Slow your (honor) roll: self-care is mental health 101.
Ah, college––carefree days lounging on the quad, skipping classes, and staying up until 2 a.m. debating art for art’s sake. Right? Um, don’t make us laugh. Even before the pandemic, that golden years, best-days-of-our-lives retrospective view of college life was out of date and plain wrong, as today’s undergraduates can attest. College is no joke.
The Center for Collegiate Mental Health found that anxiety and depression are among the top mental health concerns for college students, and for good reason: 1 in 5 college students suffer from either anxiety or depression. Between academic course loads, the stress of living away from home, and the challenges of dealing with roommates and navigating personal relationships, the pressures facing university students are real and can feel overwhelming.
If you’re a student, take some time this summer or semester to evaluate your needs––not just academic, but emotional, mental and physical, too. And if you’re an adult looking to support a family member you love while they pursue that higher ed degree, listen up.
Take a look below for 11 self-care tips for college students' well-being.
Tip 1: Realign your schedule to prioritize sleep
“If you’re struggling not to fall asleep while meditating, the secret is, quit trying to meditate and go to sleep,” says yoga teacher Meg from Austin, Texas. It’s no wonder this is a common struggle––32 percent of Americans aged 18-24 report being sleep-deprived. And when papers, presentations and exams come calling, sleep is often the first thing to get cut from your hectic schedule.
Do yourself a favor––sit down with a planner and figure out how to shuffle your sleep schedule so you’re getting enough rest: at least 7 hours each night. It may require making some adjustments, but your body and mental health will thank you. A cute planner, like these from Cloth & Paper Co, make planning a pleasure. And if you free up enough time, check out the “Sleep” episode from the Radiolab podcast to learn more about what sleep does for your body and mind (and why dolphins dream with only half their brains at a time).
Tip 2: Get offline!
Especially when you’re homesick, it can be hard not to camp out on social media. But psychologists agree––even if you're “connecting” with high school friends back home via the net, social media can increase your sense of isolation. Not to mention the low-grade drag of “liking” everyone’s greatest hits parade when you’re feeling down in the dumps.
Be kind to yourself and put down the smartphone. Go outside, call a friend, or, if you’re an introvert and recharge with alone time, dive into a book or favorite TV show. (Insider’s list of Netflix shows for every mood is an awesome pick-me-up tool.) If you’re really having trouble kicking the habit, check out an internet-blocking app like Freedom or schedule your time with the Pomodoro method, which is great for nudging you to get up and go when you’re tempted to veg out.
Tip 3: Drink enough water.
There’s a reason Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starts with physiological requirements. If your bodily needs aren’t being met, you can’t take care of yourself mentally or emotionally. Plus, water is great for your skin. So go ahead and shamelessly be That Person toting around a giant Nalgene.
Need more encouragement? Remind yourself to drink water with a cute, DIY “Drink Me” water bottle. You can knock it out in one crafternoon, and it’ll add just the right amount of magic to your dorm room.
Tip 4: Exercise
No one wants to hear it, especially when you’re overwhelmed, but exercise really is an amazing stress-buster. It helps you get and stay fit, improves sleep, and gives your mood a big boost by flooding your body with feel-good endorphins.
So yeah, it can be hard to make yourself get up and hit the gym, but the brain benefits are worth it. And if you need added incentive, sweeten the deal with an outdoorsy self-care package from Wild Woman, a curated experience including outdoor gear, healthy snacks, and fitness-friendly products. You’re worth it.
Tip 5: Treat yo’self
The demands of academic life can push you toward an “all work and no play” mentality, and while this may seem effective in the short-term, it’s a quick path to burnout. Make sure to take time to recognize your successes and treat yourself for your hard work.
Our favorite way to practice self-care is with a spa day, but time and money can be hard to come by as a student, and getting off-campus can be a challenge. So bring the spa day to you! Try making these DIY massage melts, or outsource the time and effort to a home spa delivery service like Feeling Fab, which sends curated packages of natural bath and beauty products, plus chill-out goodies like candles, crystals, and essential oils, and watch the stress melt away.
Tip 6: Unwind with a cup of tea
So, we all love to humblebrag about how many shots of espresso we need to survive (yeah, we see you), but if sleeplessness and anxiety are affecting your well-being, put down the coffee and embrace the healing benefits of tea.
Green and black teas are rich in antioxidants, and black tea is also proven to contain L-theanine, a unique amino acid that relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness. Learn more about different tea types, or sign up for a service like Respyre to have wellness-centric herbal teas delivered to your dorm room each month so you can steep yourself in self-care.
Tip 7: Meditate
When you’re at your busiest, it can be easy to neglect your spiritual needs. Take a break and recenter yourself in just five minutes each day with a simple meditation practice. Meditation and mindfulness have been proven to reduce stress, promote emotional health, and even improve sleep.
Ready to get started? Check out these simple introductory relaxation techniques, and be patient––meditation can be challenging for the busy mind, and even if you initially feel like you’re not getting any benefit, the long-term rewards are powerful. Supplement your meditation with mantras and the Mental Wealth Box's therapist-designed workbooks for anxiety and depression.
Tip 8: Give yoga a try
If you’re feeling anxious, tight, or prone to the symptoms of depression, try getting up and moving with some simple yoga poses. Yoga blends breathing, meditation and physical movement to lower blood pressure, increase flexibility, build bone density and get those feel-good endorphins flowing.
Many campuses offer yoga classes (some even for a PE credit), and off-campus studios in your area may have discounts for students. If you’re feeling shy, we recommend bringing the yoga lifestyle straight into your dorm room with Do A Shot of Yoga!, a curated subscription box packed with yoga gear, guides, post-shivasana snacks, and more.
Tip 9: Carve out time for a non-academic hobby.
“Get a hobby” may sound laughable when you’ve got five papers due next week, but non-work-related hobbies are actually a huge savior of mental health. Not only do they allow you to express yourself in modes you may be neglecting (creativity especially falls to the side when we’re overworked and stressed out), but when you take time for a hobby, you’re giving yourself a psychological break, too. Think of it as declaring, “I am taking this time for self-care.”
Soul-nourishing hobbies will vary from person to person. If you don’t have one, try thinking about the things that brought you joy when you were a little kid, and especially look for a hobby that allows you to work in a different mode than normal (i.e., if you’re on a computer all the time, find a zero screen-time hobby, and if you read and write a lot, try making something with your hands). A popular go-to “this is for me” hobby is adult coloring books for exactly that reason: Coloring is relaxing, it’s definitely not “work,” and it’s all about you.
Find a hobby that gives you permission to put down the work, and dedicate just 10 minutes a day to it!
Tip 10: Ditch the junk food.
Hey, you––put down the Pringles! It’s not about the Freshman 15 and other body-shaming nonsense: Junk food has been linked to moderate and severe psychological distress. So clean up your diet to clean up your mood.
Opt for healthy dining options on-campus, and supplement your dorm room with healthy snacks from fun, college-friendly delivery service SnackSack. Make that food pyramid work for you.