Why I Chose My Mental Health This Summer

By Emily Forbes 

As I prepared to pack up the car and jet home during the final days of school, I found myself balking at the prospect of my already lengthy to do list. My summer had not even begun and I was stressing about where I could find part-time work, what to do if I didn’t score that coveted internship and if there were any classes I needed to take to get ahead in my major. But during my first week at home scouring for 'Help Wanted' signs and fretting over internships disappearing before my eyes, I had a much needed revelation. I stepped back and I asked myself, “Why?”

Why was I pushing myself so hard? Why was I feeling just as stressed as during final exams? Why did I feel the need to meet everyone’s expectations but my own?

Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find reasonable answers to any of these questions. So I made a definitive decision: I would prioritize myself and my mental health this summer.

Without the cyclical repetition of work, class, clubs, other responsibilities and failing to fit in a social life, I had the opportunity to analyze myself and feed my soul. I didn’t know how much I needed that until the semester ended and I was knee-deep in the same anxious mindset as before. So, instead, I decided to use the summer to reconnect with family, try new things, improve my physical and mental health and work on a passion of mine: Writing. But regardless of your degree of involvement, prioritizing your mental health should be at the top of your list, and there are four surefire ways to get you started.

1. Return to your interests

During the semester, there isn’t a lot of time to pursue personal interests. Summer break offers an opportunity to return to favorite hobbies and other activities beyond the college setting. During school, I didn't have time to catch up on my lengthy reading list and bake. They were both also meditative actions with a healing aspect, something I needed after a hectic semester. After all, hobbies are hobbies because you enjoy them, and enjoyment in anything you do should never be taken for granted.

2. Reconnect with family

The connections we make are invaluable, but even in the excessively social world we live in, solid ones can be hard to find. I am not able to visit members of my extended family often, so to be able to see them filled a void I didn’t know I had. Reaching out to grandparents, cousins, and even close family friends helped ground me in a world that is constantly spinning from one thing to another. When you are away at school and surrounded by campus life, it is easy to forget those you leave behind. Maintaining connections boosted my spirits mentally and emotionally.

3. Find what moves you

Have you always had a secret passion for photography? Do you daydream about selling your first piece of artwork? Are these ambitions cast by the wayside when the semester rolls around? For me, my outlet has always been writing. As a science major in school with numerous other obligations, I didn’t have the opportunity to partake in much creative writing. When I can’t write as often as I need to, I feel angry and rigid. Using the summer to practice and hone my writing skills worked wonders on my mental health. I felt calmer, more focused and less anxious. Finding what moves your soul to dance benefits your mind, your heart and your life. Find what inspires you. Be bold enough to allow yourself the chance to explore it.

4. Spend time with yourself

Seriously. There is nothing you will value more than knowing exactly who you are, what you want and where you want to go. If you're feeling stuck, if you are in a mental rut or if you are experiencing the infamous existential crisis, take some time out of each day and get to know yourself. I have prioritized myself more than I ever have this summer by taking myself out for ice cream, taking myself on walks and taking myself shopping. Spend time alone with your thoughts. A lot of time. You might just surprise yourself.

Summer is an open time of opportunity, but it is important to be mindful of how you fill three months between semesters. If internships, jobs and summer classes are necessary or right up your alley, by all means, pursue them. But prioritizing yourself during the summer is just as valuable. Read a book, chase a dream you are passionate about, refine your baking skills, get your money’s worth and more out of that Netflix subscription. Work and stress will be waiting for you after college. And most of all, don’t feel guilty about a much-needed recharge. It's your life before anyone else’s, and nobody has a say about it but you.