Three words guaranteed to get a reaction: “back to school”.
They can lead to groans of dread, shrugs of indifference, smiles of excitement, or any combination thereof. We at CMHA had the pleasure to attend this week’s orientation at Sheridan College and heard a wide range of feelings from new students about the kick-off of classes next week. They were there to get their student cards, sign up for meal plans, and buy that all-important logo sweatshirt to show their school spirit, but when we asked “What are you planning to do for your mental health?”, we were often met with blank stares.
When September hits, good habits for mental wellness are as important as new pens and notebooks.
But mental health often doesn’t get attention until a student is really struggling and having trouble keeping up with classes, assignments, and other parts of daily life. So here are just a few self-care tips for those heading back to post-secondary class:
Look at your class timetable and figure out how you can balance your time between classes, homework, hobbies, and whatever else you have on your plate. Make a schedule that works for you and then adjust based on what’s working and what isn’t. If you just “wait and see how it goes”, you may be overwhelmed before you realize it.
Be extra diligent about self-care
Self-care is always important and even more so when you’re going through a change like a new school year. Get enough sleep, strive for a healthy diet, limit substance use, and make sure you are carving out time for whatever is important you, such as reading, meditating, running, or just having some chill time to yourself. Don’t overwhelm yourself with commitments at the beginning of the year – give yourself some time to ease into a new routine before taking on too much.
Keep your good supports and seek out new ones
Stay in touch with friends and supports that build you up and encourage you. You might not see them as much if you’re going away to school, but they are worth the effort. And take the time to find out what help is available at your school and in the community – don’t wait until you are struggling to find out where you can go for support.
Be reasonable and move forward
News flash – you won’t get an A on every test and assignment. And while it may be disappointing, it’s part of the learning process. Take what lessons you can from times you think you performed below par and focus on how you can improve rather than beating yourself up. Talk to teachers, professors, other students, or school supports as you need to. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and worry and they are getting in the way of your regular activities, it may be a sign that you could use some support from a counsellor or other professional to cope better.
And how about parents with kids hitting the classroom next week? Here are some ideas for supporting your students’ mental health and wellness:
Whether your kids are away at school or at home with you, try setting a regular time to talk, like a Sunday night phone call or Saturday afternoon walk. They may count on that carved out time to get support and cope if they are struggling. Value when your kids talk to you, even if it’s about problems – they obviously trust you if they are confiding in you – but if they’re not comfortable opening up to you, you can help them find someone else to talk to.
Validate and encourage
It can be tempting to dismiss problems that may seem trivial, but focus on your kids’ feelings and not just the content of the stories. A quiz may not seem like a big deal to you, but if your child is worried about it, talk about that worry. It will hopefully help him or her to work through the feelings and cope in positive ways now and in the future.
Fight the urge to solve
We all sometimes want to jump in with “you have to do this” when we think we know the solution to a challenge. But resist and support your kids to find their own solutions. Questions like “What do you think would help?”, “What have you tried and how did it work?”, and “What do you think might happen if you talked to your professor about this?” will be more empowering and encourage them to consider responses and potential outcomes that will help them build problem-solving skills.
If you are looking for more support for your or your kids’ mental health, talk to your family doctor or contact us at CMHA.
And enjoy the year!