By Angela Cataldo, Student at Clemson University and BodiMojo Blog Contributor
Many college students worry about the dreaded “Freshman 15” – packing on extra weight due to subpar dining hall choices and the newfound freedom to fill your dorm room with as many snacks as you desire. But what about the weight on our shoulders?
College can be an extremely stressful time. For freshmen, stress could be a result of adjusting to a new environment, tackling a new lifestyle, or missing home. For older students, stress may come from heavier workloads, maintaining a busy schedule, applying to graduate or professional school, or searching for post-graduation jobs. College is about growing up as an individual and determining your professional goals; with so much pressure, there is no doubt that your mental health needs a little extra TLC!
The ability to cope with the stressors associated with the college lifestyle is important for maintaining mental health. The good news is there are plenty of strategies that have been proven to boost happiness and reduce stress. Here we explore three studies and what they mean for your mental health:
Dive into deeper conversation
In a 2009 study, Mehl, Vazire, Holleran, and Clark found that higher levels of well-being were associated with spending less time alone and more time talking to others. Furthermore, higher well-being was associated with having less small talk and engaging in more meaningful conversations. Through administering a Big Five personality test, researchers found that participants with similar personalities were happier if they had more frequent and more purposeful exchanges with others. The quality and quantity of conversations had more of an effect on happiness and well-being than personality did. Overall, their results demonstrated that a happy individual is more social than solitary. Although this study did not claim to prove causation, it did present the possibility that facilitating rich conversations can increase happiness.
Instead of just asking your roommate, “How are you?” or “What’s up?” try asking them, “What was your favorite part of today?” or “How did you feel about that exam?” Provoking more personal discussions can help build connections with those close to you, which can be a mutually beneficial experience. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Get moving (and bring your friends)
VanKim and Nelson found that college students who exercised were less likely to report poor mental health and perceived stress than students who did not meet stay active. Additionally, socializing partially mediated the relationship between vigorous physical activity, mental health, and perceived stress. The authors concluded that at least some of the positive benefits of physical activity might arise from social interactions. They also suggested that mental health or stress management interventions of college students should consider both a physical activity component and a social component.
If you have an upcoming exam or assignment that is causing you stress, consider taking a study break to exercise! Getting some fresh air on a run, joining a club sports team, or signing up for a workout class with your friends are all accessible and effective ways to care for your mental health this semester.
Canto, Hanley, and Garland conducted a study on how mindfulness and positive reappraisal could predict how students felt about their academic abilities following failure. They suggested that students would be better at bouncing back from academic challenges if they could cope using mindfulness. Over 200 college students reported their natural level of mindfulness, took a test which generated the result of failure to them, and then they reported on their sense of academic ability. According to their results, more mindful students were able to easily pass over minor setbacks and maintain self-confidence. Researchers believe this is because mindful individuals engage in more positive reappraisal, finding meaning and benefit in the setbacks of daily life. In the study, mindful participants thought of themselves as more successful after failing than the less mindful participants.
So next time you get a less-than-ideal grade on an exam or assignment, you can decide to view it as a learning experience instead of allowing it to doubt your academic abilities. You are still a successful and intelligent student – now you’ve just learned which study methods work best for you, and you know what your professor expects of you for next time!
Although there are many potential stressors in the life of a college student, you have control over your mental health. There are plenty of techniques and strategies that will help you boost your happiness and reduce your stress, including having meaningful conversations, working out, spending time with peers and friends, and practicing mindfulness. Just remember, you don’t always have control over what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it
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