Finally, you made it! You’ve left the comforts of home to pursue your post-secondary education. For the first time in your life, you are your own boss, in charge of your own future. But this sudden leap into adulthood brings with it more responsibility, an increased workload, and competing demands on your time, money, and energy levels. All of these new expectations can be overwhelming, and may trigger mental health issues that could include burnout, anxiety, or even depression. Want to stay mentally healthy while at college or university? The tips below should help!
- Know your limits and start simple
While you might be tempted to do it all—five classes, a part-time job, clubs, and sports—the simple answer is: Don’t. Packing your schedule so tight that there is no room to breathe will only cause you further stress. The result will be reduced memory, decreased attention, and lots of anxiety. If everything seems to be happening at once, make a list of all your tasks and order them from easiest to most difficult. Start by finishing the simplest task first. This will help you strike the to dos off your list, providing you with the motivation you need to work on the more important stuff.
- Look forward to something
Plan a fun activity in the midst of your busy schedule (even if lasts only 30 minutes), so you know something enjoyable is right around the corner. Make sure that this time is guilt free; let yourself forget about your to do list during your break. Whether you find yourself curling up on the couch with your favourite book or treating yourself to that new restaurant you’ve been eyeing, take a few deep breaths and savour the moment.
- Be a social butterfly
Human beings are naturally social animals. So, it is no surprise that having a network of people you can lean on is a very important part of reducing stress. Socializing can actually protect you against feelings of anxiety and sadness, and can help improve your brain power. Try to make time to connect with the people in your life whose company you enjoy. If you are new to the city, get involved in an activity or club. If you are new to the country, you may want to check out the international student centre on campus. Joining study groups is a good way to get to know the other students in your class, and you will soon realize that you aren’t the only one feeling stress!
- Use your own resources
There are often a variety of on-campus resources available to students, free of charge, that are an invaluable source of support. Look out for writing centres to help with essays, or search for workshops on how to use your time efficiently, take good notes in class, or improve your resume and find work. Some professors have office hours and are happy to discuss any concerns you might have about the course or upcoming assignments. If you need someone to talk to on a regular basis, make an appointment with your school’s counsellor. These services are often free for full-time students!
- Stay active, stay still
Feeling ultra-frustrated after receiving a C on that essay you slaved over? Throw on your running shoes and get your heart rate up with the help of your favourite music! This type of intense activity will release chemicals into your brain that will help reduce stress and improve your mood. And, of course, your muscles and your physical health will also benefit. If you aren’t into adrenaline-pumping workouts, why not try staying still instead? Even five minutes of meditation per day can help improve your attention and overall well-being.
- Stay on top of your nutrition
While it is common knowledge to eat healthily, what you may not know is that the effects of certain vitamin deficiencies (requires Adobe Reader) can cause your immune system to plummet. This can result in increased stress, brain fog, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Not to mention the potential physical effects like energy and hair loss, hormonal imbalances, and skin problems. Make sure you are getting enough of your vitamins (requires Adobe Reader) and minerals, like:
- vitamin D (what you get from the sun)
- vitamin C (what you get from oranges and strawberries)
- all the Bs (sources vary)
- iron (found in red meats and dark greens like spinach)
- calcium (found in dairy products like milk and yogurt)
If you are vegetarian, be especially careful of vitamin deficiencies. Supplements are a good alternative when whole foods aren’t an option, but keep in mind that vitamins from foods are more easily absorbed. Always consult your primary health care provider or pharmacist before taking a supplement for the first time.
- Be money smart
Financial stress can cause a host of problems, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, and lack of concentration. Early adulthood is a time when the convenience of paying with a credit card can have a negative impact on your future ability to make important purchases, like buying a house. The earlier in life you are able to learn to budget, save, and plan for your future, the sooner you are on a path to better mental health. There are various online resources for financial planning that can help you learn how to become financially savvy.
- Get to know yourself and have fun
While your grades are important, studying shouldn’t be your life. Right now is a unique time where everything feels new and exciting. Take advantage of your independence to find out as much as you can about yourself and what you enjoy. Developing hobbies can have many health and lifestyle benefits. They reduce stress and boost the brain chemicals that make you feel refreshed and energized. They also make it easier for you to relate to different kinds of people, can be a source of pride and accomplishment, and can help make you a more well-rounded individual!
Your college or university years can be the best time of your life. But it’s not all fun and games! It’s important to develop ways to cope with life stressors. Your coping methods will help you build a healthy mind, ensure success at school, and prepare you for the even bigger responsibilities that lie ahead.
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