Maintaining Mental Health in College
College students don’t get enough credit. Many people imagine the life of a college student to be filled with parties, late night pizza, sleeping in, and enjoying their final years before entering “the real world,” with just a little bit of homework and studying sprinkled in. Those assumptions overlook all of the real stressors placed on college students, from time-consuming, advanced courses, new friends, homesickness, student loans and maintaining scholarships, and on top of all that, trying to figure out your future career.
It’s almost no wonder that, according to a Wall Street Journal article published yesterday, “17% of college students were diagnosed or treated for anxiety problems during the past year, and 13.9% were diagnosed with or treated for depression.” Both statistics have risen in the past five years, placing increased demands on the mental health services at universities.
Whether you’re in high school or college, there are always resources available to those that are struggling. Additionally, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offer tips that you can utilize for combating anxiety and managing stress, which can be helpful to improve mental health in college.
Get enough sleep.
In college, it can be hard to get enough sleep. Because a major cause of stress and anxiety is grades, it’s understandable that studying can cut into prime sleeping hours. However, sometimes staying up late to study can do more harm than good. Lack of sleep can simply increase your stress and anxiety, and catching a couple extra hours of ZZZ’s might be better than cramming in a few extra hours of studying.
This was discussed in last week’s post, but it deserves another mention. Exercise was highlighted as a therapeutic tool in the Wall Street Journal article, and it’s also listed as a stress management technique by the ADAA. Find exercise that is enjoyable to you, whether it’s running, lifting weights, or doing yoga. Work out some energy in the gym, and you’ll have less anxious energy during the rest of your day.
Take time for yourself.
If you’re running from class to a job to extracurriculars, you are going to eventually run yourself ragged. If you find yourself running out of steam and getting swallowed up by anxiety or stress, it’s all right to give yourself a time-out. Take a break, and do something that you enjoy. See a movie, take a nap, get some ice cream, or call your mom. One of my very favorite quotes states, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” You won’t be able to fulfill your responsibilities or give your best when you are depleted. It’s not being lazy, and it’s not being a flake. It’s taking care of yourself!
Limit alcohol and caffeine.
Let’s be real… in college, consumption of both generally increases. I used to have a cup of coffee in my hand for every single class, and then a glass of wine many nights. By my senior year, I had noticed that the more I drank of both, the more panic attacks I had afterwards. According to the ADAA, I’m not alone. If you’re struggling with anxiety, try cutting back.
Don't hesitate to ask for help.
This is absolutely crucial. We are very fortunate that we live in a time when mental issues are more understood and accepted. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, the most important thing you can do is to open your mouth and tell someone who can help. It is not a sign of weakness – it is quite the opposite. While it’s great to use these tips to improve your mental health in college, you may need more help, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Think of these tips like a daily vitamin. While they can help maintain your mental health in college, you still might need a visit to the doctor. College is an intense time where you balance the academic rigors with extreme personal growth. At the end of the day, your mental health is the most important thing. Focus, work hard, and do your best, but don’t neglect yourself in the process!