Mental Health Considerations for College Students
College is a time of great change and stress. Many students figure out who they are with less influence from their parents. They meet people with viewpoints they’ve never considered. They have to balance schoolwork, their social lives, and their budget in ways that many of them never had to before. Their bodies and brains are also going through developmental and hormonal changes that make them likely to doubt themselves. It’s no wonder that college students report high levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Below are several coping mechanisms and methods for college students to protect their mental health.
Outline the Changes You’re Experiencing
College comes with a lot of firsts. Some firsts you may be experiencing include:
- Living away from your parents
- Managing your complete budget
- Creating your own schedule
- Paying bills/rent/utilities
This is a lot of responsibility, and depending on your previous experience, you may not be prepared to address all these changes at once. It’s a good idea to sit down and list all the life changes you’re likely to experience, and create some first steps for addressing each one. This list will look different for everyone, and the changes that present challenges can be surprising. When I was in college in Portland, a lot of my fellow students were from Hawaii. Portland’s strong rain and lack of sun for the nine months of the school year had a substantial effect on the mental health of students used to being in the sun all the time. One of the Universities had a sunroom with special lights where students suffering from seasonal affective disorder could go to relax and get some much needed UV rays.
Make Self-Care Part of Your Routine
Stress has countless physical effects on your body. These can be aggravated if you don’t give your body the rest and nourishment you need. Here are some self-care actions you can take, ranging from addressing basic health needs to giving yourself the physical and mental space to replenish your energy.
- Monitor how much sleep your body needs to thrive, then strive to get that much sleep most nights of the week. For most college students, this will range from 7-9 hours.
- Hydrate! Drink your 8+ glasses of water each day. If you’re a coffee person, drinking a glass of water while your coffee is brewing is a great way to speed up the waking up process.
- Set aside wind-down time. Even if it’s just half an hour before bed, set aside time to just let your mind wander and unwind from the day.
- Avoid blue light from digital screens before bed. This light keeps your mind awake and prevents optimal sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise gets your blood flowing to the brain and promotes clearer thinking. Even if you just take the stairs instead of the elevator or walk laps around campus, your body and mind will thank you.
- Take time each week for relaxation. This could mean taking a bath, coloring, reading, or doing pretty much anything that you enjoy and can relax while doing. Since students already spend so much time looking at screens, try to avoid using TV as a relaxing activity. Your body may be sedentary, but your mind gets stressed by all the stimulation TV provides.
College can be overwhelming, but by being aware and considerate of your body, you can protect your physical and mental health. If you ever start to feel overwhelmed by all the changes happening in your life, be sure to talk to someone. Your fellow students are experiencing the same thing, and your professors, university staff, and parents will likely understand your stress and help you build an action plan to combat it.
By Avery T. Phillips, a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world.