College is supposed to be one of the most unforgettable times of your life. But, it can also be one of the most stressful. A national survey of college students in 2020 found that nearly 40% experienced depression, one in three dealt with anxiety, and one in seven admitted that they’d thought about suicide in the last year.
When you think about it, college students have a lot on their plates that can contribute to a decline in mental health. Moving to a new environment is scary. Making new friends can be overwhelming. Thinking about the future is often daunting, especially when you factor in student loan debt.
On top of it all, today’s college students are trying to navigate their way to graduation through a global pandemic.
Do all of those things sound familiar? If so, take a deep breath.
First of all, you’re not alone in the way you’re feeling. More importantly, though, you don’t have to let the weight of stress and anxiety spoil your college career. By finding ways to balance college life and your mental health, you can make the most of your experience and prioritize your well-being. Let’s cover a few useful tips that can make it easier to find that balance.
Adjusting to a New Place
One of the hardest things about getting used to college is living in a new place. For most students, it’s the first time you’re living apart from your family. If you went to a different state for college, it can often feel like you’re in a completely foreign territory.
Moving, in general, is stressful. It’s even harder when you’re on your own. Thankfully, there are things you can do to make the adjustment period easier, including:
- Making socializing a priority
- Staying physically active
- Practicing self-care
- Trying new things
- Doing things that bring you happiness and comfort
One of the benefits of college is that it’s relatively easy to do most of those things. Having a roommate or two is a great way to meet people immediately. Joining clubs you’re interested in is another wonderful option for keeping busy and meeting friends with shared interests. Go for walks around campus to get the lay of the land while staying active at the same time. And, don’t be afraid to stay involved in some of your old hobbies.
Most importantly, don’t rush yourself. Adjustments take time. It’s okay to feel a bit homesick at first, and there’s no perfect timeline for feeling comfortable in a new place. Take care of yourself and be willing to meet new people, and you might be surprised when one day you wake up feeling happier and less homesick than before.
Managing Your Stress
Whether you’re a first-year student or you’re graduating in a semester, excessive stress can be a huge problem for college students.
Between keeping up with classes, maintaining a social life, and thinking about the future, it’s easy to burn out quickly and feel like you don’t have any energy. Some of the suggestions listed above can make a big difference when it comes to stress management. Basic self-care practices like getting enough sleep and exercising are crucial for managing your stress. But, you can also improve your energy and feel less fatigued by eating energy-boosting foods (and maybe cutting back on the ramen), striking a healthy work-life balance with your classes, and spending time outside.
It’s also helpful to cut out alcohol. While parties tend to be stereotypical of college experiences, limiting your alcohol intake can actually give you more energy and boost your overall health. When you’re more energized, your focus will improve. You won’t feel so overwhelmed, and it’ll be easier to manage your stress.
Reaching Out for Help
Remember that survey we touched on earlier? Clearly, if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, you’re not the only one. Because of the rise in mental health conditions across college campuses, many universities have established mental health centers and services.Unfortunately, there is still a stigma to seeking mental health treatment for some people. Don’t let that deter you from reaching out and getting the help you need. Seeking out help is a sign of strength. Consider some of the following services that might meet your needs and help you to manage your stress:
- Campus support groups
- Guidance counselors
- On-campus counselors or therapists
- Mental health brochures/resources for off-campus guidance
You can also help yourself in other ways, including volunteering for organizations or groups that mean something to you. One study by Harvard Medical School found that volunteering helps people feel more socially connected. That can help you to manage depressive thoughts and fight back against loneliness.
Even reaching out to family members and friends at home can make a big difference in how you feel. If you’re struggling, connect with those who already support you and want to help.
Taking charge of your mental health in college is one of the best things you can do. Yes, you’ll be more focused and productive when it comes to your studies. More importantly, though, you’ll learn how to take care of your well-being in positive and impactful ways. Those are the skills you’ll carry with you long after you graduate.