It’s that time of year again: the mad back-to-college rush. Across the country, thousands of students are bundling their things into the back of a slightly-too-small car and making their way back to school for another semester of socializing, self-discovery, and a little bit of studying. It’s an exciting prospect, but can be a little overwhelming if you’re suffering from mental health issues. How do you find the time to juggle every aspect of college life and leave enough room for self-care? Will there be anyone there to support you if things get tough?
As a recent graduate who suffered from anxiety and depression throughout my four years at university, these are questions that I asked myself constantly. Ultimately I overcame my issues and managed to enjoy my time as a student- and get the grades I needed! However, there were definitely some low points. Coping with a busy college life if you have mental health issues can be tricky if you don’t take the time to look after yourself. Luckily, you’ve got me here to share my tips and tricks on how to make it through with your sanity intact!
Create an action plan for tough times
Even if your mental health is in good shape when the semester begins, it’s always a good idea to make a plan in case it doesn’t stay that way. I didn’t when I was a freshman: I naively assumed that the excitement of university would keep me in high spirits and keep my anxiety and depression at bay. Because I’d neglected to plan for the idea that my mental state might deteriorate, I was completely lost when it did. I had no idea what support services were on offer and had no idea who to turn to. It took me nearly a year to finally pluck up the courage to find out about the university counseling service, a delay to my recovery that I really didn’t need. Don’t make my mistake! Make a note of any university-run mental health programmes or student support services, and find out who you’d need to talk to in your faculty if any issues impacted your ability to attend class. If you’re lucky, you’ll never need to contact them, but the information’s there if you do.
Build yourself a support network of awesome folk
You’re going to meet a TON of people when you’re at college. Your coursemates, the people in your dorm, sports teammates or society members, professors, that random dude who’s always using the shower when you’re running late and really need to be in it… The list goes on. Chances are, some of those people will go on to become your friends (although maybe not shower-stealing-dude). It’s a good idea to explain your issues to the people you’re close to, even if it’s just a brief “hey, just so you know, I can get a little down sometimes”. I’m not saying you should run into class on your very first day and proclaim “GUESS WHAT, I’M MENTALLY ILL”- unless you want to of course. It’d certainly be a striking first impression. All jokes aside, your comfort is what matters the most, and if you don’t want to share all of the details then you don’t have to. But having a couple of people in the know will give you somewhere to turn when the going gets tough, and help to prevent that feeling of isolation that often comes with a depressive spell.
Know your limits (and stick to them!)
For a lot of people, college is their first taste of independent living. You can do what you want, when you want, and a billion different opportunities are thrown your way. Obviously, there’s class to deal with, but once school’s out for the day there’s a ton of different ways you can fill your time. There are sports teams to join, societies to explore, socializing to do, and, if you’re lucky, a good night’s sleep to get! It can be very tempting to use your new-found freedom to do all of the things, but it’s important to know your limits. Mental illnesses can be tiring at the best of times and utterly draining at the worst, and having to be in about four different places at once won’t help your energy levels- or your mental state. I’m not saying you have to be a social hermit who declines every opportunity to go out in favor of resting. However, it’s important to know your limits. You’re not going to lose all of your friends if you decline one party invitation. If you’re feeling too tired, anxious or stressed to go, just don’t. A night in your PJs with Netflix and a tub of ice cream can do you the world of good! Only you can know what you can handle, but try not to push yourself too hard- you’ll only end up burning out, and exhaustion is the perfect environment for mental illness to worsen.
Your college years have the potential to be some of the best of your life. They’re a time for making memories, growing as a person, pursuing your academic interests, and having a whole lot of fun! Don’t let your mental health issues hold you back and negatively affect what can be an amazing four years. I know that’s easier said than done- of course, it’s not possible to be okay ALL of the time. But I hope these tips can help to reduce the impact of mental illness on your student life. If I got through my college years unscathed, so can you!