If you haven’t caught on yet, the health and fitness movement is upon us and not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. Some aren’t as welcome to the movement as others, although this might be the saving grace to the United States’ obesity epidemic. While the body positivity movement is still strongly pushing along, young adults have also recognized that what you eat isn’t just affecting your appearance but also your health in terms of mental strength, energy, mood, lifespan, flexibility, cardiovascular strength, and many other internal health concerns.
While the health and fitness wave has brought a new look to the young adults of our generation, another branch has come off this movement that might just be more important than the core movement itself: mental health. New discussions are arising every day such as what does a mentally healthy person look like, how can we measure mental health, and what mental illnesses should be given ranking over others.
Now I’m not a doctor of any sort nor majoring in any science related field, so I have no right to answer those questions; however, I want to step back from those heavier questions and speak to the average college student. Maybe you don’t have a medically diagnosed mental illness and maybe you think you’re in great mental shape. Perhaps you do have a medically diagnosed mental illness, but besides making it a little harder to learn in class or however your illness might affect your life you haven’t allowed it to stop you from pursuing a regular college career. Honestly, there isn’t even such a thing as “the average college student”. What I guess I’m trying to say is this: that I want to talk to you about your “mental health”, or rather your personal relationship and alignment with your thoughts.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that I’m not in over my head on the amount of work I have piled onto my plate in the past few semesters at college. I started right off the bat freshman year entering the honors college, which requires more intense classes and replacement classes to achieve an honors degree. Then, I joined my professional fraternity, which joining in itself was essentially the equivalent of taking yet another class, followed by maintaining my membership in my fraternity by fulfilling multiple mandatory obligations throughout the following semesters. Then, I joined my sorority, which has helped me learn to watch my actions as well as become more involved in my sisterhood. Finally, I joined The Odyssey, which has helped me find a creative outlet as well as a tool to help pass on my thoughts and lessons I’ve learned to others. If you add on the fact that at the core I am a college student taking an average 15 credits a semester as well as searching for an internship and trying to prepare my first, off-campus house this summer, you could say I’m pretty busy.
If I look back to the beginning of this semester, I remember coming back to school and waking up the first day post-Christmas break realizing that I was the happiest I had been since I could remember. At that moment, I also realized I never wanted to lose that feeling of happiness and appreciation for being alive. That was when I decided to begin my journey on learning more about what mental health really was and how I could maintain a healthy, loving relationship with myself and my thoughts while simultaneously just trying not to drown in the workload I brought upon myself. Online platforms as easily accessible as Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube were all I needed to begin.
Some of the methods that I found that worked best for me were journaling (duh, I practically journal every time I write an article), meditation (not actual meditation… I don’t think), music, indulging in activities that do not benefit me in any other way besides having fun, and my environment.
I carry my journal around with me at all times. It’s always in my bookbag or in my car, because I’ve learned that when a thought comes to me it is best to journal about it and have it down on paper. By doing this, it feels as if the thoughts have left my mind which relieves the stress, but I also still feel as if I have ownership of my thoughts because they are right there in my journal. This practice is probably the most effective one for myself of them all.
I don’t actually meditate; however, I don’t know exactly what else to call it besides relaxing with a purpose. I set out a blanket on the floor and maybe a few pillows to sit on in my dimly lit room. No matter how busy the day is, this practice requires that I set time out of my day for it, which also reminds me of the importance of listening to my body when it feels in need of this practice because I know I am then in a time of stress. Sometimes before I begin my “meditation”, I’ll write up several mantras with a certain number of times I would like to repeat them verbally or in my thoughts to realign my thoughts and intentions, which may have become unaligned in my moments of stress and overworking.
I’ll set my phone away with a timer between ten and twenty minutes and possibly play some chill tracks, while sitting or laying on my floor with my eyes closed, repeating my mantras and then follow by simply going to a place in my mind where I feel comfortable and relaxed for the remainder of the time.
Music is such a major mental health supplement that I live by. Besides the fact that I feel that I am rewarding myself at the gym with my music when working out (let alone that the endorphins after working out make me feel great on their own), I highly suggest finding a specific artist or genre that you feel speaks with your mental wavelength! They don’t need to be special or unknown to speak to you, just an artist that you can come back to time and again to relate to and find meaning in their music.
Having fun. It sounds so simple, but for those of us whose schedules don’t let us breathe, it is the hardest thing to make time for because some of the things we label as having fun don’t give us any added benefits. For example, it’s very hard for me to rationalize going out even on a weekend night sometimes, because I have so many events or an early event going on the next day; however, I have to remind myself that as much as I might label it “FOMO” in the morning, watching my friends snaps, it’s really just me bumming out that I wanted to have a little fun this week and decided against it. In turn, this can affect my mood for the following days and make me even less productive than I thought I was helping myself in doing by staying in.
Finally, make your environment the most comfortable of all. Maybe you can’t choose what dorm you’re in or what school you ended up at, but if you don’t reflect your own personality onto that space then you are going to feel cold and unwelcome in it. Many of my friends come and sit in my room commenting on how relaxing and nice it is to chill in, and I definitely believe that this is because I’ve put in an extra effort to reflect myself in it. If I have any advice on where to spend just a little bit of extra cash, it would be on your environment.
I can’t promise you that these practices and methods are what are going to work for you as well, but maybe they can give you an idea of what do work from or how to look for practices and methods that would work for you. Whatever it is, I wish you the best of luck and the best of health.