Jun 14, 2023
Taking care of your mental health is always important, but if you’re navigating college life, you might be dealing with some unique challenges. Transitioning to college can be a huge adjustment. You might be in a whole new place with a totally different routine—that’s on top of the pressure to make new friends, choose a major, and thrive academically.
Nearly three-quarters of college students report moderate-to-severe psychological distress, according to a 2022 report from the American College Health Association. Prioritizing your mental well-being can help you manage stress and may set the stage for a better college experience. Here are 11 mental health tips for college students to consider.
“The social circle is very important so that nobody becomes a lone wolf or feels socially isolated,” says DeVetta Holman-Copeland, coordinator of resiliency and student support programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
That means being proactive about making new friends and getting involved in campus activities and clubs. Keep an eye out for mixers, social events, and other opportunities to come together with like-minded students. According to the American Psychological Association, you don’t necessarily need a huge network of friends. Having just a handful of solid relationships can provide you with plenty of support and community.
When it comes to self-care tips for college students, eating well is an important piece. “This is absolutely imperative because it fuels the brain,” says Holman-Copeland.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) suggests two-to-three balanced meals per day. That includes a mix of lean protein, high-quality carbs, and healthy fats. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Holman-Copeland says that many college students don’t get enough sleep and are essentially running on fumes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting seven to nine hours of nightly shuteye. Sticking to a routine where you wake up and go to bed at the same times each day will help the quality of your sleep. If you find it harder to fall asleep in your dorm room than at home, consider getting a sleep mask and ear plugs to block light and noise. If you need white noise or a sound machine to get to sleep, then look for comfy ear buds so you can listen without disturbing your roommate.
Finding time to exercise isn’t always easy, but it’s a worthwhile investment for your physical and mental health. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends getting at least:
Many colleges have gyms on campus that are open to students. Hitting up a weekly class, joining an intramural team, or taking a daily walk are all great ways to get moving.
Mindfulness meditation appears to ease anxiety and mental stress, according to the American Psychological Association. This type of meditation asks us to direct all of our attention to the present moment, instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. There are many different types of meditation, so feel around to see which style resonates with you. Meditation apps can make it easier to establish a habit.
Holman-Copeland likes the idea of pairing meditation with affirmation statements. These can be as simple as:
“Also, own the compliments that people give you. That is a huge boost for self-esteem and mental health,” says Holman-Copeland, adding that the way you feel about yourself is an important part of how you carry yourself on campus.
Leaving close friends and family can feel tough. Holman-Copeland says not to disconnect from them if you’ve left home. It’s okay to schedule trips back home or to go visit childhood friends who are attending different colleges. You can also keep that connection going strong with virtual meetups or maintaining an active group chat.
“Social media has become the replacement for having friends,” says Holman-Copeland. “You may think you're building friendships, but social skills come from actually being in person with people and engaging with another human being who is standing in front of you. It’s about understanding how to have simple conversations and affirming the differences of others. Those things do not happen via social media.”
She also warns that what we see on social media doesn’t always reflect reality. It’s easy to get caught in a comparison trap, which can negatively impact self-esteem. Going into your phone settings and adding time limits to your social media apps is a simple way to keep your screen time in check.
Your campus may have all kinds of mental health resources for students, from confidential counseling to student wellness programs to mental health apps. Get clear on what your college has to offer, and ask for help when you need it. These programs and mental health experts are there to help you—and they’re typically included in tuition.
Now isn’t the time to shrug off opportunities to connect with others. Consider trying new things, initiating conversations, attending social events, and finding other ways to step out of your comfort zone a little. Exploration is a large part of the college experience and getting to know yourself as a young adult. Saying yes to an invite or attending an event could lead you to new friendships, new interests, and new understanding.
“Social interaction is the key to communication and building relationships,” says Holman-Copeland.
College is usually the first time young adults are managing their finances on their own. Running into trouble here could create unnecessary stress. Here are some mental health tips for college students around financial wellness: