The transition to college life is a big one. There are new responsibilities, new schedules to adjust to, so much studying, and for some students, it’s their first time living on their own.
The college experience brings its own unique types of stress that can weigh on you if you aren’t prepared. Still, it’s OK to not feel OK.
We’ve got tips from psychiatrists within our health system to help strengthen your mental health throughout the semester and provide ways to know when you might need some additional support.
1. Get Some Sleep
We get it, there’s a lot on your plate — and a lot of extracurricular activities outside of your class schedule. But regularly getting good sleep can lessen the likelihood of depression and relieve anxiety. Studies show a relationship between sleep disorders and depression, and problems with sleep can predict the onset of depression.
It’s OK if college is stressing you out. There are things you can do to improve your mental health, such as get plenty of sleep; drink plenty of water; opt for healthy, brain-boosting foods; take your vitamins; and stay active. If you need the support of a mental health professional, our primary care providers can help connect you to someone who’s ready to listen.
While in your teen years, the suggested hours of sleep a night were around 8 to 10 hours, that decreases as you get older. Adults 18 to 60 years old can get by on 7 hours of sleep a night, but more is still recommended.
In cases where you do find yourself pulling an all-nighter cramming for an exam, studies have shown that you can recover from sleep deprivation with an immediate full night of sleep, though some people require more.
2. Stay Hydrated
Proper hydration has positive effects on mood and anxiety. There are links between dehydration and depression, confusion and fatigue. It can also lead to intense headaches that can get in the way of your ability to concentrate in class or during study time.
Keep in mind, too, that the first couple of weeks (even months!) of the fall semester are still hot and can lead to heat-related illnesses. Add a bottle of water or canteen to your book bag to bring with you throughout the day and fill it up as needed. When you need a snack, grab some fruit high in water content, such as watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe.
3. Eat Right
That brings us to nutrition. Studies show people who eat a diet high in whole foods — such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes and unsaturated fats (such as olive oil) — are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of these foods.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to brain health and reduce inflammation and risk of heart disease. Oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, anchovies and sardines are the most highly recommended sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, and the American Heart Association suggests eating these types at least twice a week.
While it’s hard for a college diet to avoid, processed foods with refined sugars and fried foods have been shown to lead to fatigue as well as anxiety. We’ve got more easy tips for eating healthy.
4. Take Your Vitamins
People with a lack of vitamin B-12 may be at increased risk for depression. B-group vitamins help to regulate neurotransmitters, immune function and amino acids – the building blocks of proteins in the body. B-12 is found in milk, cheese, eggs and fish.
Vitamin D is important for optimal brain functioning, including mood and critical thinking. Sunlight is a major source of vitamin D. Five to 30 minutes of sun exposure twice a week generally produces enough vitamin D in the body. Lighter-skinned people require less time in the sun than those with darker skin. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to depression, in particular seasonal depression, which happens with reduced sunlight during winter.
A primary care provider can help you determine if you are getting enough vitamins in your diet or if you might need supplements.
5. Move Your Body
Regular exercise is an easy way to improve your mood and fight depression. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness. Exercise can also improve your sleep quality, concentration, memory and overall daytime energy.
Whether you prefer to get exercise in the morning before class or in the afternoon to de-stress, at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day is recommended.
Did we mention it helps with concentration and memory?
6. Know When to Seek Support
If you’re struggling with your mental health but aren’t sure if you should seek support, ask yourself, “Am I no longer feeling like myself?”
Pay attention to if your appetite, attention, concentration and sleep patterns have changed. Notice if your relationships changed at home, in the classroom or at work.
If they have changed, it may be time to seek care. Start with your primary care provider who can help and guide you if you need a mental health professional’s specialized support.