11 Self-Care Hacks to Maintain Your Mental Health in College

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mental health

College is a stressful time for many college students. Between attending classes and studying for exams, to working part-time and experiencing social pressures, there’s a lot to balance. If you don’t take care of your mental health, you might just lose your mind.

In fact, a large percentage of students face challenges with their mental health while in college. A 2016 study from Healthy Minds Network shows that 39% of students struggle with at least one mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. In addition, according to the American College Health Association, depression and anxiety are two of the major factors that affect college students’ academic performance.

While in college, there are certain ways you can manage your stress to keep your mental health in check. Below are 10 self-care tips you can apply each day:

1. Recognize any warning signs of mental health problems

While in college, it’s critical to be self-aware of how you are feeling mentally. Symptoms, such as having low energy, experiencing mood swings, and feeling homesick or depressed can have harmful effects on your health.

2. Take advantage of counseling services

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or you have high anxiety, elevated stress, or depression, speak to an on-campus counselor. They will be willing to listen to your personal challenges, provide advice, and help you set goals to ensure a fulfilling college experience.

3. Get some exercise

Exercising is one of the best ways to relieve stress and anxiety. By keeping active, you’ll release “happy hormones” like endorphins that help boost your mood and self-confidence. Plus, you’ll need to be active after spending time sitting down in class or in the library.

Most college campuses have fitness facilities, such as a gym, running track, and maybe even group exercise classes you can participate in. If you prefer to do something off-campus, go for a bike ride or a run. It’ll make you feel good to get a mental break before heading back to your apartment or dorm and hitting the books again.

4. Eat healthy foods

When some people are stressed, they overeat, while other people might choose to not eat at all. Neither of these is a healthy choice for college students. Sure, eating an occasional pizza or burger and fries is fine, but be sure you’re eating healthy foods, too. Eat balanced meals with fruits, meats, and vegetables, while limiting junk foods, sodas, and other processed foods.

In addition, be mindful of not having an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, which can be very harmful to your health and can lead to serious consequences.

5. Go for a walk

When you need to take a short break from your studies, take a load off and go for a walk. This is a good way to clear your head, get some sunshine, and think about what’s on your mind.

6. Get involved

An important component of the college experience is participating in social activities. Pick a fun student club or volunteer opportunity that can be part of your identity as a college student besides being in class.

7. Prioritize your to-do list

Not keeping a schedule or to-do list can cause you to feel overwhelmed and stress, which can impact your mental health. Instead, prioritize your day by getting the most important tasks done first and the least important things last.

8. Get enough sleep

This one is especially important, as the amount of sleep you get can dramatically affect your day. According to one study published in Mental Health America, 27% of college students reported having trouble sleeping. Furthermore, 60% reported pulling an “all-nighter,” which served as a factor in having a lower GPA.

A lack of sleep can make you feel cranky and may reduce your ability to concentrate and think clearly. Allow your brain to rest by getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep a day and try to avoid all-nighters as much as possible.

9. Make time to relax

While studying and performing well in college is crucial for success, it is also important to leave some time to relax. Take breaks during your study sessions to meditate, read a book, or hang out with friends to take a load off and allow your brain to relax and recharge for a while.

10. Be responsible

You are likely well aware there is a lot of partying, drinking, and drug use among many college students. According to one study, of the 61% of college students who drank, 40.5% binge drank, while 16.3% were heavy drinkers. Battling addictions to alcohol and drugs can have a tremendous negative impact on your mental health, and if these issues are not taken care of, it can potentially be fatal.

11. Learn to say “no”

If at any point you feel like you are taking on too much–maybe you’re involved in too many activities, or going out with friends too often that you’re neglecting your studies or sleep–learn to say no. Don’t feel like you have to say “yes” to every opportunity to please others. Know your limit to how much you can handle. It’s OK to not go to every student organization meeting or every hang out with your friends. Try to find a healthy balance between school, social activities, and personal downtime.

Remember that there is no way to entirely avoid stress–you will experience some sort of stress no matter what. However, you can reduce or lower your stress by taking care of yourself. The healthier you are mentally, the more likely you are to excel, feel happy, and get the most of your college experience. If you need assistance, be sure to seek help from resources on campus available to you, or from a counselor or therapist in the community.

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