It is very easy during college to get overwhelmed with work, get homesick, feel lonely, and experience other emotions that make you struggle with mental health.
My mental health suffered during my first semester at college, and it’s normal for there to be ups and downs during the semester. Moving to a new country by myself was difficult, and the entire process of finding a solid group of friends added to my stress. However, it is in this duress where we learn about ourselves and needs. I tried many things this past year to help my mental health and I have compiled what I believe has personally worked best for me and could for you too. Please note that every person and their struggles are different, so my strategies may or may not work for you. I recommend that you try these out and see how you feel! I figured out how to improve my mental health through trial and error.
Having a strong and reliable group of friends not only makes you feel like you are not alone, but it also can help you in receiving advice, love, and comfort when you feel like you are needing or missing it. Friends can feel like your family and give you a sense of stability when you feel that you are lacking it. Opening up and being vulnerable helps you deal and try to understand your emotions. However, sometimes we are scared that opening up to friends will lead to judgment or biased responses. Psychologists serve as great listeners, and they proactively help you unpack and manage those emotions. I believe that having a psychologist is incredibly important and should be something everyone should have regardless if they have problems with their mental health. They help you view a bigger picture and uncover your layers. Even the idea of having someone to talk to and let out everything that you are thinking and feeling helps so much more than one would think. The University Counseling Center offers individual counseling, wellness programs, therapy groups, and more at no extra cost.
Most of the time, I struggle mentally when I feel like my life is a mess. School is tough, my eating habits are bad, and my sleeping schedule is not ideal. What helps me feel like I am “fixing” my day is organizing my life. That can be through: visual organization, allowing time for myself, etc. I like to clean up my room and desk (clean space = clean mind) as well as do things that enrich my body, mind, and soul. Exercising is a practice that, even though it seems daunting before you start, once you finish you feel a rush of serotonin. Meditation and yoga are things that, even though I don’t practice often, have been proven to help significantly with mental health. Furthermore, reading is something that I love with a passion. I notice that during my worst moments, I am not reading anything. So, to enrich my mind, I like to read a couple of pages before going to bed and feel incredibly rewarded when I finish a book. For my soul, journaling is something that many people rave about. One of my best friends gave me a book full of short questions that you respond to, reflecting on yourself (the book is called “Burn After Writing”). A list of other things that can help: walking along the lake, listening to a podcast (Super Soul by Oprah Winfrey is a personal favorite), watching a tv show or movie, etc. These are all very common suggestions but they are common for a reason. Try them out and see how you feel.
Maintaining balance is incredibly important. Even though working hard and studying a lot is an honorable habit, make sure that you don’t overexert yourself. Have fun by planning hangouts with friends, a dinner date at a restaurant, or going to the movie theater. Fun activities like these take your mind off of what is stressing you the most.
Finally, eating clean and healthy makes your body feel good, and therefore your mind feels good. At the dining hall, I try to avoid processed and fried foods since I know my body will not feel the best afterwards. Instead, I focus on eating whole foods with good sources of protein, healthy fats and carbs (the sandwich bar is my personal favorite). However, every once in a while, I treat myself to some ice cream (as I said—balance). Food is proven to be a source of happiness so make sure you fuel it with things you like and what makes you feel good.
Even though mental health is never a linear journey and we cannot expect to always be living our best lives, it is important to normalize mental health issues, especially in college, and to make sure that we learn to manage it and get help when we know we need it.