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It Starts Now

“This is the time to take steps to prioritize your mental health.” By Olivia Scherzer

High school and college can be … a lot. You’re juggling assignments, new and more difficult classes, a new routine and new friendships—and possibly more. 

While juggling these new responsibilities and this newfound freedom, it can be easy to ignore your mental health to focus on these other things. 

According to a study conducted by the EY in 2021, 67 percent of Generation Z “are moderately to extremely worried about their physical and mental health,” with these feelings heightened during the pandemic. 

Talking to a trusted adult or friend, journaling, practicing mindfulness and going to therapy or counseling are all suggested ways to take care of and prioritize you and your mental health. Now is the time to start taking care of yourself and create lasting healthy habits. This is the time, while at school, to start now and take steps to prioritize your mental health. 

1. Identify your feelings. 

Do you find yourself caught up in anxious thoughts or stress? Instead of hustling to another task or another class, stop to identify your feelings. What is it that you’re feeling? Stress? Anxiety? Worry? This is where mindfulness and journaling comes in. You can learn to be in the present moment to pinpoint the cause of your anxiety or stress. A Verywell Mind article defines mindfulness as “the practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future.” Take inventory of any anxious thoughts you have and write them down.  

2. Practice self-compassion.

When you get a bad grade, have a fight with a friend or any little thing goes slightly awry in life, you may get down on yourself and fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms. When you have a negative thought about yourself, use the “stop sign” technique to stop it from happening (this may take a lot of practice). Instead, replace it with a positive thought or any affirmation that may help you. 

3. Make time for yourself.

You may want to do everything on campus like spend every minute studying, attend campus events and join clubs. But “doing all the things” could lead to burnout and unhealthy coping mechanisms. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America, 87 percent of surveyed Gen Z adults, who are in college, said their education was a significant source of stress and it led to burnout. To prevent this, schedule time for yourself to not think about any sources of stress. This can be taking yourself out to dinner, relaxing in your dorm room and watching a favorite TV show or movie, journaling or going to an exercise class. Schedule this time for yourself now instead of feeling tired and burnt out later. 

4. Make time for God.

God is our refuge and source of strength. This new routine, the classes and freedom can bring anxiety and stress, but He is and should be your Comforter in both good and trying times. (Read Psalm 46:1-3, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.) 

5. Get enough sleep.

Avoid staying up late to cram for your exams. Set a good study schedule so you can get sufficient study time and enough sleep. To be honest? You’re probably not retaining a lot of information when you’re sleep-deprived. 

6. Moderate caffeine intake.

As this is something I’m learning in my 20s, try and reduce your caffeine intake now. According to a Verywell Mind article, “caffeine and stress can both elevate cortisol levels. High amounts of caffeine can lead to the negative health effects associated with prolonged elevated levels of cortisol (chronic stress).” That second (or third) cup of coffee may be tempting, but grab water, a cup of (decaf) tea or decaf coffee. 

7. Schedule time with friends or family.

We’re not meant to do life alone. Maybe this looks like studying with friends or classmates instead of by yourself! Maybe this looks like doing weekly dinners or grabbing lunch after class with your friends. It may be harder for some, but step out of your comfort zone. Get to know the people around you and deepen the friendships that you have. Being surrounded by the people who know and love you—and potential new friends—will boost your mood and decrease stress levels. “College has the potential to be one of the most fulfilling experiences,” says Joy Mikles, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. “It also has the potential to be one of the loneliest. Making new friends and building community is one of the healthiest forms of self-care we do while we’re navigating the transition from living at home to living as an adult.” 

8. Make a wellness plan.

Schedule doctors’ visits. Additionally, consider talking to a therapist or counselor. You don’t need to be at your lowest to talk to a counselor. Kelly Rodriguez, a licensed therapist, writes about the importance of therapy, “The person [the patient] increases self-awareness, life skills and healthy relationships with self and others to improve daily life and process any unresolved situations.” A therapist can help you talk through difficult scenarios and anxious thoughts.

Start to incorporate these tips into your daily routine. These will take practice, so be patient with yourself. Prioritizing your mental health early on establishes lasting healthy habits.

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