How to Maintain Mental Health in College as an Adult Learner

If you’re a working student experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression, you are not alone. Here’s how you can maintain your mental health in college.

by Meilee D. Bridges

 

Have you ever just not wanted to get out of bed in the morning? Are you pulling away from friends or getting into more fights than normal with loved ones? Do you sometimes feel numb or like nothing matters?

You are not alone.

Maintaining your mental health in college can feel daunting, especially as a working adult. It’s no wonder that adult learners have reported more stress, anxiety, and depression than first-time college students. And mental health influences your mood, behavior, and thinking, which can affect your physical health, relationships, and ability to perform. So staying vigilant about your psychological and emotional well-being—and getting help when you need it!—is crucial. Here’s how you can maintain your mental health in college.

 

Connect with friends and loved ones

The pandemic confirmed for many of us that loneliness and social isolation have significant negative effects on our emotional well-being. Staying connected with family and friends—or making an effort to bring new people into your life—can do wonders for your mental health.

Make sure to schedule time each day or week to catch up with loved ones, friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Consider enrolling in an in-person or online class to learn something new; many community centers offer these for free or at a low cost. You could also join an organization or look for meetups where you can bond over a shared hobby or interest. 

Another great source of happiness, purpose, and belonging is volunteering in your community or joining a particular cause that has meaning for you.

If you prefer furry companions, adopting a pet can also alleviate loneliness. Just be sure you’re up for the responsibility of taking care of a new furry family member!

 

Vent

If you’re not feeling like yourself or are struggling to get through each day, talk to someone. Strength lies in asking for help

You might talk with a family member, friend, professor, advisor, coach, mentor, or faith leader. You’re looking for an empathetic, nonjudgmental person (or group) who you can confide your experiences, thoughts, or concerns to. Sharing your problems with someone you trust who has your best interests at heart can be a source of solace.

 

Seek professional help

There is no shame in seeking the support of a professional counselor. Whether you’re looking for in-person or remote services, one great place to start is your campus counseling center. College counselors offer mental health check-ups, individual therapy, group therapy, and workshops.

If you prefer an off-campus therapist and have health insurance, visit your plan’s website to determine your coverage and look up in-network therapists. You can also ask your family doctor for referrals.

If you do not have insurance, your coverage doesn’t include mental health services, or you need low- or no-cost options, your local Federally Qualified Health Center (look for “Find a Health Center” toward the bottom) is an option. These facilities offer care on a sliding fee scale based on what you can afford to pay. You can also get free help 24/7 if you call 1-800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741, which is the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) helpline.

Seeking professional counseling is not a last resort. Licensed therapists can equip you with tools and strategies to prevent and recover from mental health crises.

Asking for help can be hard, and finding a mental health professional who you trust and feel comfortable with can take time and energy. This is especially true if you live in an area where services are limited. Still, feeling seen and heard—and feeling better—is the goal, so don’t settle for a practitioner who isn’t the right fit for you.

 

Practice self-care

You know the age-old advice: Get enough sleep. Eat well. Avoid drugs. Minimize alcohol. Exercise regularly. Socialize with friends and coworkers. Take up hobbies.

Self-care is no new trend. Ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Pythagoras touted its importance. So have 17th-century thinkers, 19th-century writers, and 21st-century psychologists. Establishing healthy habits and taking time for yourself can improve the quality of your work and study. And trying to do something that brings you joy each day can significantly elevate your mental wellness.

 

Try a change of pace

Routines can provide familiarity and therefore a sense of security and stability. But doing the same thing day in and day out can also start to feel tedious, and chronic boredom can lead to ruminating on negative thoughts, which is a symptom of depression. Break the monotony by moving things around in your study area. Or if the weather is nice, take your reading or notes outside. Alter the route where you walk or bike, or try a new workout. Experiment with new recipes. Take a dance or air-drums study break. The idea is to shake things up so you escape that rut and feel a bit more energized.

 

Take deep breaths

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know that hyperventilating is terrifying and disorienting. Remembering to breathe can be difficult when you’re experiencing a mental health crisis. And deep-breathing exercises can be challenging—or seem a bit too mystical or even silly. But bringing your focus back to your breath has also been scientifically proven to improve relaxation and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

To deepen your relaxation, try conjuring pleasant images or repeating words or phrases silently or softly with each breath.

Breathing techniques are a focus in yoga, tai chi, and meditation. But here’s a simple practice you can try to improve your mental health. First, find a comfy place to sit or lie down. Take a normal breath. Then, take a deep breath in through your nose, feeling your chest and lower belly expand as you inflate those lungs. Breathe out slowly and completely—either through your nose or mouth. Repeat that slow, steady, and deep breathing for at least a minute! That’s it. Do that regularly. It’s a no-frills technique for calming yourself down, and practicing it daily can improve your overall well-being.

 

Be your own BFF

One of the fundamental tenets of self-compassion is to treat yourself as you would treat someone you love. When your partner or best friend enjoys tiny and tremendous triumphs, you’re likely going to congratulate and celebrate them. And when they’re struggling, you probably offer patient support and encouragement—or maybe try to get them to laugh.

If you’re feeling trapped in a cycle of negativity, stop for a moment. Name your feelings (aloud or on paper). Evaluate the result of those negative thoughts (e.g., did anything good come of that thinking?). Then, vent to a friend, or do something you know makes you laugh or feel happy.

Similarly, when you are having a hard time, don’t give in to your inner critic, self-blame, or catastrophizing (i.e., assuming worst-case scenarios). Avoid focusing on what you “should” be doing or “should” have done. If you find yourself blowing things out of proportion or ruminating on negative thoughts, stop. (This is easier said than done, I know!) Instead, be your own best friend. Celebrate your efforts and growth. Remind yourself of the people, pets, objects, and events in your life that you’re thankful for. Focus only on improving the things you can actually control; try to let everything else go. And remember that life and success are about progress, not perfection. You are a human being, after all, and you are OK just as you are. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone you love.

 

All of these strategies take practice and can be challenging, especially at first. Like recovering from an injury or physical illness, improving your mental health requires patience. And you don’t have to go it alone; if you need help, it’s perfectly OK to ask for it. Complete recovery is definitely within reach, and you are worth the effort! By staying self-aware and taking care of your mental health, the road to success—however you define it—will be a much smoother ride.


Need more mental health resources?

Although ReUp Success Coaches are not licensed therapists, they can offer personalized self-care strategies that will help you maintain your well-being as you juggle school, work, and life. Ready to connect?

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