Being a student is not easy. We experience periods of extreme stress and anxiety in response to our demanding workloads and high expectations. It’s easy to get stuck in the trap of late tearful nights and pushing ourselves far past our limits. Though we all want to produce our best work and achieve the highest possible grades, it is important to prioritize our mental wellbeing. Maintaining a positive mental state is a major key to success. Below I will share some personal tips that I implement to practice self-care and mental wellbeing. Please note that I am in no way a qualified mental health professional and the following tips are merely a loose guideline that I follow to achieve some balance in my day-to-day life.
1. Get organized
At any given moment in time I have about 1000 things on my mind. To avoid forgetting what I have to do and to clear out some of my mental clutter, organization is key. I find that getting all these thoughts and ideas out of my head and onto another platform makes it easier to focus and will help relieve some stress. I use a few different tools to plan and organize my school work including my Outlook Calendar, a stationary planner, my phone reminders app, post-it notes and the Notion platform. Each tool I use serves a different purpose and I often change and adjust my methods to meet my needs. With experimentation and time you will find which tools work best for you. You do not need any fancy tools or stationary to get organized. Making a simple to-do list using whatever resources you have available is a great start. The act of having a list of tasks you need to complete makes it easier to start and finish your work since everything you need to complete is written plainly in front of you.
In case you were wondering what I use each platform for (which I’m sure you weren’t but I’m going to tell you anyway)...
Outlook Calendar: class schedule and time-blocking any meetings, appointments or other commitments
Stationary planner: class due dates and daily to-do lists
Phone reminders app: anything and everything from completing poll questions before class to packing my lab coat in my bag to defrosting a bagel for breakfast
Post-it notes: I usually use post-its for tasks that need to be completed within on-going projects and I put them on my computer or books
Notion: here I have a master to-do list for the semester where I store all class due dates for modules, tests, assignments and what-not
2. Set aside time to relax
I like to actively set aside a few hours every day where I do not complete any school or extra-curricular work. This practice is key to achieving work-life balance and promoting mental wellness. During this time you should do anything that helps you to relax and unwind. This can be watching a movie, reading a book, taking a bath, calling your friends and family or anything else you like. You can set aside this time in any way that works for you; in the morning, in the afternoon, blocked out all together, or spread apart. However, I recommend allocating at least one hour of relaxation time before going to bed. Doing work late at night will keep your brain active and make it harder to fall asleep. Having some time for your brain and body to unwind from a long day of work before bed is important, even during exam season (so you should probably avoid pulling all-nighters). If you can, you should also dim the lights and limit your screen time to aid in melatonin production to promote a better sleep.
3. Take care of your body
As they say, healthy body healthy mind. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way the two are definitely linked, at least in my opinion. To maintain a positive mental state it is important to take care of your body. Ensure you are getting enough sleep at night. The amount of sleep you require will differ for everyone, you know your body best. If you find that you are not getting a restful sleep you may want to consider talking to your doctor or cutting back on caffeine intake. It is also important to fuel your body with good food. As university students this may be difficult, but try your best to get in as many fruits and veggies and what not. This will help boost your energy levels and make you feel less sluggish overall. However, you certainly do not need to feel guilty about treating yourself once in a while. You might also consider taking vitamins or supplements to ensure you are getting sufficient nutrients and improve immune function. Personally, I also find it helpful to have a set morning and night hygiene routine to establish a good start and end to my day. Now, that being said, you do not need to go out and buy a 16-step skin care routine to achieve this. Simply the act of setting aside time to care for yourself is important and will help you feel refreshed.
4. Do something you like
Set aside some time in both your daily and weekly schedule to do something you like. This can be journaling, drawing, baking, playing a sport, or spending time with friends and family. Again, this will look different for everyone. This activity can be big or small, all that matters is that you are taking some time out of your busy schedule to focus on something you enjoy that brings you happiness.
5. Practice daily affirmations
Having a few quotes or mottos that you repeat to yourself throughout the day will serve as a reminder of your goals and can be a huge help when navigating tough situations. These don’t need to be groundbreaking philosophical revelations. Even a few simple words will help ground you and focus on your surroundings. Next time you are feeling some stress or anxiety, remind yourself that “you will get through this” and “everything will be okay”. It sounds silly but it really will alleviate your uneasy feelings and prevent you from catastrophizing the situation. In addition to this, I also like to talk myself through the situation and make a “game plan” of sorts. Instead of running away from thoughts that worry me, I confront them, acknowledge them and accept them. This practice usually helps me to move on and continue my day without being bogged down by my worries. Often writing out these thoughts and feelings in a journal will provide some relief. Another idea is to practice gratitude in situations of stress and anxiety. Though this may be the last thing on your mind in situations like these, taking a moment to acknowledge and be thankful for what you do have may help you establish a calm and pull yourself out of a cycle of negative thought.
6. Ask for help
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in reaching out to a friend or a healthcare professional for support. If you are unable to talk to someone then I would recommend accessing online resources to help manage your stress and anxiety. There is an abundance of information at your fingertips and you owe it to yourself to use it. McMaster also offers various free services through the McMaster Student Wellness Centre and McMaster Student Accessibility Services.
Remember as we embark on this new semester that your mental wellbeing should be prioritized first and foremost. Try your best and be proud of what you accomplish. You can do this!