Oftentimes, I’ve found we tend to take care of our physical health before our mental health. We treat fevers, ice sprains, take medicines for our colds and try to maintain some semblance of a diet and exercise routine, even if, at times, it feels almost impossible. Yet even in college, when sleep routines are nonexistent and you can’t even remember the last time you ate a vegetable, most people will tell you that they try to make some effort to keep their physical health moderately strong. Mental health? A lot of college students don’t even realize what mental health is.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the self-diagnoses, the Twitter memes and the nihilistic humor that seems to be thriving on college campuses and not realize that many top schools have a serious stress culture that’s actively hurting their students. When all your friends are joking about how they want to jump in front of a bus, it’s easy to just laugh along and forget that you haven’t taken care of yourself in days.
For mentally ill students and students who are struggling more than normal in college, self-care can be a useful tool. However, a lot of “self-care” nowadays seems to be more about self-indulgence than active, helpful care. Sure, it might feel nice to buy a box of chocolate, but when you can’t remember the last time you took a shower, it might do more harm than good. When “taking a bath” isn’t an option, what can you do to take care of yourself?
1. Eat a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.
Your nutrition’s probably fallen by the wayside since you moved out of your home. Physical health is key for your mental health. You need vitamins. Skip the donuts and eat an apple instead.
2. Do your laundry.
It’s easy for your laundry to pile up. Now that you don’t have a personal washer and dryer (presumably) and have to pay per cycle, it can be mentally draining to do your laundry. If you’re reading this, you should probably do a load. At best, it could revamp your wardrobe and give you a sense of purpose; at the least, it could reintroduce some clean clothes to your wardrobe.
3. Go outside for at least a few minutes each day.
There have been several studies linking mental and physical health to the amount of vitamin D received by a person. Go outside, sit in the sunshine, take a brief lap around the park, anything so long as it gets you outside and in the fresh air.
4. Focus on your priorities.
As someone with anxiety, I know how difficult this can be. It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed by your to-do’s that you take the next-best option and do none of them. Make a short list of the things you absolutely have to get done — I like to pick three or four "must-do's" a day. Anything after that is just extra and it feels incredibly satisfying to check things off the list. Don’t be afraid to expand your three big things into lots of small subcategories, either.
5. Drink water.
Not coffee, not soda, not an energy drink. Water. I can almost guarantee you’re not drinking enough. Try slowly substituting water for juices and other beverages. Your body will thank you.
6. Take a short walk.
It can be too draining, at times, to go to the gym. I know I’ve avoided the treadmills more times than I’d be willing to admit. Instead of immediately jumping into exercise, try going for a brief 10-20 minute walk every day. It’ll get your blood pumping without raising your heart rate too severely, and a little physical activity can work wonders.
7. Read or watch something out of your comfort zone.
Sometimes we get stuck in ruts of media rewatching, and this can make life, in general, feel slow and static. Read a book or watch a movie that isn’t something you’d normally go after – a horror movie if you like romantic comedies, a historical drama if you like sci-fi. Exposing yourself to new ideas in a small, safe setting can make larger jumps out of your comfort zone easier.
8. Check your messages.
Your friends and family care about you. If it’s too taxing to reply to all your messages, reply to the most important ones first. Don’t be afraid to send a bulk "I’m not feeling well" text, either. Take space for yourself, but realize that you aren’t alone.
If you aren’t mentally ill, it can be difficult, at times, to understand the weight of seemingly simple tasks. Why would doing your laundry or taking a shower be exhausting? However, for those of us who are mentally ill, sometimes, it’s the smallest tasks that seem the most difficult to overcome. Clean yourself and your surroundings up, feel the sunshine and remind yourself that your friends and loved ones are there to help. Make sure to reach out to campus mental health or counseling centers and, if you feel comfortable, be open to your professors about your illness. Tackling life can be difficult, but in the end, taking care of yourself is immensely worth it.
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