Maintaining a gentle mental  

Mental health during your matriculation through college

by Jandolyn Washington.

College years are some of the most transformative years of one’s life. The amount of change that you experience in college seems to be at an accelerated pace. This has definitely been the case for me. However, I think one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned since my matriculation has been learning how to prioritize my self care and mental health. 

 

So what exactly is mental health? I would define mental health as a muscle that you have to put time and energy into strengthening, similar to how we are with physical health. The same way that we work out to stay in physical shape, there are things that we have to put energy into and stay conscious of doing as well to ensure that we stay in good mental condition. In my opinion, the best way to maintain mental health is engaging in self care that is beyond surface level. Yes, we all love a good face mask or a bubble bath, but this is not the true solution to full scope of mental health. Mental health is not just a quick fix, it requires a true commitment to being conscious of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, ensuring that we are keeping our best interest at heart. 

 

During my matriculation so far in college, I’ve been in various situations where I’ve had to ‘exercise’ my mental health muscle. Through these experiences, I have been able to come up with a list of things that I learned and that worked well for me on my journey to holistic health, and longevity in my mental health. Here are some of my takeaways:

Know When to Say No:

In college, there are a wide variety of activities and social events that you can participate in. Between classes, spending time with friends and being involved on campus, it is natural to experience moments of burnout. KNOW YOUR LIMITS, and do not feel pressured to push them. If you’ve had a long week of classes, maybe pass on tonight’s party and spend some time resting. If you have been short on money, maybe pass on this week's brunch. Spending quality time with yourself is equally as important as spending time with others, if not more. Your relationship with yourself is the longest relationship that you will ever be in. Nurture it like you would with any other meaningful relationship. Become comfortable with having downtime moments of solitude. 

 

The same goes for relationships with other people (friendships, romantic, etc.) when it comes to knowing when to say no. I stumbled across a quote while reading this past week that stated “setting boundaries is a form of self-love” and I couldn’t be more in agreement. Knowing what you are and aren’t ok with, being able to vocalize it, and sticking to it are all extremely important. Setting a boundary, and vocalizing it to others, but not following it through is counterproductive. Making decisions that sometimes may be uncomfortable but are in your best interest is healthy, and your mental health will reflect this. Saying yes when you know you are burnt out or want to say no can result in a chain of people pleasing and exhaustion, which in turn will affect your mental. This is, in my opinion, the most important piece of advice to guide you along this journey.

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Find Your Community:

Human interaction is important, no one likes to be alone ALL of the time. That goes for introverts too, humans need interaction with other humans. In college, this is especially important. You will meet a variety of different personalities, backgrounds, and behaviors. Remember, you do not have to click the same way with every single person that you meet in college. It is ok to have different types of relationships with different people. Some relationships may be better for study groups, while others are great to go out and party with. Nonetheless, amidst all of these different crowds, find YOUR community. Your tribe. The people who hold you accountable, check in with you when you’re down, make you feel good when you’re around them and truly want to see you succeed. These are the ones who love you and want to see you be the very best version of yourself. Nurture these relationships, and try to reciprocate the love and support that they show you. Your journey into becoming the best version of yourself is not one that should be walked alone.

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Identify Activities that you enjoy which feed your mind, body, and soul:

When it comes to mental health, holistic health is just as important. I like to think of my being as being divided into my mind, my body, and my soul. College is the perfect place to explore these three areas, as there are so many new opportunities on campus in the surrounding areas. Try new things, get outside of your comfort zone. In college, I learned that I have a love for painting, so around finals every year, I go outside to the park and paint. What do you have a love for? You won’t find out for certain things until you try them. Here are some activities that I have tried for these categories that maybe you will love as well: going to a puppy shelter to play with abandoned animals, investing in a journal and adding entries weekly, trying a new exercise class offered on campus at least biweekly (yoga, Zumba, etc.), learning how to make my own healthy snacks and doing meal preps, take a photography class, go for a walk and just take in nature and other surroundings. Put pen to paper and brainstorm activities for each category, and then set a window of time to complete it. Find friends to participate in some activities with you. Maybe you’ll even meet some new friends doing the activity. Either way, in college you have access to resources and opportunities that may never be available again, take advantage of them, and use them as a resource to learn more about yourself. 

 

We all want to show up as our best selves, and to do so we must prioritize our mental health above all else. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. You are doing your very best and growing into your very best. College years are the years to make mistakes, learn hard lessons, and make fantastic memories. The way that you treat yourself is crucial during this time, so remember to be gentle. 

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