College is simultaneously one of the most exciting and stressful times in an adult’s life. On one hand, there’s the satisfying freedom of being on your own and making your own decisions. And then, on the other hand, there are all the burdens that come with being responsible for yourself, and your own decisions.
If you don’t cook, or grab a meal, you don’t eat. If you don’t do laundry, you have nothing to wear. If you don’t pay the rent, you don’t have a place to live. And if you fall behind on schoolwork, you fail out of college.
Combine the high levels of stress this causes with the availability of substances, and it’s no wonder that many students begin to struggle with mental health problems at this time in their lives.
And for those with pre-existing conditions or a family history of mental health issues, the chances of a mental breakdown or psychotic break are even worse.
But there are ways to manage stress and to reduce the likelihood of falling victim to failing mental health. To find out how, check out our recommendations below.
Research Potential Pre-Existing Conditions
Before going off to college, it’s a good idea to talk to your family about any potential mental health problems that have occurred in the family.
Often, when we’re young, parents cover up these incidents – especially when they result in death – with euphemistic stories of what really happened. After so many years have passed, they are unlikely to tell the truth unless you ask.
Prepare for an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s important to know what you’re up against, as you head into one of the most stressful experiences of your life.
Should you require counseling in college for any reason, this is valuable information to pass on to the psychologist that can help them to better fine-tune how they go about helping you.
Even when there’s nothing wrong, seek counseling, especially if your research turns up some unsavory facts about the family’s mental health history. This may come in the form of therapy sessions, or it may come in the form of speaking with academic advisers and mentors about the way forward.
Getting advice you can follow from authority figures and experts helps to keep you calm, by reassuring you that many have gone through your own predicament and prevailed, and you’re on the right path.
Another benefit of going to casual counseling sessions even when you’re fine is that should things become stressful, you have advice at the ready on how to manage that stress.
And should you begin to show signs of succumbing to a mental breakdown or other forms of mental health problems, the experts should know and be able to assist you right away.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting until they’re too far gone to mend their health.
Some college students can manage a job, a marriage, two kids, and club memberships while going to school full-time. These people are not necessarily smarter than anyone else. But what they have truly mastered is how to effectively manage their time.
If you know you are prone to procrastinating, and don’t usually manage your time properly, then reduce your obligations. Just because your best friend has a double-major, a boyfriend, and actively participates in three clubs, doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Do what you can, and no more.
This might mean opting out of serious relationships during college, or cutting down on the number of friends playing tug-of-war with your free-time.
It might also mean cutting down hours at work or quitting your job altogether, and even reducing your course load. Better to take five years and graduate, than leave at four without a degree.
Plan your Time
Benjamin Franklin advised us that if we fail to plan, we’re in essence, planing to fail. This is not always true, but successful people don’t just wander aimlessly through life waiting for everything to fall into place. They have a plan, and they work on executing that plan every day.
The plan doesn’t need to be a rigid play-by-play breakdown of how you spend your day. It can be a to-do-list on a whiteboard in your room, or setting a specific time each day when you usually get your studying done.
Whatever it is, schedule time for all the important areas of your life – your academic life, your friends and family back home, your social life on campus, your love life, and your pets. And don’t forget to schedule some me-time to unwind, while you’re at it.
Adopt a Pet
A pet is a lot of responsibility, and definitely does not reduce your obligations. Unlike fellow humans in your life, a pet relies on you for everything – food, water, shelter, affection, and exercise.
However, pets also have a soothing effect on their owners and provide constant companionship no matter what breakups or torn friendships you are going through.
If there are no-pet rules in your dorm or apartment, then there are usually other pets that this does not apply to. Try getting a ‘caged’ pet, like a bird, snake, or guinea pig. Or you can also try fishes and turtles.
Whatever pet you choose though, ensure you have the time to dedicate to the responsibility of another living thing, and choose something that genuinely fits your interest and your lifestyle.
One of the greatest contributions to mental health is physical health, and the best way to stay in shape is to exercise. Exercise also boosts feel-good hormones, which helps us alleviate stress and feel better about ourselves.
By completing smaller goals in the gym – like fifteen minutes on the treadmill, or 20 lifts in a row – we gradually learn that we are capable of overcoming obstacles and achieving larger goals. This boosts our confidence just as much as seeing a better reflection when we look in the mirror.
By keeping ourselves in shape, we also reduce the likelihood of feeling bogged down by all the symptoms that come with common forms of illnesses. And when they do come around, days of ‘suffering’ in the gym prepare you to endure, and help you fight the illness off sooner than you otherwise would have.
Don’t Abuse Substances
For most people, there’s nothing wrong with having a few drinks in college at a party or in the privacy of your room. Everyone should know what their limit is with alcohol, and you don’t find that out by abstaining.
However, if alcoholism or other forms of substance abuse, accounted for any of the unsavory facts you discovered while talking to family members, you should watch your intake of substances.
There are three great ways to reduce the likelihood of developing an addiction. The first is to abstain from certain substances that have a high addiction rate, especially illegal substances.
The second is to never use substances as a way to cope with problems. Drink when you celebrate and when with friends; not when angry or sad.
The third is to never drink so much that you become someone else’s responsibility. This is how a lot of cases of sexual harassment begin, both for the perpetrator and the victim. Stay safe.
Everyone has gone through a down-period in college, and one of the universal cures we’ve found on our team is getting away to clear our heads. If you’re interested in seeing the mountains; hiking the desert; or just sleeping in, in a hotel room a few states away, check out our travel services.
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is the Founder of College Mate and Managing Director at Alexis Chateau PR. She is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.