Mental Health and College: A Student's Perspective

As college students we’re asked to do well in our classes, participate in extracurriculars like student government, have jobs (often more than one to keep afloat), all while navigating our personal lives. Often keeping a balance on these different parts of our lives means that we have to give less time to other equally important parts of our lives such as physical and mental health. While neglected, your health is perhaps the most important aspect of your life because what is the point of getting straight A’s if you’re physically ill or emotionally unstable.

I’m not a mental health professional so I don’t have all the answers as I’m struggling with navigating the very things I’m discussing here. What I can offer is a few things to consider though there are an infinite number of ways to navigate mental health. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when taking care of your mental health as a college student.

Address your feelings

Sometimes I think in the hustle-and-bustle of trying to get everything done we forget to acknowledge how we’re feeling. In the midst of ingenuine “how-are-you’s” in the hallway as we rush to another commitment where we say that we’re doing good, we need to stop and really try to answer the question. How are you? Really, how are you? Acknowledging your mental state is a great starting place when trying to find a healthy way to navigate your health. A few ways to figure out how you’re feeling is by giving yourself five minutes in between classes or before bed to journal. You can journal about your day, something you’re looking forward to or 5 things you’re grateful for. In your journalling try to be as honest as you can, even if the truth sometimes sucks. By honestly acknowledging your feelings, you’re able to move forward in figuring out ways to address them.

Reach out to those around us

Navigating mental health is often regarded as a one person task when it’s really not. Even when it’s encouraged to reach out to someone, often the person is a mental health professional and while this a valid route not everyone has access to these resources. An alternative way of getting some support lies in reaching out to those around us. Even if it’s just to have our moms listen to us rant for a half hour or asking for advice from our best friends, our friends and family have our best interest at heart. Also, listening to ourselves talk about our problems out loud often has a healing outcome.

Take a break

While we’re bustling around trying to get everything done we forget that we don’t need to work ourselves to the ground attempting to get the perfect GPA. We’re allowed breaks. We’re allowed to step away from our responsibilities. We’re allowed to breathe and live our lives. Although school is incredibly important, it’s just as important to enjoy our lives as we’re living them. To consistently work and never have any fun with the mindset that all of our joy will work out when we’re older is narrow mindset. We can’t predict the future so we might as well as enjoy ourselves while we’re working hard.

Look at the bigger picture

This section goes hand in hand with taking a break. We need to realize that not everything in our journey to our goal is going to be a win. There need to be downs in order for us to truly appreciate the successes. That doesn’t mean that we have to consistently expect downturns. It just means not to dwell on any bad slumps or outcomes. Whenever something happens in our lives that doesn’t follow the plan, we need to be able to breathe and realize everything will be just fine. The little things that go wrong aren’t going to deem our life goals unachievable--just that we’re going to need to go at these goals a little differently.

Happiness is an emotion, not a life goal 

Happiness is often framed in a way that portrays the emotion, yes emotion, as a life goal or an end point. Happiness like any other emotion (sadness, anger, etc.) is something we feel at different times during our lives but it isn’t something we feel forever. It comes and goes, just like any other emotion. To frame it in such that puts the expectation that once happiness is achieved it can never be lost is harmful to our mental health. We must understand that it’s natural to be upset or down when unexpected situations arise during our lives. We have to find ways to navigate these situations in order to come back to the happiness we so often crave.

These are just a few suggestions or mindsets to take on when dealing with college and the stress it brings on. Feel free to try any of these or let us know what other things have worked for you.