With most of us elbows deep into the semester, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with everything that’s going on. Classes are intensifying, tests are creeping around the corner, and social time with friends seems to be diminishing. It seems like there’s always something you should be doing or studying for, which makes it hard to make time for yourself. November is the month of hustling (shout-out to midterm season and prepping for finals). At the same time, it’s also important not to overextend yourself, and remember that mental health shouldn’t be put on the back burner. Your mind is one of the most valuable parts of your body, and it also needs some TLC every once in a while. Here are some tips to keep yourself grounded during a whirlwind academic semester.
Health Comes First
When you’re swamped with a million things to do, the last thing on your mind is making sure to take care of your body. A lot of us will sacrifice sleep, stress eat or forget to eat, and simply just forget to take a breather every once in a while. And the impending due dates looming over our heads certainly don’t help. School is important, but health is even moreso. If you don’t take care of your body, not only are you bound to eventually get sick (which is something you always want to avoid in college), but you also won’t be performing at peak productivity. Your mental health is actually influenced by your physical health, so try to set a schedule that allows you to sleep at least seven hours a day. You could also schedule in periodic naps between classes if that works better for you. Swap out junk food for healthier alternatives like fruit. If you forget to eat, or stress makes you feel less hungry, make sure you always have a plan for a proper meal. Not only will your body thank you, but your mind will be able to perform at its peak functionality. You’ll be more productive as a result!
Track Your Temperament
As a college student, your environment is constantly changing with new stimuli. Everything from different classes to new assignments to spontaneous decisions that lead into crazy nights. This list can go on and on when it comes to how our lives can be monotonous, but never truly the same. With things constantly changing, sometimes it can be difficult to determine what exactly is causing you stress. An effective way to narrow down your stressors is to keep a mood-tracker. A mood-tracker is a simple chart where you fill in how you feel during what times of the day, week, and month, etc. You can use different colors that symbolize different emotions to fill the chart in, and after filling out a few days, you can see what days and times you typically are not feeling your best. Work backward to figure out what exactly is causing you to feel down. It can be easier to improve your mental health when you can pinpoint the causes of your negative emotions. This makes it easier to avoid them or make lifestyle changes to negate them. Self-awareness is the key to consciously making choices that will affect you positively!
Surround Yourself with a Solid Squad
You may not realize it, but the people you surround yourself with heavily influence your life. If your current squad consists of people who are constantly bringing others (and themselves) down, it’s going to take a toll on you mentally. I cannot stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with people who are uplifting, positive, and who cultivate good habits. Make sure your friends are encouraging and support each other through the good times and the hard times. You want to be with people who always want the best for you and won’t guilt you into making decisions that aren’t conducive to your mental health. When you finally solidify a squad filled with amazing people, your entire life perspective can change!
Make Time for Mindfulness
Being stressed, unfortunately, cannot be avoided. This being said, it’s important to learn healthy ways of dealing with it. Mindfulness can seem like an intimidating concept—how is it possible to just be calm and consciously aware of everything at all times? Yet, at its core, it’s all about being in the moment. Rather than being anxious for things that may or may not happen in the future, or regretful of things that happened in the past, always take a few moments in each day to just focus on the present. You could do this at any time. Try it right after you wake up, during your lunch hour, after a study session, or right before bed. Trust me when I say that you have the power to calm your mind down.
All it takes is a quiet space, a few deep breaths, and a willingness to focus on what is happening in the now. It will take practice, but soon enough mindfulness can be a part of your daily life. Don’t underestimate the power of a few quiet moments. When the rest of our life is loud and busy, these peaceful minutes can really improve your mental health and remind you that life is to be lived moment by moment.
Avoid Alcohol (And Other Drugs)
When you’re feeling down, a lot of people look to alcohol and other drugs to escape the pain. Even though it may offer a temporary relief, always remember that the satisfaction never lasts. Often, it usually ends up worsening your situation in a variety of different ways. I truly believe that such things can never be actual solutions to our pain, but rather merely delays. Then it intensifies your issues. The best thing you do for yourself when you’re feeling low is to focus on putting good things into your body instead. You’ll quickly find out that eating and drinking healthier alternatives will improve your overall mood and boost your energy. This will make it easier to focus on yourself and improve your mental health.
