Ways to Stay on Top of Mental Health in College

Ways to Stay on Top of Mental Health in College

by Bri Pastro and Amy Zhao (Of HerCampus Harvard)
A version of this article was originally posted on HerCampus Harvard's website, and can be found here.

College is often described as “the best four years of your life,” and while that might be the case for some folks, this representation can make individuals feel alone when they go through difficult times. It’s perfectly normal to experience ups and downs in your mental health; the American College Health Association reported that 62% of undergraduates experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in 2015.  

It's hard not to feel stressed at some point. Coupled with problem sets and projects, commitments to extracurriculars and relationships, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the emotional and physical strain of college. While we are often resilient enough to "tough it out," and just brute force our way through the difficulties in life, it's important to make sure that you won't end up being burned out. Taking care of your mental health before reaching a crisis point can help you succeed academically and personally and help you feel less stressed in your day-to-day life.

Keeping up with your mental health doesn't have to mean talking to a therapist, or seeing a psychologist (though these are definitely great ways to take care of yourself!) there are easy ways to self-care that don't even involve the presence of others. Read on for some concrete steps and resources you can utilize to manage your stress and improve your mental health!

Self care

What is self-care, anyway? It’s a phrase that is frequently tossed around and often associated with pampering oneself. The truth is that self-care is unique to each person that practices it--it can range from drinking more water to taking a long shower to talking to friends. How we take care of our mental and emotional health is personal and varies incredibly between individuals, and there is no "right way" or "best way" to engage in self-care. 

A great way to check-in about what might be a great self-care activity is asking yourself “what ‘refuels’ me?” For some people, that may mean taking alone time to meditate, write in a journal, listen to music, exercise, or (for one of the authors) listen to an audiobook and make fresh pasta. Other people may need to be around people to recharge, forgoing homework for one night to have a long dinner with friends, or hosting a board game night. Sometimes self-care is less glamorous, and means taking small steps that improve your quality of life, like taking a nap, taking medication as prescribed, or accomplishing an errand. Do what you need to take care of your mental health.

It can be difficult to regularly carve out time to practice self-care, but try putting it in your calendar or to-do list or set daily reminders on your phone. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as checking off academic and work-related tasks, and budgeting time for yourself will end up saving you time in the long run. You will do and feel better if you give yourself time to recharge.

If that doesn’t seem realistic for your schedule, try to sneak in self-care in small places: set aside the 10 minutes between classes for a meditation in a quiet spot, grab a coffee and really pay attention to the taste and warmth, stretch your muscles or do a few quick yoga poses while studying, and walk mindfully from class to class, paying attention to the colors and movement all around you. These small acts of self-care definitely add up.

Getting started

Here are some quick ideas to get you started!

  • Grab a table at an off-campus cafe and savor your favorite drink with a friend

  • Take a walk in nature (a city park or a national forest, its up to you!)

  • Cuddle up in your favorite blanket and watch an episode of TV

  • Look up if your university has therapy dogs! Spending time with a furry friend can be incredibly relaxing

  • Spend some time with a good friend (if they're far away, arrange a Skype date!)

  • Make time to get ot the gym! Maybe head to a group class like Zumba, Yoga, or Barre

  • Meditate using an app like calm

Know your resources

Another important aspect for taking care of your mental health? Knowing your resources. Check out these amazing services on- and off-campus. Never be afraid to reach out for help. Whether you're feeling a little overwhelmed, or like you've been run over by a thousand trucks, there is never a wrong time to seek out help. There are many resources available, and everybody there wants to help you out. 

National Suicide Hotline – The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 Hours, 7 days a week, and takes both calls and messages through their online chat on the website. This confidential resource services those in distress, as well as friends or loved ones who may be concerned about someone dealing with the effects of suicide. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Trevor Project Lifeline – The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and counseling via phone and messaging for LGBTQ+ people ages 13-24. Their website is full of resources for LGBTQ+ individuals regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, suicide prevention, and more. They can be reached at 866-488-7386.

SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, runs a confidential, 24/7 treatment referral routing service that provides information and treatment options to individuals (or loved ones of individuals) struggling with substance use disorders. This service is provided in English and Spanish, and is mainly an information service. For crisis counseling, it may be better to use another resource. They can be reached at 1-800-662-4357.

Veterans Crisis Line – The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis and their loved ones to qualified responders from the Department of Veteran Affairs. This resource is offered 24/7, and is free and confidential. Messaging, texting, and calling options are all available, as well as support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Their website also includes resources on mental health concerns specific to veterans. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and also feature messaging on their website.

National Eating Disorders Association – NEDA works to support individuals and loved ones affected by eating disorders through prevention, treatment, and access to quality care. Their website is full of resources for those struggling with eating disorders, as well as a helpline and messaging service from the hours of 9am-9pm Monday-Thursday and 9am-5pm on Friday. They can be reached at 1-800-931-2237 and messaging is available on their website.

Zencare.co – Zencare is the simplest way to find an off-campus therapist. Find quality-vetted therapists, psychiatrists, and dietitians recommended by peers, and book free a phone consultation directly on the site. Search therapists in the Boston area and Rhode Island and view introductory videos and photos to help you find the right provider for you!

Bri Pastro is a senior at Tufts University majoring in Psychology. She is interested in psychopathology, specifically PTSD and self injurious behaviors. She is the social media chair of Tufts Active Minds, and spends her free time bullet journaling and listening to Twenty One Pilots.