Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
During the academic semester it can feel like our days and life are blurring by. Especially towards the end of the school year. Between classes, studying, taking part in student clubs and organizations, volunteering, interning, working — oh and having a social life — the act of taking care of ourselves can sometimes move to the back burner. It can be tough to decompress, but fortunately, when it comes to being mindful there are some small things we can weave into our daily lives to help manage our stress and anxiety levels and our overall mental health.
Mindfulness is when you pause and bring awareness to your thoughts and feelings with non-judgement and non-attachment. There are different types of mindful activities one can do, and what may work for one person may not work for the other. Which is totally OK! It’s encouraged to try out a few different activities to see what feels right for you and what works well within your daily lifestyle.
Here are some mindful acts you can try out and see what will work the best for you to finish up your semester and roll into summer:
One thing that is free, available at all times, and is always with us no matter where we go or what we do is our breath. Tapping into our breath can help us get centered and grounded and aid in reducing our anxiety and stress levels. There are a few different types of breathing you can try, some for a minute at a time or some for longer, depending on what you are comfortable with. Give it a try! Take a deep inhale, count to three in your mind, then take a long exhale, counting to three again in your mind. You can repeat that as many times as needed to help get yourself feeling focused and calmer.
When we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed we can sometimes start to view our world through a negative lens. Things may seem to feel worse than they actually are, and we can have a habit of venting or complaining about what we are going through. While it is good to talk and speak out to someone who is a trusted confidante, complaining and staying in that head space can start to make us feel crummy. One way to try and generate more feelings of joy is to try to add in some gratitude daily. One way to do this is to jot down one thing daily that you feel thankful for. If you ever start feeling stuck on what to write, you can sometimes jot down things like “I am thankful to have my health,” or “I am thankful to have a bed to sleep in tonight.” Or you can think about asking yourself what seemed to go somewhat well today, and jot that down. If you consistently keep this up you will start to notice some changes in your overall mood and wellness.
We are constantly connected through technology and the media. While this can be an excellent thing to have, it can also sometimes be a source of stress and drain for people. We may get into the habit of when we feel stressed or anxious we mindlessly scrolling on social media or use our phone as a distraction from what we need to do. I invite you to try to take some digital breaks. It may be really hard to cut out social media completely as well as using technology, but weaving in some mindfulness to your usage can really help. You can use a timer and start small, say 10 minutes at a time, of a break off of your devices. Monitor how you feel each time you do so and try to make the breaks a bit longer each time you try.
We have two types of working minds, the thinking mind and the observing mind. When we are in class or going to and from things we need to do our thinking mind is working at full speed. When we are in our thinking mind we are not pausing and taking some time to notice how we may be feeling or asking questions such as do we need to eat, take a break or a nap. Tapping into our observing mind helps to create some space between our nonstop lives. Our observing mind is just as it sounds. We are taking some space to observe and notice the moment.
Think back to a time someone was really kind to you. Maybe it was a big gesture of kindness or maybe it was tiny, but nonetheless, go back to that feeling. Chances are, the feeling brings you a sense of comfort and joy. When we provide repeated random acts of kindness to others, there is science showing that it increases our oxytocin and dopamine (the feel-good neurochemicals), in our body which in turn leaves us feeling better. And besides the science, being a nice human to other humans is a way to help us feel more socially connected to our communities. Some little ideas you could do for others could be leaving nice notes for people, opening doors for others, paying for someone’s coffee as a surprise. Think about what would make you smile if a stranger was kind to you and then go out there and do that.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: