It's no secret that college students struggle with significant mental health challenges. With the immense pressure to do well in classes, find social connections, and move on to graduate school or a good-paying job you love, it's no wonder depression and anxiety run rampant on college campuses.
And here we are in the middle of the holiday season, a time of year when even those of us who are supposed to have it together often have a hard time.
Here are 5 solid ways that college students can take care of their mental health:
Awareness & Acceptance
Accepting that mental health is real and important is the first step. The invisible nature of mental health leads many of us to ignore it or deny that we are having legitimate struggles that warrant our attention. Sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich doesn't make issues disappear; it keeps them hidden from immediate view. The fastest way to improve your mental health is to admit it exists and it's important.
Take Care of Basic Needs
College students are notorious for not eating or sleeping enough. Much research shows a significant positive difference in how we feel and think when we eat three healthy meals daily and sleep 8 hours per night. We know it, but many of us struggle actually to do it. The mind-body connection is crucial as well. Moving our bodies through yoga, walking, or stretching can reset our minds. Finally, college students will roll their eyes at this one: you can support your mental health by limiting alcohol or drug use. But seriously. And 3/4 of you are under 21 and have no business with alcohol anyway.
One of the most damaging ways people do to their mental health is to isolate themselves. College students, especially those who have been historically high achievers, feel too embarrassed to ask for help. Holding up in a dorm room is easier than facing what's outside, whether academic, social, or other challenges. I can promise you that most college students feel this way at one time or another.
But here's the thing: you have support no matter who you are. Someone wants to help you. Here are some ideas: family and friends are obvious, but if sharing with someone close to you actually sounds scarier, then consider the following resources on most college campuses:
Counseling Center - many colleges have FREE counseling (or rather, you paid for it in your many, many student fees)
Health/Medical - right there on campus, you can usually find a medical professional if your situation feels dire
Campus Police - almost any college has a campus police department that operates 24/7/365
Campus Ombuds - this is a confidential resource available to help students triage difficult situations
Academic Advisors - these valuable staff are a great first point of contact to help you get where you need to be
Professors - last but not at all least, your professors are human, believe it or not, and care about your well-being. If you are struggling, consider talking to one of your professors, particularly if your academic performance in their class is being impacted
Prioritize Your Values
In times of struggle, one of the very best things you can do to get back on track is to do things that are important to you. Some of my favorites:
Connect with your spiritual faith - whatever that looks like for you. I mentioned the mind-body connection earlier, but really, it's a mind-body-spirit connection. Pray, meditate, and practice mindfulness.
Have enjoyable hobbies - In college, students often feel they don't have time for anything besides classes, studying, and work. While college students have very busy schedules, keeping at least one enjoyable activity in the mix can do wonders. Part of a healthy college experience is social connection, so stay involved in the student organization or intramural sport that brings you joy.
Relationships - You don't need 100 friends, but you do need a few. What relationships give you energy and make you feel good? Focus on those, not attending every party you hear about. Send someone a card (a truly lost art), have a study session with a good friend (even if you study different things), call Mom or Dad or Sister or Brother.
Learn and Practice Effective Coping Skills
At the beginning of this post, I said it's important to be aware and accept your mental health. The last part is to practice coping skills that work FOR YOU. As you are aware and accept, you'll learn your triggers and what it looks like when your mental health starts to suffer. Don't wait - put into action coping skills that you respond well to. Consider:
Have one person you know you can call - and CALL (10 people don't need to know your business, but you need one you can talk to)
Taking a walk
Listening to music: create playlists like "Calming Music, "Good Mood Music", etc)