In high school, college looks like a fantastic gold pot at the end of the rainbow. You’ll finally get to live your dream life, make your own choices, and enjoy the endless party that is your college experience.
But in reality, it’s really difficult. You will face stresses you haven’t encountered before, living independently and figuring out how things work. This is all complicated by the fact you just spent most of your high school years, when you should be taking smaller steps towards independence, in a lockdown, isolated, and dependent on your parents.
A lack of sleep, poor eating habits, insufficient exercise combined with increased stress, strained relationships, new social dynamics, and a lot of pressure are the perfect recipe for depression. Are you living your best life or Googling depression treatment near me?
Take these steps to manage stress and establish healthy relationships, as they will go a long way in preventing depression during your college years.
Improve Your Sleep Habits
There are slight individual variations, but we typically need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Sleep has many restorative qualities. But, the most significant problem when you don’t log enough hours per night is that your brain cannot remove toxins that accumulate when you’re awake. When you go too long without it, you’ve already done the damage, and it’s irreversible. That’s why you start to see poor health outcomes from prolonged periods of sleep deprivation that can even lead to death. So don’t opt for those all-night cram sessions before exams. You’ll actually have more difficulty remembering everything the next day.
You will log your best, most refreshing hours of sleep before midnight. Yes, we know that’s not always realistic since most things don’t even get going until midnight. Just keep in mind that on the nights you don’t have plans, try to get into bed before the day ends. Even if you don’t get in bed until 5 AM, aim to sleep until about 2 PM to log the amount of sleep you need to help your body repair, rest, and fend off mental health concerns.
Hydrate With the Good Stuff
While college is a time when you might live off caffeine, you should stay hydrated with water. It’s another way to help your body flush out toxins from bad food choices, poor sleep, or whatever else you consumed last night. Soda, other caffeinated beverages, and alcohol all dehydrate you. So, one full eight-ounce glass of water for each dehydrating beverage choice is an excellent place to start. Salty cafeteria food or whatever you can grab on the go also won’t help either, so go for an extra glass of water when you reach for your chips or snack bars.
Take Note of What You Eat
Speaking of snack choices, college life makes easy, processed foods appealing. It’s hard to get a decent meal in between getting enough sleep, your social life, and your busy class schedule during the day. But eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult.
For example, a protein-packed instant oatmeal cup requires little prep and will start your day off right. Grab an apple with a handful of almonds or a to-go pack of peanut butter for a healthy snack that travels well. Healthy fats in nuts, avocados, and fish are essential for brain health. Grab a tuna sandwich, guacamole on your burrito, or a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch or dinner.
If you’re planning to go out with friends, start the night on a full stomach with a mixture of carbs and protein. When all else fails, keep it simple: ensure you get three larger meals or five smaller meals throughout the day with some real fruits or vegetables.
Having hours of classes daily means you spend most of your time indoors. Besides developing a vitamin D deficiency, which can contribute to depression, spending most of your time inside can hurt your mental wellness. Spending time in nature reduces stress and symptoms of depression.
The official term is ecotherapy, but you don’t need anything formal to reap the benefits. Grab some friends and go for a weekly hike, join an ultimate frisbee club, or do some studying on the quad. Most college campuses have lush, green settings specifically for you to enjoy and boost your mental health. Take advantage of it.
This doesn’t have to be a formal 30-minute sweat session in the gym, but you should engage in physical activity three to five times weekly. You can incorporate this in your outdoor time with a brisk walk between classes, a bike ride, or yoga on the quad. Our bodies don’t feel good when we sit at old, hard school desks all day, and our mental health also suffers. Choose to move when you get the chance. Take the stairs, walk with your friends to the movies, or grab dinner. Pretty soon, all these choices will add to a lot of exercise, and you’ll feel good too.
Set Healthy Boundaries
College is a time to discover who you really are. It’s incredibly freeing to recreate yourself over and over, but it can also be overwhelming. You can develop feelings of worthlessness and guilt and struggle to say no because of the pressure to “seize the day.”
Aim to stay present and check in with yourself. When you start to reach your limit or find you’ve accidentally overstretched yourself, take a step back and remember it’s ok to say no. Make a conscious effort to do things that fill you with joy and re-energize you. Unfortunately, homework and studying rarely fill us with joy, but they aren’t something you can cut out if you want to remain in school. Get it out of the way, so the stress isn’t weighing you down when you get the chance to have fun.
Use Your Campus Resources
If you’re taking care of yourself, but it’s still not cutting it, you need to get help. You can take steps to fend off depression, but it isn’t something you can just power your way through. Unfortunately, suicide is the third most common cause of death for college students. Because of this, your college has a health center with tons of mental health resources. There’s either a guidance counselor to help relieve stress from future planning or mental health professional to provide crisis or emergency depression treatment. If warranted, you can get referred for clinical depression treatment off-campus. If you or someone you know is struggling, get help immediately from the campus hotline, in-person clinic, or your doctor.
College can be overwhelming, especially if you are already struggling with your mental health. Prioritize getting enough sleep, drinking water, a little time outdoors, and eating a fruit or vegetable when you think of it. Get your homework done, so you can focus on doing things you enjoy and make you happy. Stick to these things; hopefully, your college time will seem like that little gold pot at the end of your rainbow.