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College Success

College & COVID-19: Helping Your Mental Health by Helping Yourself

These times have been rough. Especially as a first-year and first-generation college student, adjusting, in general, was already hard enough, but now it just got a little bit harder.

I had come home for spring break early March when my college called the campus closed due to COVID-19. Suddenly, from what had been a week at home, changed into an indefinite few months at home while all my stuff still lay in my dorm room.

I felt anxious with the all the uncertainty surrounding me, sad for the good-bye I wasn’t able to have with my friends, overwhelmed with all the news, lonely for my international friends still stuck on campus, and a whole lot of emotions I just didn’t want to label at the moment.

But you know what I realized? That is okay. It’s normal!

I decided that it shouldn’t be impossible to feel better in these times. I could take what I have and do something about it. If I wanted to help my mental health, I would have to help myself first.

I planned a daily routine to get myself back on track. A routine is the best way I could feel better in times of crisis and ground onto what I could control. And it worked! My daily routine keeps me motivated, feeling on top of things, and gives me something to work towards.

Here are some steps that worked for me and might work for you too!

Regular Sleep Pattern

This is key; sleep is so important! And if you really want to know why just watch this ten-minute TED Talk. After that video, I have never missed my eight hours a night. Enough sleep will not only make you feel energized, but also help keep those negative emotions at bay.

This doesn’t necessarily have to do with going to bed early because I know that’s not always easy. You do not have to go to bed at 9 pm every night and wake up at 6 am to start your day. You can have a regular sleep pattern by going to bed at 1 am every night and waking up at 9 am. It’s just about getting your eight hours!

A Morning Routine

No matter what time you wake up, whether it’s 6 am or 10 am, hydrate! Leave a cup of water by your bedside when you go to sleep every night so you can wake up the next day and fuel up. Stay hydrating is quite important but starting your day off with it will keep your body happy, and in turn, keeping you feeling happy.

Then whether it’s taking a shower or washing your face with cold water, make sure you really wake up! It is really easy to feel groggy in the morning, but it is just as easy to feel energized and alive if you try.

Finally, make it a routine ask yourself every morning, with pure wonder and zero judgment, “What will today bring? What do I want to accomplish today?” And this questions brings us to our next step.

Have A “Focus of the Day”

With a focus of what you want to accomplish in the day, you can feel motivated to achieve that goal before procrastinating or distracting yourself. Give yourself three hours, or however many you need, to accomplish that task of the day and then reward yourself the rest of the day without having the burden of completing that task.

Don’t overwhelm yourself! A planner or agenda is the best way to master this. Plan your week day-by-day by figuring out what you need to complete each day to accomplish your goal by the end of the week, whether it’s an assignment or a project. Then for a few hours every day, keep your focus on that task. This is the most efficiently completed in your mornings and early afternoons so you can have the rest of your day to yourself. As students, we often worry about our future, about creating meaningful lives, and worrying about achieving our dreams and visions, but this video helps clear the picture in building that “meaningful” life.

Otherwise, as students or even workers, we often procrastinate throughout the day, feel unmotivated yet overwhelmed with all work we have to do, and at night have to complete work that we spent the whole day trying to work on. But with that “work” being the focus of the day after you have completed your morning routine, you have the rest of your day burden-free. And if time-management is your problem, watch this Ted Talk to really figure out your priorities. Time is elastic; the key to time-management is prioritizing your priorities. Consequently, if focusing is your problem, our next step can change that!

Mindfulness

This can and should be a part of your morning routine, but it can be done at anytime and anywhere. Before “officially” starting your day by eating breakfast, do ten minutes of mindfulnessthe benefits of mindfulness are groundbreaking, especially in aiding your mental health, focusing, and just living an overall more fulfilling life. This ten-minute TED Talk really explains why even a little bit of mindfulness a day can change your life.

Mind-wandering is a direct cause of unhappiness, and a byproduct of mindfulness is staying in the present moment (key to happiness) and better focus which is really rewarding in your day-to-day life. You can download apps like Headspace or Aura and do guided mindfulness meditations that will easily calm you down and change your perspective and motivation for the rest of your day. If not an app, here is a website that contains various types of guided mindfulness meditations for any situation or emotion you are having trouble handling.

Mindfulness may seem useless at first, but it takes time, patience, and practice to get better at it and really see and feel the benefits in your routine life. And the best part is, there is no “wrong” way to do it!

