College students face many stressors from day to day. I should know. I am one. From classes to social life to money, college is by no means an easy journey. Add a deadly pandemic to the mix and the life of a college student is much like navigating a snowstorm of stressors.
The mental health of college students is a growing concern in society. And today, with quarantining, online learning, and social distancing, all the more. For college students around the world, anxiety and depressive symptoms have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Information overload, rumors, and navigating the unknown can make us feel helpless and out of control.
Not only are the rates of depression and anxiety symptoms increasing, but the rates of suicidal ideation and substance use are also increasing. People are searching for ways to cope with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness. Sadly, many are looking in the wrong places.
So how do I, a busy college student, cope when everything seems to be falling apart?
- SLEEP: I set a schedule and plan to wake up and go to bed around the same time every day. I create a nightly routine to help myself relax and unwind. This might include soaking in a bath, enjoying a meditation, reading a book, or practicing deep breathing before going to bed. Creating a nightly rhythm helps me decompress from a busy day of learning. My nightly routine includes powering off my phone, spending time in prayer, and reading a book before going to sleep.
- MOVE: Regular exercise is proven to decrease anxiety and increase mood. Find a movement that you enjoy such as dancing, walking, or yoga to get your body moving! Every day, I take a break from studying to enjoy a mindful walk in which I engage all my senses. The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise is a form of mindfulness where I name five things I can see, four things I can hear, three things I can feel, two things I can smell, and one thing I can taste. This exercise allows me to clear my mind and prepare for another round of studying. It helps ground me in the real things I sense around me, instead of dwelling on worries and fears in my mind.
- EAT: Eat well to be well. Eating well includes a healthy diet full of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Limit sugar and processed foods. Eat healthy foods to fuel your body, not for comfort. Sometimes I don’t feel like eating, yet I know my body needs healthy fuel. The brain requires about 20% of the body’s energy, so it is important to eat an adequate amount of food to enhance your focus. If I notice that I am having trouble focusing on my studies, I often take a snack break. That helps me to refocus and refuel so I am fully engaged in my studies.
- LIMIT SCREEN TIME: During the coronavirus, many people report spending excess amounts of time on social media. While this might be a way to make time go by faster, it is not healthy to spend copious amounts of time looking at a screen. Instead of scrolling or watching Netflix, try picking up a new hobby such as reading, baking, or gardening. One way I do this is by limiting my social media use; I stop scrolling my phone at 6:00 p.m. By the end of the day, my eyes are tired from staring at my computer for hours on end and my eyes and brain need a break! After 6:00, I begin to unwind from the day and focus my attention on the company of friends and family. This prepares me for a good night’s sleep and boosts my mood.
- LIMIT EXPOSURE TO THE NEWS: It is overwhelming to listen to the horrible news of the world today. If this causes you to worry, limit social media that may expose you to rumors and potentially false information. Limit the time you spend reading or watching the news, but do keep up to date on new ways to protect your health. For example, I do not watch the news or follow social media accounts that bring me down. I suggest looking through your social media accounts and unfollowing those that spread sensationalized information, to protect your own well-being during this unique time.
- RENEWED FOCUS THROUGH SPIRITUALITY: Last and certainly not least, I’d like to address spirituality. I am a Christian, and that gives me a unique perspective on the world. Amidst the chaos and confusion of the pandemic, it is important for me to turn to the One who I KNOW is in control of it all. I take comfort knowing that my Creator, the God of all Creation, has my life in his hands. He knows about every worry and fear, about every quiz and exam, and He will walk with me every step of the way. One of my favorite passages from the Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). It is healthy for me to repeat this affirmation – and other positive affirmations from the Bible – whenever fear creeps in.
Taking Care of the Young People in Your Life
What do I do if I am a friend or family member of a college student and I am concerned about them?
Watching someone you love suffer can feel unbearable. Most college students will endure hard times during their college career. While you cannot remove their stress or pain, here are a few warning signs to be aware of:
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Avoiding interactions
- Trouble sleeping or fatigue
- Sleeping much more than normal
- Changes in appetite
- Anxious or on-edge
- Angry outbursts over small matters
- Lack personal hygiene
- Excessive worry
- Frequently mention death or suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you love is experiencing these symptoms, it may be time to call for help.
Thank you for taking the time to read this submission, and thank you for caring about the college students in your life. We appreciate the care and concern of those around us. We came to college with determination, and we are stronger when we know we have the encouragement and prayers of others.
Hannah Gross is a sophomore at Wisconsin Lutheran College majoring in psychology and Spanish. She submitted this blog to CFS as part of her Christian Leadership Certificate Program. Hannah’s coursework is supervised by Laura Reinke (MS, MFT), a marriage and family therapist with Christian Family Solutions and adjunct professor in the Psychology Department at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call Christian Family Solutions at 800-438-1772. You can also request an appointment here on our website.