College is a unique time in your life — while it’s an exciting opportunity to meet new people, make meaningful memories and shape your future self, it’s also a stressful time when hard work, pressure and lack of free time can take their toll. Both to enjoy college and to excel in your studies, you need to learn how to take care of yourself mentally.
The importance of mental health in college students isn’t something to take lightly, and you’re responsible for your health as well as your degree. Here are a few vital ideas and activities to improve mental health.
1. Put Together a Routine
If you’re a first-year student, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with responsibility. After all, you’ve likely never lived on your own before. While it’s always fun to stay out late with friends, it’s even more important to prioritize a routine. This way, you won’t miss class or assignments. As a result, you should feel less stressed and more prepared. A consistent schedule can help with a better sleep cycle, too.
As soon as you receive your class times, plus any other obligations like work shifts, create a calendar. After you block out space for those responsibilities, be sure to set aside time for schoolwork and extracurriculars. Then, you should have a daily routine that’s easy to manage and follow. You’ll also learn how to be emotionally healthy.
2. Use Free Time Wisely
The best parts of college revolve around free time. In high school, teachers, parents and administrators map out each day for you. Now, it’s your job to figure out what to do with those extra hours. When you don’t have class or work, you may want to relax with your favorite TV show — and sometimes, you should! Most often, though, it’s smart to dedicate your free time to more productive tasks.
First and foremost, you need to carve out space for self-care at least once a week. It’s essential to set down the books and let your brain rest. That said, try not to let self-care overlap into other tasks. When you have 30 minutes after class, head to your professor’s office hours and ask questions about that exam or take time to review your notes. Too much unrestricted free time can lead to unhappy emotions.
3. Eat Healthier Meals
We all know about the stereotypical college diet — mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen and fast food. Unless you have a meal plan, it’s not easy to put together tasty and nutritious dinners that aren’t overly expensive. That’s when it’s essential to become creative — because poor food choices can increase the severity of certain issues like anxiety. Here are a few foods to improve mental health:
- Fruits: Bananas, apples and berries
- Vegetables: Avocados, broccoli and spinach
- Grains: Quinoa, brown rice and oatmeal
- Protein: Salmon, eggs and beans
Of course, simply snacking on one of these foods won’t automatically boost your overall mental state — you need to maintain a balanced diet that incorporates healthy food choices.
Do your best to incorporate healthy foods into your diet whenever possible. You should consume meals that include every food group. Of course, the occasional pizza slice and cheeseburger won’t hurt. It’s always essential to maintain a balance.
Remember to stay hydrated, as well — your body needs liquid to maintain energy and keep moving, so stock up on health fluids and foods with a high water content, like fruits and veggies. While coffee may seem like a college staple, try to avoid too much caffeine if you’re feeling anxious — it can exacerbate anxiety and also leave you dehydrated.
4. Create a Support System
Sometimes learning how to take care of yourself mentally means letting someone else help.
Everyone needs a support system, whether they’re a college student or a professional adult. Don’t be afraid to rely on others for help! Try to establish a group of people you can go to for advice when you have any issues. You shouldn’t always try to accomplish tasks by yourself, especially when you’re part of a new environment. This support system allows you to avoid stress and exhaustion.
These individuals could include your professors, advisors, counselors or classmates. Your parents and friends can serve as helpful figures too, but no one knows your college experience like those who are there with you.
5. Exercise When Possible
At every life stage, physical fitness matters. If you can work out for at least an hour every other day, your body and mind can reap the benefits. When people suffer from depression, exercise can help them relieve related symptoms and lessen the effect overall. Therefore, consistent walks or runs often serve as some of the best habits to improve mental health.
Lower impact activities like yoga, stretching and strength training are also therapeutic.
If you don’t feel like you have time to set aside for workouts, just make it a goal to be more active in general. Walk around campus instead of taking buses or shuttles, take the stairs, or make a couple trips back to the dorms instead of bringing all your books at once.
Take the Time to Take Care of Yourself Mentally in College
Making the most of your college experience means learning how to take care of yourself mentally. Use these activities to improve your mental health and keep yourself on a good track — through college and in the future.