On Checking in With Yourself & Others

Mental health is something that our generation is beginning to acknowledge much more. In college, life can be stressful. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 75 percent of mental health issues arise before the age of 24. 

During a time with depression and anxiety creeping up on a large percentage of college students, we want to help others, especially our friends. With these statistics though, it’s clear that mental health may affect us, too. Helping others is really important, but it’s even more important to help ourselves. If we don’t have clear minds, giving advice and listening to others’ problems can make it difficult for us to use proper judgment. We also need to check in on ourselves in the process of giving advice. Even if we start off stable, this can take a toll on our own minds.

It may not seem like listening to our friends would require us to check in on our own mental health this much, but it needs to be noted. We need to make sure we are taking the proper steps for ourselves, too.

Checking in on others

Some of us may be able to help our friends without any guidance, but others may need a little push. When a friend comes to you regarding their mental health, it can be a little bit scary. We don’t want to seem nervous because they came to us at their most vulnerable time. It’s okay to not know what to do.

Listening and trying to understand their problems is the first step. Everyone likes to know that they’re heard. If you feel confident about your own state of health and understand how this person functions, giving advice on what their next steps can be may work. If you’ve experienced something similar in the past, it can be helpful to guide them towards professional help.

We all like to think that we’re doctors after binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy but news flash: We’re not. Mental health shouldn’t be trivialized. Even if we think we understand everything this person is saying, we don’t truly know what’s going on in their mind. This is why we need to check in with our friends, especially if they haven’t been themselves lately. Spotting warning signs and advising them to seek the guidance they need can seem small, but, if they take that extra step, it can ultimately save their lives.

Checking in on ourselves

As I said before, it’s important that we make sure we’re okay before helping others. If a friend came to you very mentally unstable, but you too were not doing well, how are you supposed to help with a clear mind? At this point, we obviously want to help, but it may be best to advise them to reach out to their parents or to other close friends. We can explain that we’re also experiencing problems. You can find help together. This shows your loved ones that they are not alone.

If you are in the middle of giving guidance, it can be a long process. Mental health isn’t on a clock. During this, it’s imperative to check in with yourself. We can get so caught up in others that we forget to take me-time. Take time to evaluate yourself. How am I feeling? Am I experiencing any kind of new stress or anxiety? Do I feel alone? These are questions that you need to answer. If you spend too much time without checking in on yourself, you may have built up stress that you don’t even realize is there. If this is the case, you need to take the time to fix yourself first. It’s the same cycle as before. If your mind is hazy, you are not in the state to help this person.

Ways of coping

There are several mental health coping mechanisms that we can suggest to others and that we can do if this process becomes stressful or scary. First, reach out to the UF Counseling and Wellness Center or U Matter, We Care if you — or a friend, roommate or someone else you know — need on-campus support. You're not alone, and we're lucky to be a part of a campus community filled with valuable resources.

If you're looking to try some at-home exercises, try deep breathing. If you’re like me and get overwhelmed easily, practicing deep breathing is a good way to bring your mind back home. There are so many things going on at once, especially in college. Acknowledging your own breathing can bring your heart rate down and make you feel much more centered.

To take it a step further, meditation is also a great practice to utilize. At first, meditating can seem tough. It seems like you’re trying, but your mind is in a million different places. I started using the app Headspace. Even when I’m not at a peak time of stress, it’s really soothing to tune into a quick recording on the app. There’s different levels, beginning with basics. You can also choose the amount of time you want to listen. If I just want something fast, I choose three minutes. This can improve your mental health and prevent stress when trying to cope with helping others.

Related: Meet Anita Cheung, Founder of Your New Meditation Must-Have

Be mindful of your loved ones and of yourself. We’re often skeptical when putting ourselves first, but, when it comes to mental health, we can’t feel bad. It’s important to know how to help others, but it’s even more important to make sure we’re okay first. Take care of yourself, and take care of others. Life is stressful, and we all know it. Making sure to take the right steps can make life a little easier. Take a deep breath, and never forget what that relieving exhale feels like.