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There’s a lot of talk today about “caring for your mental health.” But what does that mean? And is it really as important as people make it out to be?
Putting your mental health first means intentionally nourishing your physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Mental health is very important because it’s the foundation for everything else in your life. For example, a person with the flu will struggle to be productive or enjoy their life.
Mental illnesses like depression and OCD can have a similar effect on people’s lives. Like physical health, there are steps you can take to guard your mental health. Here are five ways you can put your mental health first as a college student.
- Stop Isolating Yourself
Studies show that isolation is a precursor to mental illness. In addition to impacting your mental health, isolation can exacerbate physical illness and increase pain. One of the best ways to protect your health is by building friendships and being honest with trusted friends.
Healthy friendships are defined by loving behavior. Friends who control you or take support from you without giving it back are not good for you. It can take time to find good friends, so don’t stress if it takes a while to connect with others at school.
It’s helpful to write a list of the qualities you want to find in a friend. Then, think about where that kind of person would spend their time. Would they volunteer? Join a faith group? Be intentional about looking for friendships and you’ll make good connections much faster.
- Move Your Body
You can also put your mental health first by exercising. Like healthy relationships, exercise benefits your brain and the rest of your body. It equips you to handle stress and releases feel-good hormones that improve your mood and outlook on life.
Some kinds of exercise are better than others for improving mental health. Working out for your mental health isn’t a valid excuse for you to obsess over being in shape or compare yourself to other people’s bodies. Your value is not determined by how hard you exercise or what you look like – or even how your appearance affects other people.
There are hundreds of ways to get a good sweat in, so choose one that works best for you. Some people love running, while others prefer weight lifting. Simply going on a walk can improve your mood and physical health. Exercising outside combines the benefits of movement with those of nature.
- Refine Your Diet
What you feed your body and mind is bound to resurface in your life. Changing your mental and physical diet can have a huge impact on your overall wellness. For example, studies show a direct link between anxiety and the amount of refined sugar you consume.
One way to protect your mental health is to nourish your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. Switch out refined foods for whole grains, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables. You should also be drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Take some time to refine your mental diet too. Pay attention to how social media makes you feel and try going off it for a while. Think about the lyrics in the music you listen to and what books you’re reading. What voices are you giving authority in your life?
- Challenge Your Thoughts
Another way to improve your mental health is by noticing and challenging your thoughts. For example, you may be putting yourself down on a daily basis. If you’re able to change the way you see yourself, your mental health will improve.
Consider keeping a journal or taking notes on your phone to monitor your self-talk. After enough time, you’ll start to see patterns emerge that can help you better understand yourself. Learn to observe yourself instead of reacting to yourself.
If you notice any unhealthy patterns and they seem to be getting worse, consider seeing a therapist. Going to therapy before you have a serious problem can prevent a mental health crisis later in life. Although it takes courage, it’s one of the best decisions you could make.
Self-Care Is the Foundation of a Full Life
If you stopped eating and sleeping, you’d suffer from some pretty serious side effects. Eventually, you would die. Maintaining a healthy mind takes regular maintenance in normal circumstances. If you’re experiencing extra pressure from school or family life, it’s even more important.
Putting your mental health first doesn’t mean you’re a weak person. Taking care of yourself is something that mature people do. Follow these tips to put your mental health first so you can live life to the fullest – in college and beyond.