With the school year approaching, college students everywhere are making sure they have everything they need to get back on campus. However, many students don’t think about the tools they need to support their mental health as they prepare to move to campus. Here are some tips for students and parents for this back-to-school season.
Six mental health tips for college students
This first step is critical to maintaining your mental health. Having a routine will help you stay consistent in your schedule and fight the feeling of having no purpose. This routine creates stability and helps you start your day with consistency. It can also help you develop good habits of self-control and discipline, keys to success that will also be helpful later in life. Routines can help us stay grounded in our everyday lives.
Trying to eat breakfast and dinner around the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each night not only provides comfort and consistency, but makes life easier too.
- Find Your People: Join clubs or find people with similar interests
Everyone tells freshmen to join clubs in their freshman year, but this advice applies to all students. Introduce yourself to your neighbors and invite them over to the dining room for dinner. Think of some facts to share about yourself and some questions to ask others. Don’t hesitate to join new clubs and enjoy the activities your college has to offer. While this might seem like cliche advice, it works. Joining clubs is a great way to build strong relationships and make new friends, so you don’t feel lonely on a big campus. Friendships often come from consistently spending time together working toward a common goal, talking about life, and identifying common interests while focusing on a task or activity.
You can also find a mentor or senior to guide you throughout your college career. They can provide tailored advice for your specific school.
For black students entering a large predominantly white institution (PWI), finding multicultural clubs to meet people where your culture is shared and celebrated can also make the college feel more welcoming.
- Prioritize good physical health
Prioritize a consistent amount of sleep throughout the night and maintain regular sleep and wake times. As a student, your mind needs to function efficiently. Without enough sleep, your academic performance can suffer and you could fall behind in your studies, causing additional stress. Students with poor sleep habits may also begin to withdraw from their friends and events, and their mood may become depressed.
To focus on good health habits, build exercise time into your schedule. Make a goal of exercising at least 3-4 days a week, aside from walking around campus. After a good workout, you may feel refreshed and energized and find it easier to focus your attention on work. Exercise also contributes to better sleep.
Finally, be sure to eat a healthy diet so as not to feel sluggish during the day. Avoid skipping meals – opt to at least have small, healthy snacks instead of going without food for long periods of time. Going to the diner or cafeteria with others is also a great opportunity to socialize.
Set realistic, specific, and achievable goals for this semester to feel fulfilled. This will help you avoid feeling disoriented during the school year. Semester goals include joining specific clubs, maintaining a regular exercise routine, attending all classes, applying for on-campus jobs/internships, or achieving an “X” grade in a class.
Accomplishing small things throughout the day can boost your spirits and lift your spirits when you’re feeling down. For example, if you’re feeling unmotivated or stuck, write a daily checklist and cross off every item you accomplish, including personal hygiene, exercise, and social time.
For seniors worried about their future, setting specific goals with deadlines will ground you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with too much to do or too many options. Don’t be afraid to use your school’s career services to point you in the right direction. But remember to set goals every semester and stay present. And remember to enjoy your senior year and think of some activities you want to do to maximize your year. For example, do you want to attend every home soccer game, finally tackle that infamous hike, take your club to a dance, plan a weekend getaway with friends, or attend a big campus event? Build your “fun goals” into your semester goals to keep yourself balanced.
- Use your school’s mental health services
Feelings of anxiety, depression, or hopelessness can arise at any college age and your feelings are valid. Know that you are not alone and you can get through this. The goal is to stay on campus and learn some additional tools that will help you ride the wave of adversity and get through the year.
Don’t be afraid to go to your school’s counseling center. You are already paying for it, so you should use the services offered. Ask the counseling center any questions you have about what type of services are available, the flexibility to help catch up if your grades are off, and other types of support they may offer. They are at your disposal and you should not be afraid to ask for help. If contacting the counseling center is too scary, ask a friend to come with you. You can also talk to your RA and let her know how you are feeling. They’re students too, and chances are they’ve felt the same way at some point.
Remember, the mental health emergency number is now active: dial 988 for any mental health emergency.
Your parents and friends from home will always be there to support you. Your parents will thank you for making you feel comfortable during this time and will be happy to help you if you feel overwhelmed or are struggling with the transition back to school. Sometimes a call from home with family or friends can be a calming and grounding distraction.
Mental health tips for parents of college students
Before your young adult goes to college, have conversations about how they would like to be supported and how you can inquire about their mental health. Ask them if they would like regular check-ins every day (e.g. text at 7pm or reminder text at wake-up time) or one call per week. Some young adults prefer to turn to their parents to avoid getting homesick at an inconvenient time. Start open conversations about how they feel/adjust and try to normalize that transitions are challenging for everyone.
If your student struggles with separation anxiety, try planning goodbyes. Discuss whether a big comforting hug or a more casual goodbye is best. This is very individual as every youngster’s needs are different, but all parents should encourage their college students to find a place where they can make friends and connect with people.