Your Mental Health Is More Important Than Your Grades

Your Mental Health Is More Important Than Your Grades

A reminder of what's important.

Growing up, we are taught the importance of doing well in school. Studying leads to good grades. Good grades lead to good report cards. Good report cards lead to placement in good classes. Placement in good classes leads to more good classes. And the list goes on.

We are told by our parents that "school comes first." School comes before a social life. School comes before having fun. Before extracurriculars. Before doing the things that truly make us happy.

We live in a cut throat world where students are competing against one another to get better grades, to get into better colleges, to get better jobs, to be more successful -- all because we are taught that these things are important.

Newsflash: Mental health is important!

Can you remember a time that you pulled an all-nighter finishing a project? Or a time that you beat yourself up over a grade that you got, or more commonly, a grade that you didn't get? Can you remember a time that you literally felt yourself being consumed by your own stress? Over your exams and your grades and your group project members that weren't pulling their own weight?

Yup. Because we have all been there.

This cut throat society of ours is so self damaging. And we all feed into it.

There is nothing quite as impeding as stress; as the anxiety you feel as you're trying to submit a paper before its deadline; as the burning of your eyes as you stare at your text book for hours on end trying to memorize pointless information that probably will not make a difference in your life. Stress is so incredibly debilitating, and it sucks that stress is a massive part of college.

This week I read a Huffington Post article, "Your Mental Health is More Important Than Your Grades," and that article is the reason that I'm writing this article. Your mental health is without a doubt more important than your grades. Your mental health is more important than most things; it should be one of your biggest priorities. But college culture doesn't exactly leave much room for good mental health. When we are competing with each other, and essentially against ourselves, we are stampeding over our own sanity and our own wellbeing.

So, to the student that is reading this right now, who very likely might be stressing over their future or their grades or whatever else it is that students stress about: just remember to breathe.

You are so much more than a grade point average in a computer system or a name on the Dean's list. You are more than a student.

You are a person; you are you. And that is your advantage. Maybe you don't have the highest grades and maybe you're not the best studier or the best student. And these things are more than OK.

Take a step back. Take your head out of your textbook or whatever it is that you are doing and think about the larger picture.

Yes, hard work leads to success; so, yes, it is important to work hard. But maintaining your sanity and living a healthy life are way more important than hard work or success or any of these things will ever be.

Just remember all of this next time you're crumbling under pressure or breaking down from the stress.

Cover Image Credit: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/123rf Stock Photo

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How to Science the Hell Out of Your Weaknesses

Breaking Bad Habits

Bad habits – don’t even get me started on mine. We all have them, we all know they’re not good for us, yet we persist. We think “Ghad I should really drop this”, then a bit of guilt kicks in (or doesn’t), then we repeat it because duh that’s what a habit is, and so the cycle goes. Bad habits, even the ones that seem minor, waste our time and energy. The major ones, such as smoking or procrastination via social media, on top of wasting time and energy, keep us from accomplishing our goals and being healthy both physically and mentally. But how do we break the cycle? 

Well, the answer is obviously not a miraculous finger-snap type of deal, and it lies in understanding the process of how habits are formed in the first place. As the saying goes, know your enemy in order to defeat them. 

How habits are formed

There’s a lot of science behind habit formation, and to simplify things, we’ll refer to the so-called “habit cycle”. Behavior scientist and Stanford professor BJ Fogg, among other experts, suggests that all habits, both good and bad, follow the same pattern:

  1. Trigger: an event or feeling that initiates the behavior
  2. Routine: the action itself 
  3. Reward: the benefit you gain from that behavior

Now, how can we apply this to bad habits specifically?

The trigger and reward of bad habits

Think about it a little and you will most likely agree that a bad habit is generally a response to exhaustion, stress or boredom. Or rather, they are the response to negative feelings which are deeper and exhibit themselves as stress or boredom. Feelings are the trigger to bad habits, and we use these habits as a way to deal with the emotions. Give this some thought.

Next comes the “reward” part. We do things because on a subconscious level, we’re looking to protect ourselves, always. An undesirable action becomes a habit once we recognize them as something beneficial to us. Usually, they’re a way to instantly cure stress or boredom. The easiest example is biting nails, which is a way many people cope with stress. This is why bad habits are difficult to break – even with all the negative consequences, we see them as the thing that provides instant relief, so we repeat them. 

How to break a bad habit

Now that we understand why and how they’re formed and carried out, we’ve pretty much scienced the hell out of them and will continue to do so in order to break them.

Become incredibly aware of your bad habit

This is the place to start in order to do battle. Sure, you know your bad habits and you know how you feel about them, but this is beside the point. Focus on one habit you want to kick and keep track of it. When do you do it, how often, what triggered it? Keep a log of this on your phone or on paper to get an idea of what’s going on and to let it sink in. Remember, know your enemy in order to defeat them.

