Lets be honest, most of us will feel stressed or overwhelmed at some point in our undergrad (probably more often than not). We might look around campus and see hundreds of smiling students and think that everyone is super happy and free of struggles. Some of you may be experiencing difficulty with university life and you might think that you are in the minority. But the reality is that 90% of UVic students report feeling overwhelmed. You are definitely not alone! The constant deadlines, tests, papers and social pressures can bring about unwanted anxiety, stress and depression. The good news is that you can buffer yourself from this as much as possible by trying to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Over the years I have developed some strategies and tips to cope with the rigors of university life.
I am going to call this a toolkit for positive mental health.
- Adequate Sleep
I know you have heard it a thousand times but I can’t stress the importance of sleep enough. A few years ago I spent hundreds of dollars at the optometrist office because I was experiencing what I believed to be severe eye strain. I couldn’t read anything for more than 10 minutes without having to close my eyes and rest. I soon discovered that it wasn’t a lack of glasses causing my issue, I was actually chronically sleep deprived without even realizing it.
We all require different amounts of sleep to function optimally. Instead of giving you a cookie cutter number of hours to sleep I suggest figuring this number out for your specific body. Go to bed at a decent time (preferably before midnight) and let your body wake up naturally. Do this a few times and soon you will come out with an average amount of sleep YOUR body needs to function properly. For me personally, I learned that my body arises naturally after 8-9 hours of sleep. This is my body telling me what it needs to recoup and refresh for the next day. Once you start giving yourself the sleep you need you will notice increased concentration, focus and increased positive well being. If you are chronically sleep deprived, you will be surprised at how adequate sleep can improve your mood, optimism, and lower stress levels.
Ever since I started meditating for 10 minutes in the morning (right after I wake up) I have noticed so much improvement in my mental health. I am more relaxed, focused, and better able to deal with the stressors of life. I can also study longer and read “boring” homework much easier. Meditation may seem intimidating at first but it is really easy to start. What I do is very simple and I urge you to try it tomorrow morning. Find a quite place where you can relax (I sit on my bedroom floor with a mat underneath me) and seat yourself in a comfortable position. Start taking deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and just breathe, one in, two out, and so on, up to 10. When you get to 10 just start again at the beginning and repeat this. Focus your attention on your breath and don’t get anxious if you find thoughts popping into your mind. If this happens, just gently bring yourself back to focus on your breathing. It is really that simple! Once you get more comfortable you can start increasing the amount of time and/or the frequency of sessions. I learned how to start meditating from Henri Lock at UVic. If you would also like to learn from someone, check out this UVic website to see all the meditation and yoga services for free!
Most of us know how beneficial exercise is to our health. It improves mood, concentration, energy levels, sleep, and it can help weight loss. Newer studies also show that exercise after learning can help memory retention! So given all these amazing benefits, why are you not exercising regularly? The most common answer I get is TIME!!! Well I am going to suggest anaerobic exercise here if you are stressed for time. All you need is 4 minutes! I think we can all spare 4 minutes in our day. Look up high intensity workouts such as Tabata intervals to get an idea of what you can do if you are pressed for time. The basic idea is you perform an exercise such as sprinting maximally for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest (i.e. walking). You repeat this cycle continuously for a total of 8 cycles. This ends up being 4 minutes of intense exercise. Once you get more advanced you can start performing more Tabata intervals and even work your way up to 4 intervals totaling 16 minutes of exercise. Other exercises you can perform instead of sprinting include push ups, squats, and jump rope. If you like you can alternate anaerobic Tabata workout days with aerobic days like long peaceful jogs. Check out the video below to get an idea of short, high intensity workouts.
- Serve your Community
Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is in the service of others.” Volunteer in your community for a cause that you are passionate about. Not only will you be helping those in need but serving the community can also make you feel good about yourself and your place in the world. Working with marginalized populations in Victoria has helped me grow tremendously as a person and it has really developed my sense of empathy. There are plenty of opportunities both on and off campus. Check out the links below to find something suitable for you:
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.