For the past year, we’ve been living our lives in an unusual way—especially students. The public life we once lived with school in classrooms and gatherings with peers shifted due to the health issues in the world, forcing us to adapt to said conditions. The pandemic created a different approach to learning and keeping up with friends. Our schooling and events adapted to screens, and the way we attended was no longer an easy product of our control. Our extracurriculars and time spent with friends turned to time with ourselves. Because of the isolation, uncertainty, and lack of control over the past year, students have recognized more symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Luckily, we have some tips to share to take better care of your mental health!
Recognize how you feel
The initial step to taking care of your mental health is to recognize how you’re feeling. Right now, it’s especially easy to feel angry, sad, or anxious, which is why having a clearer idea of what your body is undergoing will help you figure out a way to ease into a healthy response. This might even be the most important tip on this list, as you can’t improve your mental health without first recognizing that you’re struggling. Don’t worry! You don’t need to map out your emotions to the core, but sometimes just allowing yourself to recognize how you feel can go a long way in helping you figure out how to take care of yourself. Being mindful of your emotions going forward will enlighten you to patterns in your behavior linked to stress or anxiety. Knowing these will help you develop a healthy response to them, plus effective coping mechanisms.
Learn to take a break
It’s become a challenge for students to separate our school and personal lives during the pandemic. Under “normal” circumstances, our personal life is spent at home, doing extracurricular activities, and meeting up with friends, and our school lives are spent in classrooms. For many students, said activities have all been done within the same four walls: your home. The fine line between work and rest time can become a struggle to maintain, inducing stress as a result. The failed separation leads us to figure out proper breaks to stay mentally fit. Free time spent on your phone or computer in the same position and location you were in school isn’t the healthiest. Try to take breaks that allow you to clear your mind and take on recreational activities. Going for walks, drawing, reading, listening to music, and baking are all activities that don’t require a screen and allow you to reflect on your day and feelings. Find activities that suit you as a person and complement your respond to stress. Trying new hobbies might help you find a recreational break for proper and healthy relaxation time.
Make an exercise routine
Exercising is one of the best ways to both take a mental break and stay physically healthy. When moving your body and staying active, you release endorphins, which help with pain release and maintaining a happy lifestyle. Exercising has countless benefits, including reducing anxiety, relieving stress, and maintaining consistent sleep patterns—all of which are related to mental health. By fitting in 30–60 minutes of physical movement each day, your negative mental health symptoms will minimize. Getting motivated can be hard, so take this one step at a time. Start by finding an exercise activity you’re excited about. This can be anything from dancing to walking to going for a run. And you don’t need to do vigorous activity every single day, but staying on track with some sort of physical changes will guide you to a healthier life and balance with your mental health. Remember that balance is key to a healthy body and mind.
Decide your media exposure
Our current lives are almost fully dependent on our screens. We spent countless hours doing online school and homework or relaxing with Netflix (often while still on our phones). We spend numerous hours a day scrolling through social media accounts and paying attention to other people's lives. For starters, social media can be both a positive or negative experience, mostly as a product of the people you follow and their content. What you consume visually on social media can impact the way you see life and even yourself. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, especially during a global pandemic, where the eyes we have to perceive life right now are through screens. Try to avoid overexposure to accounts and content creators whose messages are negative or don't align with your own ideas. Instead, look for positive and cheerful creators that line up with your own values and might help you stay on a positive track.
Related: The Balancing Act of Social Media
Look for an outlet
Looking for a healthy way to release built-up anxiety or emotions is a great way to clear your mind, especially when you might feel all your days blending into one. All the stress of how the world has been lately is a lot to take on, so take a step back and look for a positive outlet to stay mindful of your emotions. Your goal is to express your feelings in a safe way, avoiding pent-up stress or anxiety. Mindful outlets can vary tremendously, but some options include writing down your thoughts, meditating, practicing yoga, or listening to music. Find a space and activity that grants you the ability to reflect and grow. This could be crucial, as it may help you recognize how you really feel and help guide you to a healthier response to your feelings, both mind and body.
Stay in contact with friends
Even though our connections with friends have been challenged by months of isolation, it's easy to stay in touch. If you still can’t see them in person, we have the internet and text messages, and although they might not be the same as face-to-face contact, they offer the same benefits. Speaking to people who make us laugh and feel joyful is a very important part of balancing our lives. They might even help you gain a new perspective on your problems and stay grounded or just listen to your concerns. Keeping in touch with your friends and family is crucial to staying well during the pandemic.
While the life we’ve all been living has been challenging for our mental health, it’s important to view it as a time for growth. Small actions in your daily routine can help you gain balance and stay grounded. Slowly taking care of yourself and adding certain elements we suggested into your day-to-day life will hopefully lead to the beginning of a healthier mindset, lifestyle, and year. Remember to take one day at a time and acknowledge that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of.
If you need more help during the pandemic, CollegeXpress is here for you. Start by utilizing the resources on our COVID-19 Student Resources page.