Choose a replacement habit

So we talked about how bad habits are hard to break because of the “benefit” they provide. The only way to overcome this is by consciously finding another action, a positive one, which will provide the same benefit. This means you’ll need to prepare in advance and get the tools for your new habit if you need any. Whether it’s looking for bicycles online, finding a gym near you, or setting up a yoga mat on your floor, I strongly recommend exploring various options for physical activity if you’re not sure which good habit you want to adopt. Why? –Because physical activity, along with meditation, is the best way to alleviate stress and boredom long-term, not just for the moment. I’m speaking from personal experience, but you might have something completely different on your mind, of course.

Set small goals

Breaking a bad habit requires focus, and you can’t really stay focused with a broad, vague goal such as “I will stop smoking and lead a healthy lifestyle”. You need to pick them one at a time and take baby steps in order to achieve them. Don’t focus on the broader picture or the stuff you won’t do, but rather on implementing each new habit. And don’t overwhelm yourself with this either. A good habit is also adopted gradually, so you need to set reasonable goals such as “I will do 5 push-ups instead of lighting a cigarette”. 

We can’t have all the answers, but this would definitely be a good place to start. Breaking a bad habit takes determination and also some trial and error. The biggest mistake people make is beating themselves up whenever they slip up and repeat a bad habit, but the self-judgement just makes it easier to completely give up. So plan ahead for failure every now and then, and when it happens, just pick yourself up and say “Okay that sucked, I’m winning the next round”. Then head back to square one, jot down what triggered the habit, focus on the replacement, and set small goals. It’s a battle, but one worth fighting.

Bad habits – don’t even get me started on mine. We all have them, we all know they’re not good for us, yet we persist. We think “Ghad I should really drop this”, then a bit of guilt kicks in (or doesn’t), then we repeat it because duh that’s what a habit is, and so the cycle goes. Bad habits, even the ones that seem minor, waste our time and energy. The major ones, such as smoking or procrastination via social media, on top of wasting time and energy, keep us from accomplishing our goals and being healthy both physically and mentally. But how do we break the cycle? 

Well, the answer is obviously not a miraculous finger-snap type of deal, and it lies in understanding the process of how habits are formed in the first place. As the saying goes, know your enemy in order to defeat them. 

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Daily Habits To Adopt in 2018

Some simple ways to make each day a little better this new year.

In order to make 2018 the best year it can possibly be, we must strive to make the best of each day. Therefore, here are some habits to adopt that can make each day the best it can be:

1. Drink Water Immediately After Waking Up

You don't necessarily have to chug a gallon of water once you open your eyes, but it's a good idea to start the day off with a cup of water. The body is composed of about 65% water, so after about 8 hours of sleep when you do not drink anything, it is important to rehydrate as soon as you wake up. It is especially important to hydrate before drinking coffee or any other caffeinated beverage as caffeine is a mild diuretic.

2. Get Spiritual

Spend some time focusing on any spiritual or religious practice each day as this is a great stress reliever. Spending some time in prayer or meditating can also allow you to start your day on a more positive note. It can make you feel more balanced and in control of your day/time. It is also great for personal growth and development to spend some time cultivating your beliefs.

3. Go Outside

We live in such a sedentary lifestyle that most people will not go outside unless they absolutely have to. There are actually many benefits to going outside even for a few minutes. Getting some fresh air can be very calming because it gives our skin the sunlight it needs to produce vitamin D. It is also great because the sight of nature can actual increase brain function. Taking 10 minutes out of your day to go for a brisk walk can cause a world of benefits.

4. Tidy Your Space

In many ways, our physical surroundings can replicate our mindset. A cluttered room may be an indication of a cluttered mind. Take a few minutes everyday to tidy up whether it be putting away clothes, washing dishes, or making your bed. Not only will this help clear your mind and mentally prepare for other tasks, it will prevent your space from getting insanely messy. A daily 10 minutes cleaning period sounds better than having to search through the disaster site that comes about after two weeks of not cleaning.

5. Have a Sweet Treat

Indulge in whatever "junk" food it is that you are craving, whether sweet or salty! When many people try to lose weight, they incorporate weekly cheat days or cheat meals. The issue with waiting all week for one dessert or one snack is that it makes us feel deprived, so we end up binging during the cheat meal or just breaking down altogether and stopping the diet (which you shouldn't be on anyway). It is best to stop this notion of good foods and bad foods. Simply eat everything in moderation and look for healthy alternatives. Also, cooking food yourself ends up being healthier almost all the time. If you're craving a brownie, it is much better to have a small brownie the day you are craving it than to wait for cheat day and end up eating 3 because of your out of control brownie cravings.

The best way to make long term changes is to make better choices everyday. Thinking of changes as a day by day basis instead of as a year-long odyssey makes the journey a lot easier. One step at a time, one day at a time. You can do it!

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