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Transitioning to college comes with new freedoms and new opportunities. While it may be fun and exciting, the transition isn’t an easy one, particularly for students with mental illnesses. And a global pandemic that has shaken the foundation of higher education has made the situation even more complicated, as students are forced into isolation. It’s an overwhelming and anxious time for all students, especially being disconnected from campus and friends, increased levels of coursework and the transition for many to various forms of remote learning.
The spread of COVID-19 presents incredible healthcare challenges for higher education, as colleges and universities work to address mental health for students that are no longer physically on campus. The closing of public spaces and self-isolation requirements have disrupted the way we connect, which negatively impacts mental health. This is why it’s critical that students prioritize their mental health in college, whether learning remotely or on campus.
At TimelyMD, we are committed to supporting the mental health needs of college and university students. Use these tips for managing mental illness — whether you’re away from campus because of COVID-19 or back on campus after it reopens.
1. Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
You may believe that using alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate may have short-term benefits that outweigh the drawbacks. While substance abuse and mental health disorders are not directly caused by one another, drugs and alcohol are often used to ease the symptoms of undiagnosed mental health issues. Symptoms related to mental health problems can also be worsened or trigger new symptoms with the use of drugs and alcohol.
2. Don’t deal with stress by eating.
Eating unhealthy foods add to poor physical health, which can negatively impact mental health. When you maintain a healthy diet, you’re setting yourself up for fewer mood fluctuations, a happier outlook on life and an improved ability to focus.
3. Keep track of your symptoms.
With a busy college schedule, it’s easy to lose track of what may be happening with your mental health. But maintaining a daily record or journal to track your emotions, feelings and key symptoms can help you notice if your mental health is getting worse. If you see a pattern showing that your feelings and symptoms are getting worse, don’t wait to seek out a resource like a doctor, counselor or therapist who can help.
4. Utilize telehealth services.
Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Talking with a licensed counselor can provide coping strategies and effective ways to manage your mental health in order to keep you safe and increase productivity. Telehealth services, like TimelyMD’s TalkNow and Scheduled Counseling, bring emotional support to you anytime, anywhere.
5. Surround yourself with good people (even if it’s virtually).
During college, it’s important to have a strong support system that you can rely on when life gets difficult. That may look like friends and family from home, or it could be new friends that you’ve made at college. While COVID-19 has forced students away from campus, you can utilize phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom and Webex on a daily basis to stay connected. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
6. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being present and deliberately aware of your inner thoughts, feelings and surroundings. Meditation has been shown to help people feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, try these steps to practice mindfulness in order to create space for yourself to think and breathe.
7. Take care of your body.
Mental and physical health are fundamentally linked. Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. Understanding the connection between mind and body is the first step in developing strategies to reduce the occurence of mental illness combined with chronic physical conditions. A place to start is this guide to mental health and exercise from NAMI.
8. Stick to a schedule.
Even while social distancing from home, consistency is key. Having a set schedule can help to streamline daily activities and reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed. You can use a physical planner to keep track of your schedule, or there are apps that can help you stay organized, too.
9. Time management.
Letting tasks pile up in your academic or personal life can lead to stress and anxiety. But developing time management skills can help relieve negative emotions that cause stress, decrease anxiety, increase productivity, and help create stability.
10. Be of service to others.
Explore ways to connect and virtually volunteer. Nonprofits around the world are working to problem-solve and develop innovative solutions to continue to serve populations in need. Harvard Medical School published an article stating that “volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected,” which can help decrease loneliness and depression.
Although this list might feel like a lot to manage in and of itself, managing your mental health is about finding what works best for you. Be sure to give others (and yourself) space for kindness and forgiveness as you work through how best to manage your mental health. Dr. Jan Hall, executive director of mental health at TimelyMD, suggests this: “If you try a new mental health strategy, adjust the idea and make it work for you. Give yourself encouraging messages as you make even small steps toward your goals.”
TimelyMD is focused on supporting the health and well-being of colleges and universities, and that includes both the physical and mental health of students. We are monitoring COVID-19 as we continue to support the health and well-being of students across the country. You can learn more about our commitment to transforming healthcare in higher education here.