Mental Health and Stress Management in College

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Summer has ended and many college students are finally adjusted to being back on campus and are facing the stress that comes along with being a student. Just the thought alone is enough to give some an existential crisis. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. With classes back in session, we’ve got you covered with tips for how to manage your mental health and stress this semester.

Know your limits, don’t overwork yourself

One of the most important things that could ever be said about mental health in regards to school is that your mental health will always surpass the schoolwork. There is truly nothing more valuable in life than your own health, which can be a hard truth to swallow for some. One of the reasons for this has to do with the constant pressure and desire to be successful in school. Sometimes, students have a habit of pushing aside what their minds and bodies are telling them in regards to their best interests.

Since a full time student’s schedule mimics that of a full time job, it’s not hard to imagine why the demands and pressures take a toll on so many students’ well-being.

According to a study done by PLOS One, adults working 11 or more hours a day have a much higher chance of experiencing major depressive episodes. As noted by University of Michigan-Flint, just one college course typically equates to three credit hours (or hours in class), with an additional six to nine hours spent outside of that one course to study and meet deadlines. Add three to four more classes, and that’s basically what a full time job equates to.

While the mere thought of juggling deadlines and taking breaks when it seems impossible to do so can be overwhelming, it’s both okay and vital to take not just physical breaks, but mental health breaks as well. There’s no race to graduate college nor does it make you any less valuable if you’re not graduating on time according to the traditional 4-year plan.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution as of fall 2009 was measured at 59 percent. That is, 59 percent of students had completed a bachelor’s degree by 2015 at the same institution they started their program at in 2009. These numbers don’t consider college transfers, part-time students, degree or major changes. It’s important to remember that your time is yours alone, and your mental health should always be a priority.

Whether you’re a student that can handle 18 credit hours a semester or a student that can handle nine credit hours a semester, that’s something each individual has to figure out for themselves and what works best with their mental health in mind.

Regardless, stress will always be a constant in everyone’s life. The saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” rings true with stress also as everyone’s level of stress and how much is too much for each person varies, much like we all perceive beauty differently.

Before diving headfirst into the school year after a typical summer of relaxation, especially on a full time schedule, students should start practicing and learning to maintain healthy stress-relieving habits right now to prepare them for the school year ahead.

Get organized

Way too often we buy calendar journals in hopes of keeping us up-to-date on all of our tasks, but they ultimately just end up set aside as another wasted investment. To combat this, discover what kind of person you are. Do you prefer to keep everything handwritten or are you more inclined to have everything shown to you electronically?

As much as I love writing, my writing has gradually shifted from handwritten in journals to Google Docs, calendar boards to the Calendar App on my iPhone. Once I realized this shift, I started using the technology available to me to my advantage. From having my laptop and my phone synced together in order to always have access to the things I need, to actively using the Reminders, Notes, and Voice Recorder apps (among others) on my phone, this way the easiest fix for me to figure out how to keep myself organized.

With that being said, everyone is different, and if a calendar journal or sticky note reminders do the trick for you, do it. Play around with a few different tricks to keep yourself organized and stick to what works as soon as you can, and you’ll be able to face the school year with a new tool under your belt.

Learn how to cope

When stress becomes too overwhelming, some of the unhealthy habits many of us fall into include procrastination, over/under eating, sleeping too much or too little, shutting ourselves off, and resorting to substance abuse, just to name a few. These habits, while they may provide a temporary relief, often lead to us feeling worse than we did at the beginning.

According to Evoke Learning, our stress hormones can quite literally reshape parts of our brains. The higher a student’s level of stress, the more likely stress will affect not just their brain development, but also their ability to problem-solve, their productivity skills, among many other emotional and peer-related aspects of their lives.

Students should adapt healthier methods of coping with stress. Practicing deep breathing or trying meditation exercises are two great ways to cope with stress. A healthy diet also contributes to your mental health, so it’s important for students to drink plenty of water and make healthy food choices. Limiting how often one goes out and parties, calling a friend or loved one for emotional support, or hitting a local gym and exercising can also help.

Seeking out the things that bring fulfillment to our mental health will provide us with a much better mindset to handle stress in a healthy and safe way.

For more stress-coping ideas, check out these recommendations from Colorado State University.

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Engage in hobbies outside of schoolwork

Everyone has something they enjoy doing. If you haven’t found that hobby quite yet, it’s time you get out there and explore.

A good place to start discovering your hobbies and passions is by exploring the student organizations on campus and finding activities that spark your interest, such as playing a sport, knitting and sewing, painting/drawing and exploring musical talents.

Whatever your hobby may be, make sure to always find room for it in your schedule in order to keep your stress levels low and in check. Developing a habit of practicing your hobby early on will surely stick with you throughout college and beyond.

Do you have any other helpful tips to combat stress? Interested in checking out our other methods to help avoid stress? Or are you curious in discussing more about how stress can affect our mental health? Share your thoughts in the comments below.