3 Ways College Impacts Students’ Mental Health

Picture this: you have been up all night studying for a Biology exam that is tomorrow at 9 a.m. After class you have to jet off to your internship all day before heading to your sorority philanthropy event later that evening. When did you have time to sleep? Have you been able to sit down and eat healthy meals throughout the day or were you grabbing a snack here and there? On a scale from 0-10, how high is your stress level right now?

Even as adults, it is hard to juggle work, family, friends and self-care. Which is why being a young adult in college is even more challenging. College students are new to the whole #adulting thing and for good reason– they literally just graduated high school, left their friends and family and are out on their own for the very first time. It is no wonder that their mental health can suffer during this pivotal time in their life. To dive deeper into some of the most common ways college can impact students’ mental health, I chatted with colleague, Kelsey Ryan who currently works at the University of Memphis. Here is what we came up with:

1. Lack of time management skills. Today, college students’ stress is at an all time high. They overload their schedules with classes, internships, part-time jobs to help pay for school, and join on-campus student organizations to beef up their resumes and meet new friends. This means their physical and mental wellness both take a huge hit. They fall into a vicious cycle of being so stressed that they do not get enough sleep, which then causes their grades to slip, which in return brings on even more stress and anxiety. They put so much pressure on themselves to succeed and juggle so many responsibilities, but lack the time and stress management skills to find a healthy balance in their lives.

2. Barriers to support and resources. What happens when things do get to a breaking point and they realize the stress, anxiety or depression is no longer manageable? Unfortunately, many college students are unsure of where to even begin to find the community resources available to them. Yes, colleges and universities offer individual and group counseling sessions at their counseling centers on campus. However, oftentimes they are booked out for several weeks and only offer a few sessions for free. Not to mention there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health and seeking support from a professional. The shame students feel about their mental health struggles often prevents them from reaching out for support when it first becomes a concern.

3. Searching for their identity in a new environment. College is a time for figuring out who you are and want to be as a person. College students get dropped off at their dorm and within minutes realize they have more independence than they know what to do with. This leads to experimenting with their values, morals, and beliefs. They may choose to engage in substance use or further explore their sexuality. For this reason, college students should look at their wellness from a holistic perspective. To remember that not only is their mental and physical health important, but all areas of their life including social, spirtual and even financial.

If you or a loved one is a college student struggling with mental health concerns such as overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression, here are a few ways to help navigate this challenging time:

  1. Learn and practice time management skills
  2. Implement stress management and healthy coping skills that do not involve drugs or alcohol
  3. Prioritize self-care and physical wellness such as sleep hygiene, exercise and healthy eating habits
  4. Maintain a healthy support system made up of friends and family
  5. Reach out to a mental health professional when extra support is needed

Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.

A Journey Towards Healing After Loss

Loss looks different for everyone and grieving a loss is as unique as our DNA. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Here in 2020, we are all collectively grieving so much– a sense of normalcy, routine, vacations, income, lives taken by COVID-19 and police brutality. For couples, their hopes and dreams of getting married this year have been taken away. For teens and young adults, they have lost their graduation ceremonies, proms and expectations for what college was supposed to look like. For others, they are dealing with their own personal losses on top of what is going on in the world: death of a pet or loved one, divorce, miscarriage, and cancelled IVF cycles.

When there is already so much loss and grief in the world, it is easy to compare your own grief to that of others. To feel like your grief is not as big or important. But grief and loss are not a competition. Your grief is just as valid as someone else’s. So how do we embark on this journey to healing when the world is such a dark and heavy place?

It is important to note that I say journey because there is not an end goal or destination when it comes to grief. Most often, individuals learn how to carry their grief with them every day. It does not simply go away. Loss is something you learn to live with. As Glennon Doyle says in her book Untamed, “Grief is a cocoon from which we emerge new.” Therefore the healing journey must be one that helps you not only pick up the pieces, but accept that they will look completely different than they did before.

Support and Communication– Having a support system and communicating with them is key when grieving– because trust me, it is easy to feel like you are all alone on grief island. You really cannot have support without communication when it comes to grief. While your loved ones may want to be there for you, they might not know how. They are not mind-readers nor should you expect them to be. It is up to you to communicate your needs to them so they understand how to be of support. Because grief changes you, be prepared for relationships and friendships to also be forever changed after a loss. Some days you may need your space and some days you may want to talk for hours. Both are okay, but important times when you need to set boundaries and express your needs. You may also need a higher level of support than your friends and family can give you. In that case, find a local or online support group to connect with others who are grieving a similar loss or reach out to a therapist.

Reading– Books, articles, blogs and even others’ social media posts can help normalize what you are going through. If reading is not your thing, try listening to a podcast instead (I highly recommend Brené Brown’s podcast with David Kessler on Grief and Finding Meaning). Not only will you feel empowered from learning new information, but you will also feel less alone and isolated. Reading and listening to others’ stories may give you some practical tools for healing. It might even help you see that life will not stay this dark forever, even though it feels like it will.

