Right now, you are probably staring at your screen and trying to find the motivation to study for the finals that have been hanging over your head the past month. More than likely, you have two weeks or less of school to preoccupy your time before you retire into the seemingly endless stretch of being stuck at your parents’ house until February.
If you are anything like the college students I’ve spoken to over the last few weeks, you might be feeling concerned, anxious, stressed, or even depressed when thinking about how to navigate this time period. You might be contemplating how being at home with nothing to do will impact your mental health, motivation, and overall happiness.
I would be thinking the same thing if I were you. This is why I want to share five steps you can take right now to promote positive mental well-being, maintain motivation, and have fun while you wait to head back to campus.
1) You didn’t lose; you learned. You just wrapped up the most unusual fall semester in modern history filled with back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings. Maybe this virtual model was your thing and you flourished in the new “Zoom University.” Or maybe you struggled—every day felt the same, and eventually you lost motivation. As a result, your performance academically might not have been where it needed to be. For that reason, you might be feeling a little down or like you “failed” this semester.
Here’s the thing: you only failed, lost, or fell short if you let yourself look at it that way. Sure, your grades might not be as high as you anticipated, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Instead of chalking this semester up as a loss, mentally reframe it to look for the learned lessons. Wallowing in perceived failure is a road that leads nowhere. Learning lessons, however, leads to growth. So here are a few questions I want you to think about:
- What could I have done differently this semester?
- What do I wish I would’ve had more of? (Ex. more time with friends, more exercise, etc.)
- What club or organization do I wish I would’ve joined? (Ex. rush a fraternity/sorority)
- How do I wish I would have spent my time?
- How do I wish I wouldn’t have spent my time? (Ex. six hours a day of videogames)
- How can I improve my study habits?
- Which classes were interesting to me?
- Which classes were boring?
2) Meditation is medicine. Grades, pressure, family drama, COVID-19, financial instability, and the holidays might be causing you to feel higher levels of stress and anxiety. Firstly, understand that those feelings are okay and completely normal. You are a young adult, and you’re beginning to experience the stresses of daily life that we working stiffs have endured for years now. These emotions should be expected, but attempting to ignore them or deny their existence is detrimental to your mental well-being.
Instead, take positive action to combat these feelings through the simple act of meditation. I talk about this at length in another blog, but meditation is a science that gets replicable results every time you do it. The best part about meditation is that you don’t need to be an expert or practice for an exuberant amount of time. All you need is ten minutes a day and a guided meditation delivered to you by services like Headspace, Calm, or MyLife Meditation. You simply sit or lie down, press play, and attempt to focus on your breath.
Don’t expect to zone out or completely clear your mind of thoughts; it won’t happen at first. What you will likely notice after ten minutes is a deeper sense of calm and a reduction in stress and anxiety. Take some time over your holiday break to experiment with this. As someone who lives with daily anxiety, I can tell you confidently that meditation has changed my life drastically. It can change yours too.
3) Cultivate fun. While at home and in quarantine, fun is not going to magically fall into your lap. It is going to require that you have a plan. It doesn’t need to be super detailed, but you should take five to ten minutes and write down every activity that sounds fun to you. This might be going on a hike at a nearby nature preserve. It could be going sledding (weather permitting). Maybe it’s finding a local gym (or your old high school) and shooting hoops. Maybe you’re a movie buff and want to binge the Harry Potter series with a close friend. This might be when you finally make time to listen to an audio book.
Try to aim for five to ten fun activities you can do while you are home. Once you’ve created that list, assign a day to each activity. For example, plan a hike with your mom this upcoming Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. By putting a day and time on the event, you drastically increase the likelihood of following through with it.
4) Find a therapist now. We’ve all been through something in 2020. There is not a single person on Earth who hasn’t been impacted in some way. You are not the exception. The tough truth to accept is that the trials we go through—big or small—impact our moods, perspectives, habits, mindsets, and relationships. We often carry these traumas around unknowingly, but they continually trip us up throughout our lives.
Therapy and talking about our emotions help us release built-up tension, as well as develop new ways of thinking that serve us versus hurt us. This will be true for you as you navigate your college years and beyond. You can start your search at PsychologyToday.com by entering your zip code, filtering by male or female, and making a few calls to therapists in your area.
Therapy is an investment in yourself that offers massive returns. It can help you heal old wounds, give clarity where there is none, provide deeper insight into who you are as a person, help you set goals, and generally make you happier. Who doesn’t want to be happier?
5) Invest a little time in yourself. The best gift you could give yourself is self-education. Learning the habits and mindsets to live fruitfully will lead to success in your life relationally, financially, emotionally, and physically. A few reads to get you started are as follows:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (my favorite book)
- The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
The books I’ve mentioned are those I read in my early twenties that helped guide me to where I am today. They are just a few of the many personal development books that exist, so if this list doesn’t excite you, Google search “personal development books” and look through other options.
If you are tired of reading, you could also consider listening to unlimited podcasts, TED talks, or YouTube lectures on the topic of personal development. Eckhart Tolle, Abraham Hicks, Wayne Dyer are all good options to get started.
Recognize that struggling with stress, anxiety, and depression are challenges that many people face. If you are struggling with those emotions now, you can always read my book, You’re Not Alone, to help you get on the right track. From my personal experience, once my anxiety and depression were at a manageable level, I could be much more productive, happy, and successful in other areas of my life.
This winter break, give yourself what you need. Make sure to reframe your experience from the fall semester so you feel empowered going into next year. Gift yourself the habit of meditation, and read or listen to something that gives you tools for the future. Make sure you have some fun, too. Not everything needs to be school- or productivity-related all the time. Above all else, seek out therapy, so you can come back stronger than ever.