With Bell Let’s Talk Day occurring recently, this seems like a good time for a conversation about little things you can do in your everyday life to improve your own mental health. Mental health is one of those things that is talked about often today (although still not as often as it should be), but you may be confused about what you can do to improve your own short of going to therapy. And it can be difficult to begin to think about. That’s where this little list comes into play.
None of these tips are intended to deal with large mental health problems, nor are they meant as replacements or alternatives to therapy and proper treatment. These tips are meant as little reminders, boosts, add-ons, or extra pieces that can complement other mental health strategies that you are employing.
Take Care of Your Body
This goes beyond suggestions of ‘exercise more’ (although exercising is an amazing thing to do to help improve your mental health). It’s about taking care of your body as a whole, both with movement and with food. And that can be incredibly difficult as a student. Between time crunches and food budgets, eating right and getting moving can fall off the back-burner and get lost behind the entire stove. That being said, there are some little things that you can do that won’t make a huge dent in your food budget (and may actually save you some money).
Eat often and don’t skip out on meals. Food powers our body, and not eating when your body tells you it needs to is going to lead to being irritable for the day and not thinking as clearly. This opens you up to more negative thinking and negative perceptions of things around you.
Watch the caffeine intake. Students seemingly live off caffeine, drinking multiple cups of coffee and black tea every day. And while it may provide a temporary boost to energy, relying on it and consuming large quantities of it every day can lead to downswings in energy and even contribute to feelings of anxiety. Plus, if you aren’t making it at home, that gets expensive very fast (there’s a reason that Starbucks made $22 billion in sales in 2018).
Just like caffeine, sugar can provide temporary energy boosts, but they last just a short while before you start craving more. Sugar has been shown to be highly addictive and can lead to mood swings and irritability. Watch for feelings of craving sugary food products and if they correlate with low-feeling moods.
Alcohol in small doses can be fine (and in some cases improves) your health. But alcohol dependency or even drinking often can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, sadness, and depression. If you find yourself craving alcohol or drinking daily, it may be time to reach out and talk to someone.
You don’t have to get moving for very long, just 30 minutes can do all of this:
It helps us cope with stress.
It lowers anxiety.
It lifts our mood.
It boosts our energy.
It helps us feel good about ourselves.
It helps us sleep well.
Getting moving also doesn’t have to be torture! Too often we equate moving with doing something painful. Pick something you enjoy doing that gets you active. And if you don’t know what you enjoy doing, this is your chance to explore all the amazing ways we humans can move!
Here are some other fantastic tips to help you out:
If you pick an activity you enjoy, you are far more likely to keep doing it! Plus, it will help enhance the positive feelings that exercise can give you.
Getting moving with a friend. Not only will you experience the benefits of moving but you will also get to connect with another person. This is very positive for your mental health as well.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed by tests, anxious, or just down, try getting outside and going for a walk. I know that’s harder in Calgary somedays, but the simple act of walking, the fresh air on your face and the sunshine can alleviate feelings.
Get to Sleep
Sleep has a huge effect on mental health. When we get enough sleep, it is easier to cope with stress, handle problems, concentrate, think positively and remember things. One of the biggest mistakes we see students making is thinking that they can get more done by cutting back on sleep. This is a big mistake, as doing this often will severely affect your ability to process information, deal with situations as they arise, and identify when you are struggling.
Here are some things to try to get better sleep:
Focus on slow, relaxing activities before bed. Things like yoga are great if you want to move a little bit. Reading, sketching, and meditating can all also help your brain to relax and calm down before going to sleep.
Avoid big meals, alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine before bed.
Make sure your room is comfortable for you to sleep in. This varies greatly for many people, so if you aren’t sleeping well try experimenting with different pillows, room temperatures, and even sounds.
Follow a routine. Doing the same things before bed can help signal to your brain and body that it is time to go to sleep. Also, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time (as much as possible), even on weekends.
Slow Down for a Moment
Student life is busy and that can make it hard to remember to take a second to breathe. But it is incredibly important to slow down every once in a while and maybe even stop for a moment.
Doing this can give you perspective on everything that you are doing and where you are at. It can give you the opportunity to appreciate how far you have come and what you have accomplished. It can also give your brain and body the chance to reenergize and refocus.
Going alongside taking a breath for a moment, is taking some time to be thankful.
Too often, we think about the terrible things around us, dwell on how busy we are and how many bad things have happened but don’t take the time to really stop and look at all that we have to be thankful for. This can be as simple as having a roof over your head or even the opportunity to go to post-secondary (as there are lots of people who never get that chance). This is important because looking at all you have to be thankful for can help improve your mental state and help you to see past negative roadblocks. Often, this will help you refocus on the positives.
Find your Community
Finding a community of people whom you like and trust can be difficult, but immensely rewarding. Humans were built to live in community, but too often much of our work and life are lived in places without much human interaction (digital or otherwise). This is why it can be so important to connect with others, people who understand who you are and people whom you can walk to when need be.