“There is growing recognition that a diagnosis for clinical depression is no more a cause for embarrassment than the discovery of a physical, more visible illness,” according to the recently released In It Together. The joint report on student mental health was issued by the College Student Alliance, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities.
It’s a positive change, given that many Canadians enter post-secondary school at a vulnerable stage in their life, awash with challenges like living alone for the first time, managing financial responsibilities, and balancing the stressors of heavy workloads and important exams. According to the report, three out of four mental health issues materialize before age 25.
In the spirit of the #MakeSomeNoise for #mentalhealth campaign, a partnership between RBC, the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, and the Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta division, here are five ways to stay mentally fit while navigating campus life.
Making some time to disconnect and “just be” is a powerful tool for weathering high stress moments like exam prep or the pre-holiday crunch.
“Do one thing at a time,” says the Canadian Mental Health Association about mental fitness. “When you are out for a walk or spending time with friends, turn off your cell phone and stop making that mental “to do” list – take in all the sights, sounds and smells you encounter.”
Build Healthy Relationships
Relationships are also a key part of your development as you move into adult life, but they shouldn’t be the sole source of your happiness, according to the University of Alberta’s My Mental Health guide. “It’s important to balance your relationship with other pursuits that bring you individual worth and happiness, such as a job, hobby, or sport.”
Whether you’re looking for a partner or a friend, seek out relationships built on trust, support, positive self-esteem, respect, communication and equality.
Heavy workloads and busy social lives can make it challenging to take the time to eat healthy but what you put in your body influences how you concentrate. “Eat breakfast every day and avoid skipping meals – eating regularly fuels your body and brain, and may help keep your mood stable,” says Alberta Health Services’ Ways to Wellness. “Food can also be a great way to connect with others. Make time to eat or cook a healthy meal with family or friends.”
And make good food choices: find snacks that power you up like nuts, fruits or vegetables and hummus.
Find Time to Sleep and Exercise
There’s nothing wrong with pulling the occasional all-nighter to study for a test or to binge-watch Netflix, but making it a habit can wear your down mentally.
It’s important to recognize the link between exercise and sleep, and to strike a balance between both, says the University of Alberta’s My Mental Health guide. “Strenuous exercise in the late afternoon promotes the most restful sleep at night.” Plus, taking a break from studying to exercise gives your mind a chance to refocus.
Take Action for Yourself and Others
Stand up for mental health. Know the resources available to you and your friends, on campus and in the community. Empower others and yourself to share stories. Set goals – whether it’s around mindfulness, healthy relationships, eating well, or making time for sleep and exercise.
What you do in your college or university years can help set the pace for the next phase of your life, so stay self aware, mindful and be kind to yourself.
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