Mental Health in College

Jessica is a journalist living in Melbourne, Australia. She has a BA in Journalism and Media and Communications from Deakin University, and runs her own media and communications business to remedy her love of words. Jessica’s work has been published by FDRMX, To Write Love On Her Arms, RELEVANT magazine and Venn among others, and she dreams of moving to the USA to write about music, life, popular culture and people. You can read her work at www.jessicamorris.net.

Our time at college can be some of the best years of our lives, and between study and social commitments, we find ourselves pretty booked up 24/7. But if we’re real, we know it’s not always as easy as it looks. Study and exams seem to pile up, and our boss is breathing down our necks while we are trying to pay off our loans. Many of us feel a world away from the hometown we left, and it can be difficult to keep in touch with our friends and family back home.
When I feel overwhelmed, I go into panic mode. I hyper focus on my study, lock people out of my life, and enter a spiral of anxiety and depression. Other people go to the opposite end of the spectrum; instead of hyper focusing on study, they ignore it or procrastinate. They will throw themselves into social activities, often to their own detriment, and will find themselves failing in their studies, in their work and in their close relationships.
Whichever end of the spectrum you fall into, it’s fair to say that while college can be amazing, it can also be scary, overwhelming and highly stressful. Because of this, many of us will struggle with our mental health, and can feel quite isolated when everyone else appears to be going along happily (or so we think).
Based on my own experiences at college and my struggles with depression and anxiety, here are five tips which can help you care for your mental health when college life seems like too much.
1. Prioritize
I know it’s a dreaded word that professors drone on about, but prioritizing is the first step in ordering your life and taking care of you. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your study, work and social commitments, make a list and keep a planner of what is due when. Once you have these things set in place, you are able to look back at it through the semester, plan ahead, and manage your time so you can go out to that party, and still have your assignment ready to hand in the next day.

2. Stay healthy
There are some people who are health nuts and they’ll eat kale all day long, but we don’t all fall into this category (myself included). A typical college student’s diet consists of Spagettios, alcohol and leftovers, but you will feel a lot better if you cook, or at least heat up, more substantial foods. You can still enjoy takeaway and party food occasionally, but it’s smart to reach out to mom and ask for some very simple recipes or suggestions of healthy snacks. Get out and exercise a few times a week by doing an activity you enjoy with friends, and give your mind and body the fuel it needs to get through the rest of your week.

3. Spend time with friends
While it’s important you prioritize your study, it’s not good for us to totally ignore social activities. You need to be in a community, so make time to join a group on campus and get to know like-minded people. Schedule in a coffee with a friend and go to your friend’s party. Don’t spend all your time being so social you forget about everything else, but take the time to step back from the stress of life and just be with people. You will be better for it and find college much more enjoyable.

4. Stay safe
It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment or join a spontaneous activity, and we can end up in places we never planned, and in moments we have no control over. You can still have fun and be safe, so before you go out, know your boundaries. Decide how much you will drink, if at all. Plan transport, and be sure the people you are with have your back. Find out what type of people will be at this party and if there will be drugs involved. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable with this, and make sure you are always in a position of control. Are you going to hook up? Who with and why? And if you decide to do this, ask yourself if you are comfortable with the consequences the next day. Bring contraception, and above all make sure that you always feel safe. The moment you begin to feel uneasy is your cue to exit.

5. Be honest
Moving to college and living in a new place can be isolating and lonely. We all try to take control of our life in some way, and when we aren’t honest about this our mental health suffers. Personally, I can find myself becoming really anxious, and if I don’t open up about this to a friend and receive help, I go into a darker and darker pit of depression. Lots of us experience this, and we remedy it by drinking a little too much, self-medicating, self-injury, or obsessively watching our diets. A lot of the time our pain or fear is covered by the 24/7 nature of college life, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you find yourself really struggling during the semester, are lonely or if you feel totally out of control, ask for help. Talk to a friend or see a campus counselor, and know that you don’t have to do this alone. College life is meant to be great, so let these people help you make it the best it can be.

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