To put it simply, college is a whirlwind. Before you know it, you’re leaving behind a regimented high school schedule and crafting your own agenda. You’re meeting new friends, adjusting to dorm life, maybe learning how to meal prep and manage finances on your own, not to mention balancing new expectations, surroundings and academic challenges.
Staying mentally afloat
Maintaining your mental health in college is vital in sustaining stamina to meet all of the expectations that come with higher academia. In other words, there’s an understood, if not subconscious, expectation in college to get good grades, maybe work a part-time job, make a healthy amount of new friends and live a well-rounded social life, attend all your classes, study, eat well and exercise. Oh, and don’t forget to sleep.
Sounds like a lot? It is. But it’s far from impossible. Most college kids are up to the challenge; after all, this diversity of activity helps to make college the exciting adventure that it is. However, there’s one key element to successfully walking this tightrope without toppling off into the abyss below – mental health.
Many college students will report that increased pressure can result in increased challenges to their mental health. For some, the pressures and expectations of college become too much, and this overwhelming feeling can lead to new struggles with mental clarity. But that’s not the end of the story – here are a few tips you can try if you find the pressures of college affecting your mental health.
1. Make time for exercise
Do it the way you want to. Maybe you like to wake up early before your morning class for a brisk jog. If you do, set aside the time to make it happen. Perhaps a yoga class is more your speed. Get yourself a hipster yoga mat and reserve the time in your day. Have you been sitting in the library all day, nose glued to a book? Stand up, stretch and grab a friend to walk for just 20 minutes around campus. The fresh air will help not only your body, but your brain.
2. Eat, and eat well
Cafeteria food can sometimes feel repetitive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with your daily calorie intake. Opt for ingredients that offer protein and healthy fats, instead of ones with high sugar or carbohydrate content. Fruits and vegetables are always a win, as well as any of the superfoods. The main takeaway here is to eat – it can be tempting to “get too busy” or to “forget to eat,” but the reality is that your brain needs food to function. Schedule a time to eat, invite a friend to lunch with you and stick to that schedule. You need meal time more than you realize.
3. Drink water
It can be tempting to just drink coffee, coffee and more coffee when staying up late to write that paper, but don’t succumb to that pressure. Maybe a mug every few hours, but your real life-source is going to come from a bottle of water. Drinking enough water every day will help your stomach, ease headaches, deliver oxygen through the body and just make you feel better overall. So the next time you make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, fill up your water bottle, too.
4. Get outside
Even if it’s just to sit on a bench and read your assigned chapter for English 101, getting fresh air everyday is a must. Being in nature is grounding for one’s mind, and the Vitamin D from the sun offers numerous benefits for the immune system. Whether you take a walk while on the phone with your mom, study in the shade of the tree outside your dorm or enjoy a coffee date with a friend on a park bench, prioritize getting outdoors.
5. Learn to say “No”
Your mental health takes priority over everything. Especially if depression, anxiety or some other mental illness is the sole focus of your mind, how are you going to be able to sufficiently complete any other task? The truth is, it will be very difficult. Therefore, it’s important to say no to things threatening to overwhelm you. Politely turning down a friend’s invite, a night out or even a study group is fine. In fact, it’s more than fine! If it helps you feel more peaceful, then it’s absolutely the right choice.
Sleeping is vastly underrated in college, but vastly important. Mental illnesses are exacerbated by lack of sleep. You might feel more irritable, sluggish or panicky all because of a lack of sleep. Managing your time well in order to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night will be well worth the effort. Feeling more rested leads to higher levels of productivity, energy and overall mental stability. So close the books at 11:00 pm, and rest assured your sleep is more productive than late night cramming.
A balancing act
College is all about checks and balances, learning when to tune into what you need versus what other people say you need. If you need to go for a walk, do it. If you need to leave a study group to make sure you have enough time for lunch, do it! If you need to place your fate in the hands of the study gods so you can sleep before a big exam, do it. College is all about newfound freedom, so why not use yours to benefit your mental health?
If you feel the weight of mental health issues coming between you and the successful college life you know you deserve, Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling is here to help. Professional counseling from licensed psychiatrists can help you reestablish self-confidence, address doubts and pursue recovery from life’s challenges. Call 1-800-809-2925 today, or reach out online right now for even more information on all the ways we can help you prioritize your mental health.