How to Protect Your Mental Health in College
Coming to Michigan was an unexpected dream come true. I went to a very small school for ten years and decided to continue on to its all-girls upper school. After fourteen years on one campus, I was ready for a change and to go to only the second school in my life. Everyone I spoke to about attending Michigan was shocked at my choice to attend a school with 28,000 undergraduates after finishing high school with only 36 girls in my class. Thankfully I’m happy at Michigan and I’ve found new friends who make the experience that much better, but I know many people had more homesickness or difficulty transitioning than I did. When visiting home over spring break, some of my friends and teachers asked how I was surviving and adjusting, and were surprised to hear how well my life was going after such a big shift.
I tried not to let my worries show, but some aspects of college terrified me. I had never lived with anyone besides my family and I wasn’t great at conflict resolution, so I didn’t know what having a roommate would be like. I came from a small school that didn’t have a real party scene so I had no clue what my social life would be like. Finally, I had known my friends for years, and I was most afraid of not being able to connect meaningfully to new people. Beyond classes, my high school provided me with a plethora of tools to handle my emotions and be myself. Whether you’re already a senior in college, transferring as a sophomore, or just looking to take better care of yourself, you can try to work these things in to stay relatively happy and peaceful.
Remember that your mental health comes first
I’m repeatedly surprised at how many people pull all nighters or cram for an exam and don’t give themselves time to recover from the immense stress they put on their body. In high school, my mom used to let me take mental health days from school, and that helped me handle my stress and come back the next day ready to go. Although there are always things to do at Michigan to distract you from yourself, it’s also important to take care of your mental health. I do that by getting rest, eating mindfully, and checking in with myself to see if I’m subconsciously stressing about that paper (hint: I am, always) or if I’m feeling homesick. Even 5 minutes by yourself helps to chisel away at the mountain of stress we’re all constantly holding as students.
You might hate me for this, but exercise!
Studies have shown that the rush of endorphins you get from physical activity can help you feel less stressed out and feel better equipped to handle difficult emotional situations. First semester I only went to the gym 3 times, but now I find time to run at least 3 times a week. I was never a runner and still find it daunting to step on the treadmill, but those 20-40 minutes are completely mine and I get to do what I want. As a person who can’t listen to music and work, running is my time to catch up on the music that makes me happy. I also get to plan out the next few hours or work through some situation in my head. My high school taught us about mindful exercise, doing what made you feel good instead of trying to lose weight or hit certain goals. Starting to exercise focusing on that made it more accessible to continue and go back each time. While it can sometimes be stressful or difficult to get myself there, once I’m done a run I feel so much better.
Try to fit in little things that make you happy
Ideally you’re doing things that make you happy everyday, but when you spend hours writing a paper or studying for a test it can be hard. From taking calligraphy senior year to just goofing off with my friends during study hall, doing little things each day that made me smile or calmed me down helped me deal with the stresses of high school and applying to college. I try to fit in little joys like a cheap meal out or watching a movie in bed. Reminding myself about these things make me happy. Balancing myself makes it easier to deal with the difficult days and makes me feel better equipped for the stresses of college life.
Doing all these things helped me have a successful first year of college. Looking back now, I can’t believe I’m about to register for my sophomore year of classes. First semester passed by in a heartbeat because I was forcing myself to branch out, make new friends, and cherish my time at the greatest university in the world. Before I landed in Ann Arbor for move in, I made the agreement with myself that no matter how uncomfortable things could get or how out of my comfort zone school pushed me, my goal was to be happy at Michigan. Now looking back, my life here is better than I could’ve ever imagined and while next year will be equally exciting if not more, my freshman year will always have a special and extremely fond place in my heart.