When College Takes its Toll: Self Care & Mental Wellness
As a psychology graduate, I’ve spent the last four years of my life offering advice on mental wellness, from self-diagnosing to guiding friends to speak to someone (well within the limits of my degree, so don’t come for me for being a “fake doctor”), and each time, I tell anyone who asks the same thing: “Your feelings are valid, you matter, and take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”
Sometimes, though, it can be a struggle for me, as I was recently diagnosed (by a professional) as having generalized anxiety and major depressive disorder. Somedays I find it incredibly hard to be present, and the idea of having to be responsible for myself and my various jobs makes me stay in bed until the very last minute. I don’t like to be home alone, I don’t like complete silence, and I tend to get anxious when I meet new people and even old friends.
My entire existence, for the last quarter of my life, has been dedicated to bettering myself and becoming the most self-actualized person I can be. That has taken a lot of work, and I am nowhere near being done. In my quest for peace, I’ve found some of the best and easiest ways to recharge myself so I don’t withdraw from my life as a college student with dreams of going to medical school.
The best way I have found to maintain my mental wellness is to establish a routine. All of my friends can attest to how organized I am, and I’m well prepared for a reason. When I sit down with my bullet journal (see Pinterest) and plan out the next seven days of my life with an eye on the week after, I can determine how much energy I can expend toward goals I have. When you know what you have to do, you can see what you don’t have time for, which cuts down on the confusion over where you should be and who you should be with. It also provides you with the conviction to say “no” to things that could potentially be draining and opportunities to reach out to friends and enjoy your free time.
Scheduling out your week also gives you a chance to plan out weekly self-care time. My self-care day is Sunday starting around 5 p.m., which means I don’t answer my phone, check emails or do any work after that time. I light a few candles, apply my favorite face mask and don’t feel guilty about indulging myself with one too many Milano cookies. During that time I “date” myself and treat myself to unconditional love. I watch an extra episode of some mindless show on Netflix and try to go to bed earlier to prime myself for a busy week. By allowing my mind and heart to rest, I give myself the space to breathe and just be. No one is demanding anything of me in my time, and I am free to let my mind wander and think about whatever it does without forcing the flow.
Mindfulness, or the art of being present, dictates being aware of your thoughts and feelings, and I’ve found that starting off my day by acknowledging what I’m feeling preps me for the day better than any to-do list ever has. Before jumping out of bed in the morning, or right after your shower, take a few deep breaths to breathe life into your still limbs and listen to your body. Are you tired? Are you sore? Do you feel refreshed? Do you need more water? (Hint: We all could use more water.)
When you are overwhelmed by the amount of assignments due in a single week, instead of panicking and taking a stress nap (which, when done well can have its benefits), take 60 seconds to breathe and then create a priorities list. What is causing you the most anxiety right now? Most days, when we have paralyzing fear over homework or a presentation, it’s the fear of perfection that keeps us from performing combined with the lack of discipline. Combat both by making your list and setting goals. Try to list things you’re grateful for daily. It can be as simple as your favorite song playing on the radio or the extra time spent with a friend.
The transition into college, while fun and enlightening can be overwhelming and startling some days, but by prioritizing your emotions and validating yourself, you create a relationship within that sets the example for all relationships to come, whether it be a future employer, a friend or a partner. Take time daily, weekly and monthly to reconnect and reflect and to pour love into yourself so that you can one day pour love back.