3 Ways for Students to Take Care of Their Mental Health

A Career Peer Educator shares some strategies for navigating the workload during the final month of winter semester (and beyond).

As finals mount and some students prepare for graduation, feelings of being overwhelmed and burned out are common. As part of my series as a Career Peer Educator with the Career Centre, this month I am bringing you advice on how to take care of your mental health during this challenging time of year.

Tip 1: Take your sleep habits seriously

There’s an age-old joke among students that everyone wants enough sleep, good grades, and a vibrant social life, but you can only pick two. Since GPA is important for grad school and scholarship applications, and our friendships help keep us sane, many students choose to deprive themselves of sleep. But these issues aren’t as disconnected as they seem: getting a good night’s sleep is important for both academic performance and social communication, so choosing to pull an all-nighter might not boost your test scores as much as you might like.

To sleep better at night, there are a few easy steps you can take. The first step is to look at your current sleep schedule and honestly evaluate how consistent it is. Do you wake up at the same time each morning, regardless of how late you got to sleep the night before? Do you have a nightly routine that helps get you relaxed? Do you turn off the lights at the same time each night? If the answer to any of these questions is no, this is where you can start to make adjustments. Try to wake up at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time every night. It will take practice but establishing a routine is crucial for quality sleep.

Another important step to take is avoiding working from your bed as much as possible. In the age of doing everything from home, it’s more tempting than ever to just stay in bed all day. But this can weaken your mental association between your bedroom and sleep and lead your brain to instead associate your bed with stressful things like term papers. Your bed should be a place of relaxation and escaping from the world so make sure it stays that way by not using it as a desk.

Tip 2: Engage with the outside world

When you’re in the midst of studying for finals, it can be easy to forget the world beyond the pages of your textbook. But remembering to engage with the outside world is more important than ever. Here are a few ways to step back and take a break.

My personal favorite way to escape from it all is to literally take a step back and go for a walk. Walking is weight-bearing exercise (since you carry your own body weight wherever you go) and has a number of health benefits, including increased heart and lung fitness. You don’t have to go for a massive hike to see these benefits, either: even 30 minutes a day can help. If you’re not sure where to go, many cities (including Edmonton) have maps of local walking trails you can access online.

Doing a low-stress hobby is also useful for many people. Baking, making crafts, and reading are all great ways to stop and take a breather. While watching Youtube videos or scrolling through Tiktok are perfectly fine ways to pass time, it can be hard to resist the temptation to open up an assignment or check eClass when you’re on your computer. Stepping away from technology altogether can help you de-stress if taking breaks from your work is something you struggle with.

Finally, reaching out to mental health supports is always an option. The University of Alberta has a number of resources for students, which you can find a list of here. We all need help sometimes, and there’s no shame in asking.

Tip 3: Be compassionate with yourself

Most of us know that having compassion for others is important, especially during times of stress. However, an equally important but less often discussed aspect of compassion is self-compassion, or having compassion for oneself. It involves acting the same way towards yourself that you would act towards a friend or family member who made a mistake or is going through a difficult time, and it is crucial for dealing with mistakes.

Self-compassion is ultimately meant to reduce negative emotions and help you handle stress. This does not mean, fighting or suppressing emotions like guilt or frustration, because generally that will not be helpful to you in the long run. If your current situation is a painful one, accept that as the truth. Acknowledging your difficult feelings can make them easier to handle. It’s also okay to take it slow. If you’re used to beating yourself up over missteps, you won’t learn to be totally self-compassionate in a day. Be patient, and keep working at it.

It’s important to remember that self-compassion is rooted in a belief that all people deserve compassion and understanding no matter what. Regardless of how you perform on academic exams or in job interviews, show yourself the same kindness you would show others.

University is a source of stress for many of us, especially during finals season. These tips can help you get through April with a little more ease, and you may even find them useful afterwards as well.

This article concludes this series on working and learning from home. I’ve had a great time writing these four articles, and I hope you got something out of reading them! Have a great summer!