A guide to looking out for ourselves and others this exam season.
North American university students have adopted some pretty scary ideas of what studying should look like. Pulling all nighters, loading up on caffeine, and last minute cram sessions have all become the expected, and are even glorified among the student population - but are these habits actually helping students study?
Studying with habits like these is extremely stressful, and can take a huge toll on a person’s mental health. In fact, students today are facing more stress than any other generation when it comes to school. So, what can we do? How can students stay mentally healthy while succeeding at school? I’d say it’s time to start the conversation.
One of the biggest barriers in mental health is that it just isn’t talked about; the subject has been stigmatized into silence. When it comes to physical health, most people know what to do. If you get sick, you take medicine; if you skin your knee, you stick a Band-Aid on it; if you break a bone, you see a doctor. When you struggle with physical health, you know what to do. You know when you can take care of the problem yourself, and when you need to see a doctor, or go to the hospital. But do you know what to do when you start to struggle with mental health?
Mental health, just like physical health, exists on a spectrum. No one is 100% healthy or 100% unhealthy all of the time, so it’s important to know how we can take care of ourselves, and when we need to seek outside help to bring us back to the healthy end of the spectrum.
The first step in taking care of our mental health is knowing how to recognize when we are stressed or struggling, and this will look different for everyone. For some people, stress shows up in the way we interact with the people around us and for others it might present as physical symptoms like headaches or fatigue. Most of the time you can identify stress or struggle by noticing a significant, impactful and long lasting change in your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, or in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of those around you. It is important that each of us figures out how we are affected by stress so that we can identify when we might need to take action.
Once you’ve recognized stress or struggle, taking action becomes a lot easier and depending on how you are affected there are a number of different ways that you can take care of yourself. Adjusting your daily routine is a great way to start. This means making sure you are exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and drinking enough water. These routines that help keep us both physically and mentally healthy tend to get thrown out the window when we get stressed, and by making sure we stick to them, we can bring those stress levels back down.
Practicing in hobbies is also an excellent way to take care of yourself. Taking time to do the things that you enjoy is a great way to relieve stress, so whether you love yoga, sports, journaling, poetry or music - make sure that you find time to practice those hobbies. Spending the day at the library? Take ten minutes for a stretch break, or to watch a slam poem on YouTube. Making time for hobbies doesn’t need to take hours.
If you’re noticing that you still feel like you’re stressed out or struggling, and that self care just doesn’t seem to be working, it’s probably time to talk to someone. Whether you reach out to a friend, a CA, a counsellor, or a doctor, it is such an important step in keeping yourself healthy. There are some things that we aren’t meant to deal with alone, and struggling with mental health is one of them. If you notice that a friend is showing signs of a mental health struggle, reach out to them as well, or connect them to one of these resources. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re okay, or say you’ve noticed changes. Oftentimes, talking about it can be really helpful, and nothing bad can come from asking in a mature manner.
If you feel that you’re struggling and aren’t ready to talk to someone in person, there are still a number of resources available to you. Through 7 Cups, you can find instant support online at www.7cups.com through a trained active listener or therapist, and by calling Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 you can connect with a certified mental health counsellor. 7 Cups is for all ages, while Kids Help Phone is for youth up to twenty years of age.
If at any point you or someone you know experiences thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it is extremely important that you reach out and find support. In a crisis situation where you feel as if the safety of any person is at risk, call 9-1-1, find a counsellor, or dial a mental health crisis line immediately.