Counseling is Cool
It’s easy to see that there is a huge stigma regarding mental health in our society, but if you talk to other students, you’ll realize a lot of us are struggling on our own and would really benefit from getting professional help. Just like any other part of your body, your brain is a part that can get sick, and you should not delay seeking help in fear of what others think. A lot of college campuses are now including mental health services, so it’s more accessible than ever to get help if you need it. COUNSELING. IS. COOL. No matter how minimal you think your stresses are, talking them out with a professional can alleviate a lot of pain. It also gives you an outlet to express yourself and find healthy ways of coping with whatever you’re struggling with. Your sessions are always completely confidential, so you don’t have to worry about anyone knowing if you prefer to keep it private. The bottom line: go to counseling at least once this semester. You’ll thank yourself later.
Don’t Stress About Socializing
College was the first place where I felt there was an unspoken expectation that everyone had to be having the time of their lives, all the time. It can be stressful if you feel that you have to constantly be going out, socializing, and making new friends. It is very important to have a social life in order to achieve balance in college. But, it should never be something to stress over. Learn how to say no sometimes in order to make more time for yourself. I get it, it’s really hard to pass on a night out and defeat major FOMO, but there are going to be so many opportunities to have fun with your friends. Staying in once in awhile will never hurt you. Make those nights when you do choose to stay in relaxing and filled with self-care. Do a face mask, read a book, watch a movie, curl up under the covers and go to sleep early. The possibilities are truly endless. Sometimes the best things you can do for yourself is to just give yourself time to simply be.
Keep It Real
In a world that is often inundating us with images of perfections and amazing accomplishments, we can all fall prey to creating unrealistic expectations for our lives. Then we feel crushed when life falls short of those goals. A lot of college students have anxiety about their future or start feeling worthless when they see their peers achieving great things. While it is always important to dream big, try to set realistic goals so you don’t feel like you can’t meet any of the expectations you set for yourself. Break your big goals down into smaller ones. Work on them with specific time frames in mind so that they’re more easily achieved. Small steps make a big difference, and it takes some of the pressure off yourself as well.
For example, if you want to try and have a job lined up before graduation, think of one small thing you can accomplish in a small chunk of time. Maybe this semester you would like to focus on polishing your resume and practicing interview skills. Then next semester you’ll focus on being more involved in the clubs that pertain to your major so you can have experiences to talk about. You don’t have to achieve all your huge goals in the span of three months. You have plenty of time to get where you want to be, and you are more than capable of doing so. Relax a little by keeping it real with yourself. You’ll find yourself not only accomplishing all that you want to but also doing it with a much calmer and happier state of mind.
Remember Your Value
It’s easy for our self-esteem to take a hit when we don’t meet the expectations we set for ourselves. Maybe you didn’t get the grade you wanted on your midterm. Or you feel like you’re falling behind in class in comparison to your peers. Maybe you look around and feel like everyone else’s lives are effortlessly perfect, while you’re barely holding it together. Remember this: no one’s life is completely perfect. Even if you didn’t meet the expectations you set for yourself, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a valuable human in this world.
We all bring certain gifts and talents to the table that no one else can offer. It’s important to remind yourself of your strengths and the small wins that you gain as you go throughout life. You could be a fantastic friend, a wonderful daughter, a beautiful dancer, a great leader; the list goes on. You are worth so much more than your grades, and you shouldn’t make your self-worth contingent on your report card. One thing I do to keep my spirits up is write down the compliments that I receive from other people on my phone, and I look at them when I need a pick-me-up! I’ve realized most of the things people admire me for aren’t just my physical looks, but rather for my abilities and the way I make them feel. There’s nothing more encouraging than realizing that people already value you for who you are. You should value yourself in the same way.
What are some tips that have helped you stay mentally healthy in college? Leave them in the comments down below!
Opening image by Lindsey Arsula