Mental Wellness in College: 7 Tips to Help You Cope
For those of you enrolled in college for the first time or students returning to campus, know that there are many things you can do now to help you navigate this exciting, but often challenging time. College culture can be particularly difficult for those with mood, anxiety or trauma-related disorders. Remaining focused on mental wellness in college is essential.
In my years working in a university counseling center, I saw firsthand that many students on campus did not have the tools they needed to succeed. Sadly, some lacked support on campus, while others did not dedicate time for mental wellness.
I saw with my own eyes how important it was to be prepared and plan ahead.
Transitions create stress for everyone
To help you create the most healthy, successful college experience possible, the following are seven tips to help you handle any stressors that might come your way:
1. Identify possible treatment options.
Nearly every college now offers university health and counseling centers who provide outpatient mental health treatment options. Call the college counseling center to see if they offer the right service for you; go ahead and make an appointment early! This will allow you to develop a relationship with a provider — or to make alternative arrangements early if they don’t offer services.
2. Look into Disability Services.
Did you know that those struggling with mental or physical health issues qualify for Disability Services? Consider registering with the Disability Services center on campus. Many students fail to register for fear of stigma; however, Disability Services can provide many services to students — and you can choose when and how you use them. This service is confidential and is not attached to your academic record. You might register and never need to use the services, but you may benefit from receiving services at some point in time. My suggestion is to register early, because if you register late in the year there may not be time to receive the necessary support.
3. Seek out supportive peers.
Look for a mental health advocacy group such as Active Minds or something similar on campus. These groups can help you focus on mental wellness in college, find a supportive, knowledgeable peer network and engage in productive coping strategies: if you feel you are ready.
4. Don’t over commit.
You may be tempted to get involved with everything, but don’t! Choose one or two things that you feel passionate about and get involved with those. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed with multiple commitments when your academic workload becomes challenging.
5. Remember your most important values.
Know what you value most and incorporate these values into your schedule. If family connection is important to you, put family time in your schedule (e.g., FaceTime calls, going home once a month, etc.). If community service is important to you, get involved with a service organization on campus. If work is important, look at finding a campus job where the importance of academic deadlines will be understood. Bottom line: consider your values and plan your schedule with them in mind! I often worked with students who were under extreme levels of stress simply because values other than academics weren’t being incorporated into their schedules.
Include time each day to practice mindfulness and relaxation and make sure you are getting quality sleep and eating regular meals. In working with thousands of students, I noticed that these important wellness practices were often abandoned by many students. In order to fully function academically and socially, you need to be well rested, nourished and emotionally prepared!
7. Ask for help.
You are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Silence is easy but asking for help is a sign of strength! Expect and accept that old methods of coping may resurface and make plans to respond accordingly. Find the people and resources you need to make it through without falling into old, ineffective patterns. If you need more than your college can offer, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Programming might be a good option to allow you to seek care while maintaining your courses, Bottom line: seek the support that you need!
Change is inherently difficult, and old methods of coping can resurface if you don’t plan for additional ways to cope with stress. But if you practice these tips above, you’ll have all of the tools that you need to be successful – and advance in your academic year.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
Good luck: we wish you health, success and happiness on your journey to mental wellness.