If you are feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, you aren’t alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, 62 percent of college students are perpetually anxious, and the American Psychological Association reports a significant increase in psychological problems among students. In fact, there is evidence that suggest that today’s college students are more stressed and facing more mental health issues than any students before, leading some to declare a mental health crisis on college campuses.
Online students aren’t left out, either. As the line between traditional and non-traditional students blurs, and more students turn to online programs as a means to balance work and family responsibilities with school, the stress and anxiety is hitting those students hard as well. Even students enrolled in these types of masters counseling programs, who have insight into these issues, often face them, which begs the question: Why? Why are students so stressed and struggling with mental health?
While mental health issues like depression and anxiety are illnesses and aren’t always attributable to outside factors or behaviors, they can be exacerbated by certain habits. Unhealthy and destructive habits increase stress, which in turn increases anxiety and depression. Identifying the habits that are impacting mental health, and making changes, can reduce the symptoms of these disorders, improving mood, productivity and overall performance in school.
So what are the habits that are hurting student mental health?
Overusing Social Media
Jealousy. Feelings of inadequacy. Fear of missing out. Loneliness. Poor self-esteem. If these are just some of the issues that can result from overuse of social media, it’s no wonder that people are suffering from anxiety and depression. While sites like Facebook and Instagram can help you stay in touch with friends and connect with people, using them too much, and using too many sites, can be toxic to your mental well-being. Try detoxing from social media (challenge yourself to go 24 or 48 hours without checking in) and limiting yourself to one check in per day, and see how much better you feel.
Trying to do your best in everything you do is an admirable trait. And when used appropriately, your perfectionism can benefit you; you work hard toward your goals, learn from mistakes and put in the effort required to do a good job.
When misused, though, perfectionism can be destructive, causing you to put unnecessary pressure on yourself and contributing to anxiety. You can reduce these effects by learning to prioritize the projects that need your absolute best and those that only need to be “good enough.”
Poor Time Management
Nothing will stress you out more than being disorganized and always rushing to finish things at the last minute. And when you waste time, you’re likely to beat yourself up later, which isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, work on your time management: Make lists, keep a schedule, and do your best to be efficient and focused when you need to be. When you stay organized, you stress less, and you will have more time to do the things you want to do.
Lack of Self–Care
Eating a poor diet, not exercising, not sleeping, not drinking enough water, not taking time to relax – you know that any one of these is going to keep you from feeling your best. You’re not going to function to your full potential on a few hours of sleep and bottomless cup of coffee, yet you probably do it. A lack of sleep can have a profound effect on your mood, and we know that exercise can increase endorphins, or “happy hormones.” Therefore, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, your mental health is probably suffering.
You might think that you are being more efficient when you multitask, but the fact is, you’re just overtaxing your brain stressing yourself out. Even just scrolling through Facebook while you eat your lunch can be detrimental to your mental health. Instead of actually processing what you are doing and being in the moment, you’re distracted, which can actually reduce your ability to pay attention or relax and your ability to communicate effectively. Challenge yourself to do one thing at a time, and be fully in the moment. Monitor how you feel; you’re likely to feel calmer and more productive and less stressed.
Never Being Alone
Alone time is a key aspect of self-care. While spending time with family and friends is important, so is taking the time for yourself. Spending time alone – even if it’s just a few minutes a day – gives you a moment to breathe, reflect and clear your thoughts. When you’re constantly interacting with others and meeting their demands, you are likely to have more stress, depression and anxiety. Schedule an appointment with yourself, even if it’s just to take a quick walk around the block.
Finally, it might sound strange, but simply standing up straight can help reduce depression. At least, that’s according to a study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychology. Researchers found that maintaining good posture increases positive attitude, reduces fatigue and reduces self-focus in those with mild to moderate depression. So stand tall, and don’t slouch to improve your mood.
Again, mental health issues aren’t always something that can be overcome by habit changes, and they may require medical interventions and support. However, by addressing some bad habits, you can help avoid or reduce the issues that will affect your education, and be a happier, more productive and balanced student.