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Mental Health

Keeping up with your mental health when things are looking down

I knew that going to college in the COVID-era wouldn’t be easy, but I was underprepared for the toll it would take on my mental health once the first-year novelty wore off. When I woke up around late October, I realized a few things very quickly. I was burned out from socializing (safely from a distance!) or studying too hard; the impending election was stressing me out; and I had settled into a depressing routine of isolating myself all day to get work done. I was lonely, exhausted, and I felt hopeless about what I could do to get myself out of this state.

 After a couple of days of wallowing, I decided I was sick of how I was feeling. It was frustrating to see myself wait around for good things to happen when I knew I would have to actively work to improve my situation. It was on me to break myself out of my low place. I made a list of things I would start doing to feel better and implemented them whenever possible.

After just a week of working on my mental state, I feel lighter and more excited about the rest of the semester. From where I am now, I realized it takes a positive outlook, some adjustment in your routine, and self-love to quickly change your point of view. If you’re going through what I did, I hope this list helps you as much as it helped me. 

Allow yourself to wallow

This one seems counterintuitive as we’re trying to make ourselves feel better. However, a very smart person once told me denying your own sadness only makes it come back harder the second time around. Before anything happens, allow yourself to process what you’re feeling, and do this without barriers or self-criticism. I hung out in my room a lot, cried a good number of times, and watched a few too many emotional movies. I knew it was what I needed at the moment, and that’s okay. When you feel like you’ve gotten it out of your system, you are ready to move on to the next steps. 

Start saying affirmations

For those who don’t know, affirmations are positive messages that focus on self-love. My personal favorite, and the one I start my day with is “I am enough. I forgive myself. All I need is within me now. Thank you”, but feel free to design one that is unique to you and your needs. I was uncomfortable with this at the beginning, but now I look forward to it. It’s reassuring to wake up and know you’re starting your day with some love. Looking myself in the eye every morning and saying “you are enough” has done a good number on my confidence too. 

Start and end each day with 5 things you are grateful for

This is my mom’s go-to when she feels down, so I finally started to adopt it for myself. It is shocking how 5 quick things twice a day can help you see your life from a positive point of view. Sometimes 5 things are harder to find than others, so don’t put pressure on finding fantastic things. This morning I named the plain bagel in my mini-fridge, and it worked just fine. 

Get outside and move your body when you can
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This one feels like a given, but I found it very easy to hole up in my room all day, seated and doing homework. I am usually a sucker for sunshine, but I had forgotten to move my body and go breathe the fresh air. Once I actively started putting “Go for a walk” on my to-do list, I noticed an instant spike in my daily happiness. 

Talk to yourself like your best friend

I’m pretty sure I saw this quote in a bathroom stall once, but it has always stuck with me. I fall victim to self-criticism all the time, whether it’s “you should be happier right now” or “you need to be more outgoing”. I realized that if I imagined my friend was saying these things to me, I would absolutely hate hanging out with them. Since I spend 24/7 with the voice in my head, I needed to do something quickly to change that. Instead of criticizing immediately, I pretend I am speaking to my best friend and telling her things like “you deserve to feel however you need to right now” or “you only have to be as outgoing as you feel comfortable, and I love you for who you are”. This step should feel like a work in process since it’s too hard to reroute your thinking in a matter of days, but I know I am much happier living in my own head now than I was a week ago.

I completely understand that a better mental state doesn’t happen overnight, or in just a week either, but I want to give all of you, and myself, the best chance at getting there. If you’re going through a tough time, I know how it can feel really hard to get yourself back on track. Keep checking in on how you feel, change up your routine, and give yourself a little love. With time, things will definitely look up for you. 

Madeleine McCollum is from Bethesda, Maryland, and is thrilled about continuing her career at Her Campus UVA. She is a member of UVA's Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED) club where she volunteers as a consultant for non-profits in Charlottesville. She has also interned for Lerch, Early & Brewer Law firm and Compass realty, assisting with their marketing operations. As a second year at UVA, she is very excited to keep writing for Her Campus and reading her peers' articles. In her free time, Madeleine loves to get out into nature, travel, curl up with a book, and go for runs.
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