Mental health isn’t an easy topic. There are so many reasons why, and it’s a multi-factored issue, that I’m not sure we will ever have the answers to. But, I think it’s actually important to begin addressing mental health in our lives in high school (or even earlier!), because high school and college are when the rubber really meets the road. Stressors begin to take root, you face deadlines and new friendships or relationships, and you can feel new emotions like anxiety or worry for the first time in your life, or at a new level. Here are five things you can do to practice self care and protect your mental health as you navigate senior year and college:
Exercise: Easier said that done, but the endorphins released when working out or even walking are important for your mental health, and can also improve other things like digestion, clarity, and focus. If it’s hard to find time to get to the gym, try walking with a friend during your lunch break, or getting on a treadmill while listening to an audiobook. It might take some creativity, but exercise is key to a healthy and happy life.
Give of your time: It sounds counterintuitive to give your time away to others, but serving the needy actually is shown as a marker of healthy people. Some ideas for high schoolers or college students would be: tutoring children, reading to children (like in a SMART program at a low income school), holding babies in the NICU (many hospitals have volunteer programs, but you may have to be 18 or older), serving food at a soup kitchen, or working with animals at a shelter. You may find that just a few hours of your time really helps you feel connected to other people and can fend off depression and anxiety.
Eat healthy: Filling your body with junk not only can make you feel yucky, but it can also increase depressive or anxious thoughts. Sugar in particular can cause emotional swings. We recommend juicing as an easy way to get liquid nutrition if you’re on the go, or smoothie bowls which you can consume in the morning. If you or your guardians are unable to cook at home, or don’t have the time, you can opt for healthier choices even when eating out, such as grilled chicken instead of fried, or subbing out fruit instead of fries. Small decisions can really impact your health.
Find a therapist or mentor: Did you know therapy is valuable even if you feel great? It is important to have someone you can talk to, even when things are going well. It will help keep you more stable when crisis’ hit and can help you learn valuable coping skills for obstacles in your life. If you cannot afford a therapist or counselor, and are struggling, go to your high school counselor and let them know. Often they will have resources in place, and professionals that they can refer you to. Even your high school guidance counselor can offer a listening ear. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Let things go: do you have toxic people in your life? Don’t be afraid to be straightforward with them, gently explaining that right now you need to focus on other things (schoolwork, admissions, college), and make healthy choices that are empowering. Then, once you have politely ended or declined certain people or activities, go forward in confidence and follow through. If you have parents or guardians in your life, be sure to fill them in on what’s happening, so that they can help keep you accountable and help you move forward in your life.
Mental health is crucial to success in all of our lives. If you are struggling, we encourage you to reach out for help, or call the national suicide lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Never hesitate to ask for help when you need it, or to get help for a hurting friend.