Mental Health Tips for Back to School

Whether you are entering another year of high school, starting college for the first time, or returning to college for another year, the school year can be a great time to work on your mental health. Being in school is a challenging environment for anyone mentally and for those with underlying mental illness, it can be downright overwhelming. 

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Opportunity for Growth 

Challenges and changes, while daunting, can be a great time for personal growth. Equipped with the right tips and tools you can succeed, and come out better for having experienced and overcome tough times. This is the opportunity to learn more about yourself, discover your personal strengths, and prove to yourself just how strong and capable you are. 

Here are a few mental health tips to keep in mind as you enter another year:

1.) Changes often trigger mental health challenges — And, that is ok. Changes in routine and environment can awaken past mental health struggles or bring to light mental illness that you didn’t know you had. You don’t have to put on a fake happy face and muscle through these times, in fact that could do more harm than good. Instead of pushing things down and hiding your struggles, talk about them. Visit the school counseling office, open up to trusted family or friends, and find healthy outlets like exercising, writing, crafting, etc. 

Keep Health In Check

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2.) Don’t slack on your health — When we change up our routines or schedules oftentimes sleep or eating habits get thrown to the side. We lose track of what matters to keep us feeling our best and the result just compounds the stress we already feel. If you aren’t getting enough sleep then you aren’t going to be able to recognize and manage emotions as well as you are when you are well-rested. And, we all know how it feels after a few days of eating fried fatty foods or drinking too much alcohol. Keep your health a top priority so you can keep your mental wellbeing in check. 

3.) Recognize coping mechanisms — How are you coping when you are stressed? Ask yourself that question and recognize your habits. Are you turning to drinking or drugs at times of distress? Or, are you calling a friend or exercising? Are you shutting down, ignoring feelings and refusing to face your reality? Are you zoning out to TV or video games? Or, are you writing down your struggles, or taking yourself for a walk to think things through? If you are coping in unhealthy ways, now is the time to stop. Make the change to healthy coping so that you can combat mental struggles rather than add to them. A licensed professional counselor can help offer some suggestions.

Lean on Others

4.) Have a plan — If you already know that you have a mental health disorder then come up with a plan. Work with your doctor and your family to determine a plan of action. Know the support systems available at your school so you can turn to them if you feel overwhelmed or lost. Schedule weekly check-ins with family or friends (at least for the first few months) to keep things in check. Even if you have nothing to talk about, at least you are making contact with those who can help. Try to normalize yourself rather than isolate yourself. Having a mental health disorder is not something you need to be ashamed of. 

lean on others

5.) Understand it is ok to make mistakes — You won’t be perfect right out of the gate. You might be late for some classes. You might screw up the time of a course or register for the wrong one. You might miss an assignment. These things don’t need to break you. These moments will allow you to grow and learn more about yourself. Cut yourself some slack and don’t aim for perfection. Allow yourself to be human. 

Enjoy the Time

School is a great time to learn more about who you are, what drives you, what your passions are, what your strengths are, and your weaknesses. It is a great time to learn how to get through the stress and focus on the positive. It can be a wonderful time in your life (if you let it). 

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Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the owner of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice in Salunga (East Hempfield), PA. She loves helping clients find practical solutions to improve their lives and her therapy is cooking. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.