Managing Your Mental Health
It is definitely possible to lead a happy life with mental health problems, though it may require discipline, self-reliance, perseverance, and a remarkable amount of support from friends and family. Everyone is different, and while some may manage their mental health problems with ease, others may have more difficulty, and may require more support. Remember that there is no shame in asking for help.
There are many ways of taking care of your mental health. These include:
It's easy to get caught up in the action and stress of student life, so it's important to remember to take some time to yourself every once in a while. It doesn't have to take up much of your time; just taking a few minutes away from your normal routines and stresses can help you to feel calmer. Some relaxation activities might include:
- Reading a book
- Watching a movie
- Cooking or baking
- Breathing exercises
- Listening to music
- Gentle exercise such as yoga, pilates, or going for a walk
- Arts and crafts
Physical activity is good for your body, and studies show that it can be good for your mental health, as well. Physical activity is especially important for people with mental health problems, as they are more likely to have a poor diet, smoke or drink alcohol to excess, and be overweight--this can be a side effect of certain medications. Some of the benefits of physical activity such as exercise or sports include:
- Reduced stress and happier moods. Exercise releases endorphins which can help to calm anxiety and life your mood.
- Reduced stress levels. Your body will be better able to control cortisol levels, which can help relieve the stress and tension in your body.
- A greater sense of calm and clearer thinking. If you have a problem with racing thoughts, physical activity can help your mind to calm down and think more clearly.
- Increased self-esteem. Noticing your body become stronger can provide a huge boost to your self-esteem. Improved self-esteem can also increase your satisfaction levels and make you more resilient to stress.
- Reduced risk of depression. Studies suggest that people who are more physically active are at a significantly lower risk of depression.
It's a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider about what physical activities best suit your specific needs.
Mindfulness is a technique that involves making a concerted effort to give your full attention to whatever is happening in the present moment--whether it be in your body, your mind, or your surroundings--in a non-judgemental way. Mindfulness can help you manage your mental health or simply gain more enjoyment from life; it can help you approach your thoughts and feelings in a way that allows you to become more aware of them and react appropriately. Mindfulness can help you:
- Increase awareness of your thoughts and feelings
- Manage unhelpful thoughts
- Develop more helpful reactions to difficult feelings and events
- Be kinder to yourself and others
- Feel calmer and more able to handle stress
- Manage some physical health problems, such as chronic pain
- Managing mild depression and anxiety.
Chances are, there are mindfulness clubs or groups you can join on your own campus. If you can't find a class or group to join, or you don't feel up to social activity, you can practice mindfulness on your own. Try to set aside short period of time every day to practice. Remember to go slowly and be patient; you're learning a new skill, so it will take some time to develop.
It's not unusual to feel lonely when you start college, and as an international student far from home, maybe for the first time, you may find that you're even more susceptible to loneliness at first. Feeling lonely isn't a mental health problem, but the two are closely linked; feeling lonely can definitely have a negative effect on your mental health.
Everyone has different social needs. You may be content with a few close friends, or you may need a large group of friends and acquaintances to help dispel loneliness. Either of these--or a mix of both--is totally valid.
People usually describe feeling lonely for one of two reasons: either they don't see or talk to other people very often, or they don't feel understood or cared for, in spite of being surrounded by people. Figuring out which of these applies to you can help you find a way of feeling better. Think about your interests or hobbies. Is there a class or a group on campus that can help you meet people who share your interests? This has the added benefit of providing you with a built-in icebreaker; you already know you have something in common with the people you meet. Volunteering is also a great way to meet new people, and helping others can help to improve your mental health.
If you already have plenty of connections, but you don't feel close to them, or don't feel that they offer you the care and and attention that you need, it might be a good idea to talk to your friends and be open about your feelings and needs. This can be scary, but your friends will appreciate your honesty.
Mental Health and Studying
Starting college brings a lot of changes into your life, especially as an international student. Hopefully these changes will be enjoyable and interesting, but they can also be challenging, especially if you're living with a mental health problem. You might face challenges such as:
- Meeting and working with new people
- Exams and deadlines for written work or presentations
- Managing your own finances
- Balancing study and other commitments
- Maintaining relationships with your friends and family back home
- Leaving home and living with new people
Studying can be extremely overwhelming, so it's helpful to feel as in control as possible. To help with this, it's useful to find out as much information as possible about what will be expected of you and what resources are available to help you. Try to find out:
- How and when will my work be assessed?
- How many lectures/seminars/lab sessions will I be required to attend?
- How many written tasks will I need to complete?
- Will I have to give presentations on my work?
Building a social life is a big part of starting college, and can be overwhelming for everyone, especially if you are an international student, or if you're struggling with your mental health. To help make friends, you might:
- Leave the door to your room open when you're home
- Ask your roommates or people in your dorm to explore the campus with you
- Join clubs or societies around campus
Monitoring Your Mental Wellbeing
Mental wellbeing describes your mental state: how you feel and how well you can cope with day-to-day life. Your mental wellbeing can change from day to day, month to month, or even year to year. Whether or not you have mental health problems, there will always be times or situations in life that are more difficult to cope with than others. The ability to stay mentally well during those times is called “resilience.” We've compiled some tips to help you strengthen your resilience and keep your mental wellbeing high.
Talking about your feelings with someone you know and trust can be vitally important when you're going through a hard time. Your friends and family may be able to offer you advice, or just an open ear and a shoulder to cry on. Just knowing that you have someone to talk to can help you feel much better during difficult situations.
If you have a mental health problem for which you are receiving treatment, being involved in your treatment can help you stay well. In fact, research suggests that the more involved you are in decisions about your treatment, the more likely you are to get well. Your mental health professional should discuss your treatment options with you, and you have the right to be involved in any decision regarding your treatment.
Different things work for different people, so telling your friends, family, and medical professionals what you feel works best for you is very important. Don't be afraid to reach out for help if you feel your mental wellbeing slipping.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Chat now: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
- The Trevor Lifeline (Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ Youth)
- 866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386)
- CDC-INFO (Formerly known as the CDC National STD and AIDS Hotline)
- 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
- Treatment Referral Hotline (Substance Abuse)
- 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357)
- National Sexual Assault Hotline 24-hour online hotline: http://online.rainn.org 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)
- DOMESTIC ABUSE HOTLINE
Return to our "Mental Health" section for more information and help