Exercise

Yes, I have a TED Talk for this too! Exercise is directly related to your mood so if you are feeling any kind of negative emotion, any type of physical movement will make you feel better in no time. Not only that, but physical activity in general aids with focus, attention, memory, mood boost, and energy boost!

In times like this, exercising is hard, but there are so many workouts you can do at home. But if you are like me and even the idea of workouts tires you out, even taking a walk outside counts! Just taking a five-minute walk has numerous benefits. You are literally making your brain healthier!

However, if working out or taking a walk aren’t your thing, try yoga! Yoga has the benefits of exercise and mindfulness combined and it really cannot get any better than that at this point.

Eat Better

Read that again. It’s not “eat healthy,” it’s “eat better.” You do not have to turn into a health freak, but you can always eat better and take better care of your body.

Food has a direct correlation not only with your physical health, but mental health as well. If you take care of your body, you will feel so much better about yourself. At the end of the day, your body is your temple. Your body is the only thing that will permanently be with you for the rest of your life. And if you practice mindfulness, you will see the importance of permanence, because almost everything in life is impermanent. (But don’t let that scare you! It is good because you know that the negative feelings may be facing currently are certainly not permanent.)

Eating foods that will take care of your body, will also take care of your mind. Cutting down on sugar and your caffeine intake will change how you feel about being in your body. Try it!

Positive Affirmations

This is just as useful as mindfulness, but remember that practice makes perfect! You will need time, patience, and practice. You will not see the effects of practicing positive affirmations, not at first, but the more you practice them throughout each day (every time you feel down), the easier it will get to embrace them.

Try one right now. Take a few deep breaths and tell yourself, “I love myself. I am proud of all I have accomplished. I am strong. I am resilient. I am grateful for all I have. I am confident in my abilities. I am happy. Life has a lot in store for me. My future is bright.”

Even if you do not believe it for the first hundred times, you will at one point, and soon that belief will strengthen into an unbreakable conviction.

There is a book, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy, that illustrates the life-changing effects and examples of people all around the world whose lives have been transformed just by repeating positive affirmations.

Journaling and Gratitude

Sit down. Turn off the news. Put your phone away. And spend just 30 minutes a day in some kind of transcendence experience. Whether it is writing, reading, doing art, or just looking at nature, do it. And end this daily practice by journaling about your thoughts and writing down at least three things you are grateful for. This has scientifically been proven to improve satisfaction with your life; just imagine!

Life is about carrying out your gifts to the world and not regretting the things you didn’t do by doing them now.

Spend Time with Others

If you feel like you are “stuck” at home with your family, try and make the most of it! Social relationships are so important to life satisfaction, happiness, and mental health. The longest study on happiness proved that a good life full of happiness solely comes from good, close, and healthy relationships. Social connections are good for your health, well-being, and life-long happiness.

Whether it is watching a movie every night together, playing games, or eating dinner together, make sure you carve some time out to be with someonea family member, friend, or anyone you trust.

Learn

Yes! Learning is directly correlated with your mood because both of those things are located in the hippocampus of your brain. Knowledge isn’t just the key to success, but its also the key to improving your mental health!

Make it a habit to learn something new every day! It can be honing on a particular skill, reading, or even just watching/listening to podcasts. Learning something new builds confidence and self-esteem.

If you haven’t guessed already, TED Talks are my favorite way to learn something new and gain some self-development knowledge. Just a ten-minute video a day helps me learn something new each day and incorporate it into my life.

A video that helped my anxiety was learning that stress is not bad if you don’t take it as bad. When in stress think, “This is my body helping and preparing me to rise to the challenge and achieve my goal(s).”

Finally, Do Not Punish Yourself for Not Being Productive

You do not have to use this time to try to do everything you have ever wanted to do. You are not a failure if you aren’t using this “extra” time. It is not a productivity contest.

Your growth is not about some destination far in the futureit is more about the daily changes you make that make you enjoy life, feel happier, and feel more aligned with yourself. Remember, never ignore that voice in your head that tells you to keep going and keep trying.

Lastly, know that you are normal for seeking help. There is no shame in taking care of your mental health. Just the last five minutes of this ten-minute video is bound to make you understand that life is beautiful, in its entirely, and everything will be okay and turn out just fine.

Pariti Sutaria is an undergraduate college student, currently majoring in Business and Statistics. In her free time, she likes to read, volunteer, and watch her favorite TV show!

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