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Mental Health

How To Prioritize Mental Health While Attending College Remotely

It’s no secret that life as a college student has definitely been a different experience over the past year. Between the shift to online classes, dorm closures, and many activities and events being canceled or postponed, the changes certainly haven’t been easy. Trying to juggle college life while prioritizing school assignments and responsibilities often means that we push our mental health and well-being to the side. However, it’s more important than ever to establish your mental health as a top priority. To support you this school year, I’ve compiled a list of tips, tricks, and helpful habits that can help you prioritize mental health while attending college remotely. 

Express how you’re feeling

College was hard enough before everything shifted to the virtual sphere, but switching to a remote environment really impacted my motivation — plus, it made me feel disconnected from my friends, peers, and professors. At first, I thought that I was just going through this lonely transition period by myself, but after talking with friends, I realized that we’re all feeling challenged and stressed about remote college classes — and so much more! If you’re struggling with mental health right now, know that you can lean on others — whether that’s your friends, family, a therapist, or someone else you trust — and express how you’re genuinely feeling. Talking about how you’re feeling can be a powerful step in caring for your personal mental health, and according to a 2021 study, it has even been shown to help people cope with loneliness during COVID-19. Struggling with mental health while taking classes online can feel lonely at times, but remember, you aren’t the only one feeling this way.

Spend time (safely) outdoors

According to a 2017 study focused on nature-based therapeutic interventions, spending time outdoors can work wonders for your mental health! Of course, one of the main reasons for remote classes was to stop the spread of COVID-19, so you may not feel comfortable hanging out outside or in big groups quite yet. However, if you’re feeling down or isolated, you may want to consider taking a walk around your neighborhood or leaving your apartment for fresh air. Spending time in nature can also help you cultivate a sense of mindfulness, which has been empirically studied as a way to reduce stress and improve mental health.

Explore your creativity

While attending college remotely isn’t always ideal, the shift to online learning has given me extra time to pursue creative hobbies! And according to 2019 research on adolescent mental health, the creative arts can be a helpful way to navigate anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and emotions surrounding difficult life events. For one, engaging in a creative activity you enjoy releases dopamine, AKA your body’s natural anti-depressant, and research also suggests that creativity can also help you reduce and anxiety and stress. In a 2021 study, researchers in the U.K. even “prescribed” the arts as an intervention, and found that people’s anxiety, depression, and overall well-being improved over time. 

Personally, I’ve found journaling to be a helpful practice in caring for my mental health. Writing down moments of joy, sadness, or frustration can quiet your thoughts and help you focus, along with other creative outlets like cooking, reading, drawing, painting, playing music, and photography.

Make time for friends

Since my school decided to stay remote last semester, many of my friends and I decided to save money on rent and stay at home with our parents for the time being. While it’s nice to be home with family, I’ve had to adjust to not seeing my friends around campus every day. Many of them live in different states and time zones, so it can be tricky to find time when we can “hang out” remotely.

While prioritizing your mental health, it’s important to make time for your friends and find ways to have fun, even if you can’t see them in person! Whether it’s long FaceTime chats, remote Netflix parties, virtual game nights, or even sending them snail mail to remind them you care, investing in friendships and staying connected can be a great way to boost your mood and reduce stress.

Practice optimism

I never expected that I’d attend college remotely for so long, and trust me, I know how discouraging it can be to face uncertainty about the future. Know that it’s perfectly acceptable to give yourself a break. Remember, mental health is all about allowing yourself to feel whatever emotions you’re experiencing! You aren’t the only one feeling a little lost. While it may sound cliché, optimism has been researched as a way of helping people overcome some of life’s most difficult moments, including depression.

Prioritizing your mental health is crucial, especially as we continue to navigate the virtual world. Trying to stay on top of online classes while balancing everything else in life can be daunting, but know that putting your mental health first can help you tackle anything that comes your way this year. Whether you’re just starting on your mental health journey or you’re ready to talk to a therapist, know that there are many ways to find support, and the above tips are a great way to begin. 

Studies
Baixauli Gallego, E. (2017). Happiness: role of dopamine and serotonin on mood and negative emotions. Emergency Medicine (Los Angeles), 2017, vol. 6, num. 2, p. 33-51.

Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and nature therapy: A state-of-the-art review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(8), 851.

Hylton, E., Malley, A., & Ironson, G. (2019). Improvements in adolescent mental health and positive affect using creative arts therapy after a school shooting: A pilot study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 65, 101586.

Martin, L., Oepen, R., Bauer, K., Nottensteiner, A., Mergheim, K., Gruber, H., & Koch, S. C. (2018). Creative arts interventions for stress management and prevention—a systematic review. Behavioral Sciences, 8(2), 28.

Shapira, S., Yeshua-Katz, D., Cohn-Schwartz, E., Aharonson-Daniel, L., Sarid, O., & Clarfield, A. M. (2021). A pilot randomized controlled trial of a group intervention via Zoom to relieve loneliness and depressive symptoms among older persons during the COVID-19 outbreak. Internet interventions, 24, 100368.

Sumner, R. C., Crone, D. M., Hughes, S., & James, D. V. (2021). Arts on prescription: observed changes in anxiety, depression, and well-being across referral cycles. Public Health, 192, 49-55.

Tomasulo, D. (2020). Learned hopefulness: The power of positivity to overcome depression. New Harbinger Publications.

Zollars, I., Poirier, T. I., & Pailden, J. (2019). Effects of mindfulness meditation on mindfulness, mental well-being, and perceived stress. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 11(10), 1022-1028.

 

Harshita is currently a junior studying Information Systems and Human Resources at Loyola University Chicago. She is passionate about traveling, hiking, cuddling her two cats, and discovering cruelty-free beauty.
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