managing mental health when academics take their toll
Today’s post-secondary students are more stressed than ever before. Between academic struggles, rising financial costs associated with studying, bills, social and familial pressures and the struggle of balancing it all, it can feel like a circus act trying to juggle it all. But what if all of these stressors are adding up to a result that is more than just stress? In the 2015 National College Health Assessment over fifty percent of those surveyed indicated feeling overwhelming anxiety, and fifty percent reported feeling that things in their lives were hopeless. Huffington Post noted a 2013 study of 30,000 Canadian post-secondary students, almost ninety percent reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year which was a noted high increase to previous versions of the survey. These results are starkly different than those of generations past, and they indicate some deeper problems than just stress. Today’s post-secondary students are reporting greater mental health struggles than any generation.
Sometimes, it can feel like college students are trying to canoe their way to a degree, but their boat has a hole in it. What if I were to tell you that there were steps you could take to not only patch the hole up, but to help ensure smoother sailing on your ride to that degree? Below are some tried and tested steps to help maintain your best mental health in college. Just because it won’t be easy, doesn’t mean it has to be that hard.
Don't isolate yourself.
This is something achievable to those living on and off campus. To those living on campus, don’t give into the temptation to hide in your dorm! Sometimes it can be nerve-wracking to venture out into busier areas of your residence, but getting out into those areas can help you to meet other people. To those not living on campus, take advantage of study spaces on campus. These places are usually full of other students, and are great places to get work done. Both of these options give the opportunity to meet other students, and here’s a secret, chances are some of them are feeling some of the same things that you are! Isolation can be extremely negative for mental health. It can create barriers between you and your peers, and most importantly, it can stop you from building a crucial support network.
Establish a support network.
This is so important. Establishing supports in your life can be crucial to maintaining mental health. Whether it be a group of friends, family members, residence assistants, or even a counselor, ensuring you have some people in your life who are looking out for your best interests is a comforting feeling. These people can get to know you and can sometimes be more likely to pick up on changes in your mood or behaviors than you are.
Don't be ashamed to ask for help.
Most colleges have counselling departments, and the services are usually free for students. These services are in place to help students. Colleges know that these years are difficult ones, and they want to support you through them. There is no shame in asking for help, whether it is counseling or otherwise. If you feel that there is something off in your life, then you need to take the appropriate steps to make it right. If you broke a bone, would you go to the doctor or hospital to get a cast? Probably. Your brain controls your whole body, take care of it the same way you would any other part of you.
Don't spread yourself too thin.
I know that when starting college it can be really tempting to sign up for tons of classes and clubs, and maybe you also have a part time job. While the excitement is totally justified, there is some truth to biting off more than you can chew. Listen to your body, it will usually give you cues if it is doing too much. If you often find yourself tired, grouchy, irritable, or constantly getting sick and you also have a hectic schedule then it might be a sign from your body that you may need to slow down and cut something out.
Never forget that you're not alone.
College is a huge transition period for people, and transition periods always bring stress. Change is hard, no one ever really likes it, but it can often lead to some of the most exciting opportunities. Never forget that change and transitions are hard for the majority of the population, and in a place like college you are bound to find another person who is feeling close to where you are.
While all of these steps may seem simple on their own, when put into practice together they are key to maintaining mental health. College can be an exciting time, but it can also come with a lot of pressures and stresses that some people may not be used to. But try to remember that no matter how close your canoe feels to sinking, you can always patch any hole and make your way down the rest of the river. Nothing worth having comes easy, but never sacrifice your health to get there.