College Student Mental Health
This time a year ago, the prospect of the academic year looked quite different. Perhaps you were a senior in high school, making your final decision about which school you’d be attending for your first year at college and counting down the days until you walked across that commencement stage and into your next stage of life. Maybe you were already in college, looking ahead to the summer because fall semester was taxing and you knew spring semester would offer no better of a reprieve. Perhaps you were living the dream and felt as though you were in a really good flow. Were you looking ahead to your study abroad year? Internship year? Wherever you were, 2020 had different plans for your academic journey and forced a 180 degree turn for how you cope.
Congratulations for completing Fall semester 2020! For many, this may have left you feeling some sort of way. It may have been your first time taking classes online for an entire semester. It may be your first time in college at that! It’s easy to start worrying about Spring 2021 and what that will bring, but I offer you this… let’s take a look at that semester and use it for data collection. The, dare I say, positive thing about our current state in the pandemic is that it’s unlikely much will change in our daily routine for the next few months. Yes, that has its frustrations, but it offers a unique consistency in what to expect. What did you learn about your study habits? What did you learn about resources that are available to you during this time? What did you notice about having to use your space for a dining room, bedroom, social room, studying room, etc.? How was your sleep?
One of the biggest challenges is dividing up your already limited space into workable locations that feel motivational and then somehow shutting off that energy in the space to get a good night of rest. While 2020 made us throw our yearly planners away, it’s a great time to adopt your own scheduling system. Scheduling alternating work hours and breaks are important to reduce feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. Set a time of the day where you have a hard stop and no more work is to be done, preferably 1-2 hours prior to bedtime. When you go to bed, offer yourself a routine that promotes sleepiness. Brush your teeth, wash your face (a splash of cold water can help bring your system back to its baseline and reduce anxiety), do some stretches, and enter bed without electronic devices (that last one is a doozy, I understand). As a rule of thumb, most sleepy hygiene experts suggest that your bed should only be used for sleep and sexual activities. If we eat, study, and watch television in bed, our body will associate our beds with being awake. Using your desk to study, a comfy chair to watch television, or using safe, common spaces for meals if you are able to can all help promote better sleep hygiene. Sleep is vital as you’re learning how to navigate college. Consider finding ways to organize your day in a way that bookends waking up from a good night’s sleep and offering that well deserved rest at the end of a long day. And remember, you’re doing the best you can with the information you have! You’ve got this!
Melissa Morrison, LMHC, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and licensed mental health counselor with a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Boston College and a doctorate in clinical psychology from William James College. She is experienced in working with young adults, particularly undergraduate and graduate college students, focusing on issues such as anxiety, depression, LGBTQ+ identity formation, and substance use, among other issues.
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