As the end of summer break draws near, fears regarding a potential return to campus plagues countless college students across the nation. This year, normal anxieties about grades, finances, and employment are compounded by an even greater, potentially life-threatening danger: COVID-19.
Even before the pandemic, mental health statistics for college students were dizzyingly high, with suicide being the second-highest cause of death for Americans between ages 20-24. And things don’t seem to be looking up, as both pressures to force campuses to reopen in the fall increase the likelihood of exposure to the disease and already-existing feelings of loneliness and depression persist.
In this time of stress and uncertainty, it’s important to maintain mental health and keep a strong support network. In this article, hopefully, we’ll be able to provide some tips on how to do just that.
Take Care of Your Body
The mind and body are intrinsically linked, and countless studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between physical and mental health. Thus, one of the best ways to protect your mental health is to protect your physical health first.
It’s hard to balance all your body’s needs with the stress of the world around you, but failing to do so jeopardizes your entire wellbeing. Therefore, it’s important to remember all the essentials of self-care: getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, practicing proper hygiene, and exercising regularly.
It’s hard for any college student to get enough sleep, but in times like this, resting well is more important than ever. Here are some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep in:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and rising at the same time every day
- Aim to sleep 7-9 hours every night
- Limit screen time in the evening to cut back on blue light exposure
- Avoid consuming caffeine past afternoon to make falling asleep easier
There’s much debate over what foods can be considered “healthy” and “unhealthy,” but in general, a healthy and balanced diet includes recommended amounts of each food group, ensuring your body receives sufficient amounts of proteins, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. A good diet can help improve mood and decrease the chances of developing certain conditions, such as depression.
The isolation brought about by quarantine has caused some to become lax about their personal hygiene. While there’s no need to fuss about appearing perfect at all times, it’s still important to wash regularly and keep a base level of cleanliness. Not only does this decrease the number of germs in your environment, but feeling fresh and well-kept can be a great boost in mood and self-esteem.
Even a little bit of exercise can cause the release of chemicals, such as serotonin or endorphins, in the brain, which increases pleasure and improves your mood. Furthermore, exercise also improves physical health, which in turn has a positive impact on mental health, as well as self-esteem. Regular exercise can even improve the quality of sleep you receive.
Though it depends on your diet and body, it’s generally a good idea to exercise for at least one hour a day. If you don’t have time during the day to sit down for one large session, breaking your exercise up into smaller 10-15 minute chunks can be beneficial as well.
While the pandemic has limited options such as the gym, plenty of exercises can still be performed at home. There’s an abundance of resources online, from YouTube tutorials for certain workouts to challenges meant to establish good exercise habits. So even if working out isn’t your thing, exercising a little bit every day can be a great way to decrease stress.
Maintain Structure and Follow a Routine
One of the biggest struggles students faced during remote learning was maintaining a schedule that kept them motivated and on track. Unfortunately, the shift back to more in-person instruction might not fix this problem, as online coursework will definitely still be commonplace. Thus, developing a routine and sticking to it will be vital to avoiding feeling burnt out.
- Establish a specific time for each of your daily tasks
- Eat your meals at about the same time every day
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
- Set goals for your day and make reminders for yourself, whether its alarms on your phone or Post-It notes stuck to your binders, to stay on task and complete them
- Integrate your self-care practices into your daily routine
- Plan out a schedule–either daily, weekly, or even monthly–ahead of time
Social distancing and quarantine have undoubtedly put a strain on many people’s relationships, and it’ll be difficult to transition back into a more social setting, especially when restrictions are still in place. However, it’s important to stay connected with friends and family during difficult times as they provide a strong support network for you to fall back on when in need.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable meeting in person, video call your friends and family regularly to maintain those connections and stay in contact otherwise through text messaging and social media.
Not to mention, thanks to modern technology, you can still do activities with your loved ones, such as watching a show together or Netflix party or playing browser games together. Even virtual coffee meetings or restaurant dinners can be a great way to socialize. There are many ways to be creative about maintaining social connections.
Seek Professional Help
Despite advancements over the years, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health, and many can feel ashamed of feeling like they need assistance.
Mental health problems are just as real and serious as physical ailments, and they can be just as uncontrollable. Nobody who’s struggling from stress is at fault for that stress, and it’s important that they feel comfortable enough to seek professional help if needed.
Most schools should provide some level of mental health services, whether in-person or through some alternative means. Counseling and therapy can be held through video calls, and telehealth, which allows quick contact with medical professionals, is rapidly replacing in-office doctor’s checkups.
Besides these more traditional methods, there are other ways to seek help, too. Some colleges offer mental health workshops and group counseling. There are also plenty of third-party services, such as Mindstrong, an app that allows you to access personalized mental health care, to consider. Students from all over the country can also communicate amongst themselves about mental health coping strategies thanks to organizations like Active Minds.
Thus, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, it’s important to remember that even when you feel alone and hopeless, there are countless others around the world who understand exactly what you’re going through, and asking them for help can help you overcome your own difficulties.