SEL and Self-Care for College Students

More than ever before, college students are tackling their own mental illnesses. Unfortunately, many are doing so by joking about them online. Bragging about lack of sleep, competing for the most jam-packed schedules, and prioritizing grades above basic human needs are all behaviors developing from the pressurized academic atmospheres at top colleges across the country. It's true that finding relatable content can do wonders for establishing a community and deconstructing feelings of loneliness — but how can we supplement humor and meme culture with routines to more effectively manage anxiety?

Morning

When your alarm goes off at 7:30AM, what's the first thing you do? Hit snooze. Maybe check Twitter or your student email. Depending on breaking news topics, it could mean a very overwhelming start to the day. Being inundated with bad news can accentuate feelings of powerlessness, so make an effort not to scroll through social media first thing in the morning. Take stock of your day or do a "wake up" meditation like those offered on Headspace. Stretch as you get out of bed, even just for five minutes, because it might be the only chance you have to exercise during the day.

Before you leave for class, think about everything you need to accomplish. Set one specific goal or intention for your day. Write it in a bullet journal, write it on your phone, write it anywhere. Come back to it at the end of the day.

Afternoon

Classes, internships, jobs, and extracurriculars likely dominate a student's afternoon. Let's discuss strategies to stay engaged and in charge. Most of us have taken a class with a plethora of presentations — it's usually the one with your least favorite professor or that meets at 8AM — so how can we better manage the stress of public speaking?

Use the tactic of visualization. Practice what to say beforehand and imagine yourself executing the task confidently all the way through. It might be hard to block invasive, self-deprecating thoughts, especially when it's easier to vent on a "finsta" than prepare for a project. This exercise can boost self-confidence and make a substantial difference with presentations, phone calls, or leadership activities.

It can also be difficult to concentrate in class, especially while we're simultaneously scrolling through Instagram, listening to music, or writing an essay for the next class. Multitasking is the millennial lifestyle. But in some ways, multitasking can be the antithesis of mindfulness. By eliminating distractions and extraneous information, you can boost memory and reduce sensory overload. Try turning off notifications and turning on instrumental music. 

Night

At the end of a long day, crawling into bed sounds like the perfect way to unwind. First take a look at the goal you wrote down that morning. Think about whether or not you completed it and why. Is there anything you can improve for tomorrow? What can you congratulate yourself on? What is one thing you're grateful for? These questions might seem too stiff to facilitate self-reflection, but by setting specific goals, students can train their patience and persistence. It's never too late to develop discipline.

A lot of students additionally choose to practice self-care at night. Put on a face mask, call your parents, do the dishes, run a mile or two. Check in with yourself and how you're feeling. Prepare for the next day before falling into bed to binge season 2 of Queer Eye.

There's an idea in academia that students should always be working. Whether that's reading a relevant scholarly article on the train or sacrificing social activities to get a leg up in class readings, we are encouraged to keep our research at the back of our minds 24/7 — but this just isn't sustainable. Schedule time to be happily unproductive. Execute and maintain mindfulness. Use these resources, or others, to help take yourself and your mental health seriously.

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