10 Tips for Managing your Mental Well-Being in College
College is such an exciting time! As a mother of two, I have seen the highs and lows of applying and getting into college; the excitement, anticipation, stress. There is an expectation, that getting into college is the goal, and once that happens, everything will be great. To some extent, that is true! It's a time where you really get to explore new paths academically and professionally, have new experiences socially, meet like-minded friends, and there is the added freedom.
But with the good comes challenges: from academic rigor to making new friends to new found responsibility and boundary-setting. About 65% of college students have said mental health challenges have negatively impacted their college experience. The issues that often arise during this transition manifest in learning, stressful and traumatic events, anxiety, and depression. And, that's ok and very common. So, I want to give you 10 things that you can do to reduce the likelihood that you need more support.
Know yourself! What makes YOU you? Figure out the things you need to function well day-to-day. Sleep? Alone time? Exercise? Schedule? Social connection? No one is going to make these things happen for you, so figure out what you need and put yourself first!
Take care of yourself. Yes, I am a psychologist telling you that before we can focus on your mental health we need to focus on your physical wellbeing. When your body is functioning well, it is a lot easier to care for your mind. We are all a function of homeostasis. So think about what you can do to take care of your body. Get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, drink water, exercise!
Make a plan. The biggest change from high school to college is the lack of a structured schedule. A lot of us function better when we have specific things to do through out the day. Instead of: class, mini-mart, lunch, gym, Try: 10-10:50 class, mini-mart (pencils, cereal, bananas), 12 meet Jess for lunch, 2-4 gym
Power of people. Take time to invest in strong relationship with people who will take care of you. Relationships are fun during the good times and extremely meaningful through the tough times. Stay in contact with the close friends and family from home and welcome the new friends you make in college.
SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based goals. General goals sound like "I want to do well in my CS class", whereas SMART goals sound like "this week I am going to go to CS office hours and spend two hours on Sunday studying for my midterm." These can apply to social life and well-being too!
Schedule breaks. Scheduling intentional quiet time helps calm the mind. Although I do support quiet relaxation activities like spending time on YouTube or playing video games, they aren't the same as intentional quiet time. Try to stay away from a screen, meditate, listen to a relaxing playlist, or pleasure read.
Party with caution. The social life is one of the most fun and important parts of college. With that comes the challenge of setting boundaries and being safe. There are going to be times when drugs and alcohol are presented to you. I'm not going to say don't do it, but have a plan, know what you can handle and make sure it fits your values and that you are being safe.
Practice self-compassion. Treat yourself with kindness, patience, and respect. I encourage you to come up with some affirming thoughts like: "it takes time to settle in to a new place", "I'm not alone", "I'm doing the best I can". The one thing you have control over is how you treat yourself when things are stressful.
Coping ahead. If you know the things that you need to do well, you might also know what can really stress out. Is it academics, tests, and homework? Or maybe family relationships? Or social interactions at school and with friends? What can you do to make yourself more resilient during those trying times?
Know when and how to ask for help. Most (yes, most) college students seek support at their college counseling centers, learning centers, or with therapy programs like Joon. Asking for help is a sign of insight and strength!
I hope you have a great transition to school and remember: your mental health is as important as your grades, and making new friends. A well-functioning you is the first step to making everything else happen. Please take care! You can visit our mental health resources page for additional information on a variety of topics.
Amy Mezulis, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her BA from Harvard University and her MA and PhD in Clinical Psychology from University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dr. Mezulis provides services to older children, adolescents and adults utilizing an evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral approach that includes mindfulness and acceptance-based treatments. Dr. Mezulis has specialized training in mood and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, suicidality and self-injury, trauma, substance use, and adolescent development. She is currently on the faculty at Seattle Pacific University, where she chairs the Clinical Psychology PhD program.
If you or a member of your family needs help right away, please call 911 or visit your local emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).