Journaling– I do not mean your 5th grade diary kind of journaling. Sometimes journaling means writing in all caps how angry at the world you are. Sometimes it means writing down every adjective and emotion you are feeling. Sometimes it is writing a letter to the loved one you lost to feel more connected to them. No matter how you choose to journal, the important thing is that you get your feelings out. By writing out how you feel on paper, you can better process your thoughts and emotions. You may even feel less consumed by them.

Physical activity– Stress, grief, trauma and emotions all manifest in different parts of our bodies. Whether it is our neck, lower back, shoulders, hips, chest or abdomen, our body is always trying to tell us something about how we feel physically and emotionally. That is why it is so important to incorporate some form of physical movement into your day– to move around the stagnant energy in your body. I get it, when we are grieving we often do not feel like leaving the bed all day. Sometimes doing a few gentle stretches can make all the difference in the word. While I always recommend yoga, I know grief can make it almost impossible to want to connect with our body. This is especially true if the grief is related to a trauma or pregnancy loss. Take it slow, be gentle with yourself and do not set too high of expectations. If one day, you are not in the mood for yoga and you feel anger pulsing through your veins, go for a run instead. Get out the physical tension and energy building up in your body however feels right for you in the moment.

Feel your feelings– I saw an Instagram post recently that put this perfectly, “you can’t heal what you do not let yourself feel”. Maybe it is journaling, maybe it is screaming into a pillow or letting yourself cry. Feelings are for feeling and just like our bodies, they are trying to tell us important information. Don’t get me wrong, it is utterly uncomfortable to sit with emotions like anger, hurt, pain and grief. But without these difficult emotions, there would be no happiness and joy either. And just because you feel pain or grief, does not mean that you can’t also feel joy or peace.

If you find yourself grieving today, I challenge you to sit with your feelings for a few moments. Allow yourself to feel whatever your feeling. Breathe into them. Perhaps even meditate on them. Name the emotion. Acknowledge and accept that is how you are feeling– without judgement. Then show yourself some compassion because you are human. Suffering is a part of being human.

Lastly, remember that you are not alone.

— Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem. She offers individual therapy, virtual therapy and therapeutic yoga through her practice, Empowered Wellness.

How To Find A Therapist During COVID-19

Maybe you are stressed about finances, your job, or simply finding tiolet paper and necessities. Maybe you are barely keeping it together, balancing working from home and home schooling your children. Maybe you were already anxious and this health crisis has only heightened your symptoms and constant worry. Perhaps you already struggle with feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression and #socialdistancing has increased those emotions for you.

No matter what you may be feeling right now– your feelings are valid and you are not alone. This is no time to put your mental health on the backburner. You might have read endless articles and posts about how to practice self-care at home while you are quarantined. You already know where to find yoga videos, what apps to use for guided meditations, how to keep up your hygeine, get enough sleep and fresh air, as well as limit your intake of news and social media. What happens when that is not enough though? When you are feeling like you need extra support to get through this unbearably challenging time? You are probably wondering how to go about finding a therapist, let alone the right therapist who is offering telehealth sessions. So let’s chat about some places you might go to find support to make sure you and your mental health come out of COVID-19 not only surviving but thriving:

  1. Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a non-profit directory of therapists that offer sliding scale rates to clients who lack health insurance or whose health insurance doesn’t provide adequate mental health benefits. Therapists listed on their website offer sessions ranging between $30 and $60 (between $30 and $80 for couples and family sessions). This is in comparison to current market rates of $80- $200 per session for self-pay therapy. After searching the directory and finding a therapist you feel is a good fit, you simply pay a lifetime membership of $59 in order to receive the discounted rates.
  2. BetterHelp deems themselves the world’s largest network of online licensed therapists. Whether you are an individual adult, couple or parent looking for counseling for your teen, you can search and be matched with a licensed therapist in your state. BetterHelp online therapists can support clients with a wide range of mental health concerns including stress, depression, anxiety, relationship issues, grief and more. You can also choose how you communicate with your therapist– either through messaging, live phone, video or chat sessions. Per their website, the cost of counseling through BetterHelp ranges from $40 to $70 per week (billed monthly).
  3. Other therapist directories such as Psychology Today, GoodTherapy and Therapy Den all lists licensed and pre-licensed therapists who offer both online and in-person sessions. To find the right therapist for you, you can filter your search by location, specialty, gender, cost or insurance, and of course whether or not they offer telehealth sessions. Most therapists offer free phone consultations so you can chat with them to make sure you are a good fit before scheduling a session.

The bottomline? Don’t let COVID-19 be another barrier to reaching out for support. As cliche as it sounds, it is okay to not be okay. Make your mental health a priority– you deserve it!

  • Amanda Schofield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida offering telehealth therapy. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.