By Jessica Giles
If it seems like college students are more stressed out than ever before, your suspicions are correct. Data shows that the mental wellbeing of college students has been on the decline since the ’80s. Rates of anxiety and depression have risen dramatically among college students and fewer students are categorizing themselves as “emotionally healthy,” According to Psychology Today. The American Psychological Assocation reports that colleges have seen a 30 percent increase in students seeking mental health counseling from 2009 to 2015.
Now with midterms upon us, it’s especially important for college students to take extra self-care measures to ensure their already above average stress levels aren’t exacerbated. To be clear, none of these suggestions are sufficient replacements for mental health counseling. If you find yourself struggling with stress or anxiety that interferes with your daily life, it’s time to seek out professional help.
Here are a few small steps you can take to keep yourself feeling good, both physically and mentally, during midterm season:
- Don’t ditch your friends & family
While it may be tempting to withdraw into your room to cram for your exams, research shows that leaning into your friends and family can be one of the most effective forms of stress management. Having a strong social support network is proven to help you cope with stressful situations and alleviate emotional distress, according to Mayo Clinic. If exams have you feeling anxious, make time for a quick phone call with your mom or schedule a study session with a friend. Your mind will thank you.
2. Take a break from screens
My screen habits are laughable when I have a lot of exams coming up. I’ll have Canvas and 30 other tabs open on my computer while I jump from my email to Pinterest on my phone. But the American Psychological Association found that people who constantly check their electronic devices suffer from significantly higher stress levels than those who don’t. Increased reliance on technology has fostered the idea that we always need to be available for other people, which can be mentally exhausting. During these next few weeks, schedule “no tech” hours where you aren’t tethered to your phone or computer. This could be a good opportunity for you to meet up with friends in person or spend some quality “me-time” in nature.
3. Get moving
OK, hear me out. I know lacing up your sneakers and going for a long run might not sound appealing when you have 13 chapters to read for your exam, but exercise has undeniable mental benefits. For one thing, it gets your endorphins flowing. That’s what’s responsible for the infamous “runner’s high” people get, but the good news is even a leisurely walk or hip-hop fitness class will do the trick. Exercise also draws the mind away from your stressors while you focus on the movement of your body instead, according to Mayo Clinic. So if you’re looking for some mental relief, try squeezing in a cycling class or go rollerblading around Depot Park. This one’s good for your brain and your body!
4. Write down your worries
This one might feel counterintuitive but a 2011 study found that students who wrote down their worries about an upcoming exam right before they took it had higher test scores. The research showed this tactic was especially effective for students who grappled with frequent test anxiety. So before your next midterm, try putting your fears on paper.
5. Embrace the power of “no”
Repeat after me: “I am allowed to say ‘no.’” I really hope you believe this! There are a million clubs, people, classes and events vying for attention in college, and it can be easy to feel pressured to always say “yes” when someone asks us to do something. But sometimes — especially during exam season — it’s in our best interest to say “no.” You’re here to get an education without having a mental breakdown, and sometimes that means we have to forego Bachelor Monday’s or our friend’s surprise party. So if your organization asks you to table and you really can’t swing it, or your friend wants to grab BOGO margaritas from The Swamp but you just want to go to bed, be honest! We’ve all been there, and they won’t think any less of you for taking care of your mental health.