College is known for being the best time of many people’s lives, but college can also be an extremely stressful time for many students. Whether it is their first year or they are getting ready to graduate stress follows college students into every aspect of their life. What to major in, how to maintain a social life, networking, student loans, and housing are just a few of the concerns that these students deal with every day. When stress levels increase emotional health often suffers, leaving college students at high risk for many mental health issues that can last up to a lifetime if ignored. While many mental illnesses are genetic and help should absolutely be found in those situations, some mental illnesses can be triggered by life-changing events or stress. For that reason, it is important that we engage in self-care and other methods to relieve stress and maintain our mental health in college.
Being Self Aware
How can you expect to decide on a major, let alone a future career if you do not know what is happening within your own head? Many college students struggle to understand the boundaries between the values they grew up with and the new values that they are developing based on what works best for them. It is important to understand that everyone has a different way of appreciating life, the same way that everyone has a different dream career and different favorite food. The dreams that you have will be different than those that your parents or anyone else in your life have planned for you. College is an important place to decide what makes you happy and how to take care of yourself in a unique way outside of what you were taught before.
Starting on a journey to self-awareness is not easy, but there are a few tools that most universities provide to help you on this path. One of the most important resources a university can have is a counseling center. It is a common misconception that counseling is for “crazy people” or even just that a particular mental illness must be present to engage in therapy. This is not at all true. In fact, counseling is something that can benefit anyone including people in, particularly stressful situations. It is better to go to your university counseling center for a nice routine check-in when you are feeling a little stressed than wait until that stress bottles up and builds into something bigger and less manageable, the same way you would go to your dermatologist if you found a strange mole on your arm.
Self-awareness is about more than just going to counseling, it’s about using information that you have learned about yourself to engage in hobbies or other activities that lead to a better quality of life. Whether that simply means staying more organized, which will be covered later, or just finding things to do every day that make you feel more at peace. Using activities like going to the gym or taking a drawing class to create a safe space in what can be a hectic life can make more of a difference than you know. It is important to work hard, but if you are unhappy then your hard work has not paid off.
Staying organized is an extremely underrated form of self-care. It is easy to pass over in favor of procrastination or laziness, but when you are living the life of a college student those two things can become a death sentence. As college students fight to hold on to scholarships and decide what to do with their lives they also face issues like paying bills and finding a place to live. All of the pressures of adulthood and high school fall on college students leaving little time to do anything but stress. Often there is little time that is left in the day for hobbies and activities that help manage mental illness in college. These activities are vital to maintaining a healthy mind and becoming successful, so it is important that college students organize their time wisely to leave room for this important step.
Staying organized can be simple or complicated, depending on your personality. The typical Type A college student probably has a dorm full of sticky notes, whiteboards, and planners documenting their every move and assignment. Not all college students care enough about organizing or can afford to purchase all of these supplies, though. It is safe to assume that many students don’t have a single sticky note in their room let alone a planner, but fortunately, there are other ways to stay organized.
Simple things like recording assignment due dates in the calendar on your phone can do wonders for your time management. When there is a clear record of every assignment stress can begin to melt away, suddenly what seemed like an overwhelming amount of work fits neatly into all of the time provided. This is the perfect opportunity to plan breaks for fun and stress-relieving activities. Making simple to-do lists in notebooks or on laptops is another way to stay organized and make time for stress-relieving activities. While staying organized can feel silly or sometimes even overwhelming it is as easy as taking out a syllabus and a piece of paper and copying the information to make life easier and less stressful.
Whether or not a college student goes to counseling or stays organized there are a few easy things that everyone should be doing to maintain mental health in college. Basic hygiene and self-care take almost no time at all and are required not only to maintain mental health but to maintain physical health as well. Things like showering often, doing laundry at least once a week, eating three meals a day, and drinking plenty of water can do more than just keep a college student alive, it can give a student ten or twenty minutes a day to actually think of themselves and take a breath. With such busy schedules, it can be difficult to find time to clear the mind and assess one’s mental state. By doing small things to care for yourself you can create a small space of time where stress and school do not need to be at the forefront of your mind.
Consider a twenty-minute warm shower where you don’t think once about the math homework sitting on your desk or the student loans piling up. You turn up your favorite song and let the warm water melt away the stress for at least twenty minutes. After this, you are clean and alert. This creates a better mindset to do homework as well as completes a hygiene task that needed to be done anyway. The same could be said for other small productive tasks such as sitting down for a quiet meal by your self or with friends, you are completing a task that was needed to maintain your physical health and also taking a break from any overwhelming stress.
Mindfulness is a form of self-care that is often judged harshly as ineffective and pointless. Those college students that could barely make time for a twenty-minute shower may find taking time to be mindful difficult, but it is, in fact, an important and effective form of self-care. Mindfulness activities go hand in hand with being self-aware. With mindfulness, you can take the time to become self-aware in a more intentional way. With mindfulness, one does not simply ask “What do I need?” or “What do I want?” but takes active measures to understand why and how to achieve these things. Meditation is one of the most common mindfulness activities that people take part in. Meditation is something that could be useful for college students due to the fact that it can either be a long activity or a short activity depending on how much time there is and how dedicated the student is.
Meditation is simply the act of being silent and allowing the mind to empty. As has been mentioned a few times college students tend to have a million and one things on their mind. It is stressful for anyone to have so many things to worry about at once. While earlier it was recommended that students stay away from thinking about school while in the shower or eating, this activity asks that students go one step further and take time in the day not to think at all. Simply sit on your bed or on the floor or even in a chair, play some music, and focus on relaxing every muscle. Every muscle includes the brain. As your brain relaxes do your best to let every thought melt away so that you can take a moment to think about nothing at all.
It is important to recognize that not every college student will be comfortable with every form of self-care, and this is perfectly alright. Maintaining mental health in college is all about monitoring comfort zones. In order to care for yourself, you should know what is right for you. Traveling beyond the comfort zone can be an amazing thing. It helps with growth and learning which are two things that college is all about, but there is a level beyond the learning zone called the panic zone.
This is a zone so far out of the comfort zone that it causes panic, which is not at all helpful towards the learning process. When college students force themselves too far out of their comfort zones they tend to experience burn out and struggle to learn the things that they are in college for in the first place. A college student can become trapped in this panic zone until they learn to say no to things that do not help them learn or grow. If any of these methods for maintaining your mental health in college push you into that zone then you are encouraged to find your own. Maintain your mental health in college by focusing on you as an individual, there is no one size fits all solution.
Make It A Priority
Maintaining mental health in college is not always easy, but that does not mean it’s not important. Whether it is taking a slightly longer shower or going to counseling, be sure to find time to do what keeps you sane. In the end, while school, work, and bills matter they are nothing without a positive quality of life. Today take some time to assess the ways in which you care for yourself and the ways that you do not. How do those things affect your life and happiness? If you find that there is a lack of joy and a presence of stress and anxiety take the time to make a change. It will benefit you both in the present and in the long run. Make time to maintain your mental health in college, you won’t regret it.