out for mental health help. “It is the one topic that we do not feel comfortable discussing with anyone else. Mental health is more difficult to understand than physical illness because we cannot see it. We cannot empathize with it because not everyone experiences it,” Cohen said. While acting as your own emotional caretaker, discussing your mental health, seeking help and even occasionally fearing “looking crazy” feels tough, but the payoff of a healthy mind should always stand as a motivation to keep the discussion going.
Cohen urges campuses to foster productive and safe discussion of mental health in their communities. “Encourage students to talk and make mental health an integral part of the curriculum. Create an open and inclusive environment. Expand the mental health services. Create programs to help manage anxiety,” Cohen said. Many colleges diligently foster open conversation around alcohol, sex and violence on campus, yet some can fall short on the topic of the mental health. The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors reports that the average university has only one professional counselor for every 1,737 students, fewer than the recommended minimum ratio of one counselor for every 1250 students. With more plentiful resources and healthier, more welcoming discussion focusing on this, students may learn to talk about their mental health, and, as a result, make healthier choices. You only get one brain, you might as well take good care of it.