Positive Mental Health Tips for College Students
College is a trying time for any student. We face new challenges, new freedoms, and new phases of life. All of this inherently comes with stress. But there is something unique about what the college experience does to one’s mental health, especially in this post-pandemic age. Students maintain an unprecedented dedication to their studies, sometimes to the point of self-destruction, and that cost is often overlooked. We all go through it, after all. But does it have to be that way?
We are well aware of how we are impacted by the stresses of college life, but what can we do about it? How do we care for ourselves while still giving it our all? Well, here are tips on taking care of your mental health in college.
Develop Good Habits
Sleep is an integral part of maintaining your brain and body systems. Lack of proper sleep can be damaging to your mental health or can be a result of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. And though sleeping issues can be hard to combat, there are ways to make it easier.
Try setting a nightly routine. Go to bed at the same time every night, whether you’re tired or not. This will help your body’s internal clock adjust to going to sleep at a reasonable time, making it easier to fall asleep once your routine sets in. You should also turn off devices an hour beforehand and avoid heavy eating and caffeine before bed. And don’t give in to the temptation of afternoon naps!
Unhealthy eating habits can be symptoms of mental health issues and will work to exacerbate them. Whether it is eating too much or too little, eating all junk, or simply having an unbalanced diet, you will feel the consequences of these habits. It’s all about the bacteria and chemicals your body produces.
Your body’s gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) can produce “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria based on your diet. Bad bacteria can come from a diet of junk food, causing inflammation in your GI tract and other health problems. Eating well will keep your body in good shape and encourage the growth of “good” bacteria. Having good bacteria will lead to the positive production of neurotransmitters—chemical substances that constantly carry messages between nerve cells (neurons).
Despite this, these bad bacteria can also temporarily spike certain neurotransmitter levels, like dopamine. These chemicals will make you feel good, but only temporarily. So junk foods can make you happy, resulting in dopamine production but over-indulging will leave you in a cycle of sensation-seeking that never really finds fulfillment. Your body craves the dopamine that will be inconsistent and reliant on those bad chemicals. This is a common symptom of depression, among other things.
With the good bacterial, neurotransmitter production will be more steady, overall making you feel better. You’ll find consistency in your mood, gains in your physical wellness, and improvements in symptoms of mental illness.
We can’t always avoid stress, but reducing it is a start. Being stressed is taxing both physically and emotionally, and as humans, we were never meant to feel it all the time. Headaches, trouble sleeping, and body aches and pains are all symptoms of stress. It can also make it difficult to focus or eat, and may even weaken your immune system.
Time management is one way to work on your stress. Keeping track of your time, never missing meals, and taking time for breaks can make a world of difference to your stress levels. You can also do relaxing activities like yoga or meditation, or get daily physical exercise.
Though you can’t flex this muscle, the brain can benefit from exercise like any other part of the body. During physical activity, your brain produces serotonin, endorphins, and other chemicals that you might normally be lacking, relieving stress and increasing energy levels. Exercise can also work as a distraction or an outlet, so you’ll feel more relaxed afterward. You don’t even need to participate in strenuous activities. Light and moderate workouts are enough to make a difference!
Like your diet or your sleep schedule, your surroundings can have an impact on your mental health. A messy or cramped room can negatively affect your mental health, causing stress, anxiety, depression, executive dysfunction, procrastination, and so on. Disorganized spaces may also encourage impulsive behaviors like over-eating and over-indulgence in online shopping.
Clean spaces, on the other hand, have positive effects. Decluttering can help with focus and, like exercise, cause the release of endorphins. In clean rooms, you’ll be more relaxed and productive. This is definitely preferred when working from home in addition to living there!
TIP: Working from home? Our post, “How to Transform Your Home into a Work Study Area” to find out more about keeping a clean, effective workspace.
Find Resources for Mental Health
You don’t need to suffer through. Seeking out resources to cope with mental health issues can make all the difference. You may find free counseling and groups through your college that you can take advantage of, where you can talk to peers and real mental health professionals. Or do independent research to find ways to cope with stress and depression. But make sure to use reputable sources!
TIP: Want to talk to a mental health professional not associated with your school? Check out Cerebral, a counseling site connecting members to mental health resources like councilors, prescribers, and prescription deliveries.
Check out our post “Beating the Winter Blues” for winter mental health tips! And if you liked this post, check out “Top Notetaking Apps for College Students 2022” and subscribe to our weekly blog!
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