If you’re short on time, consider joining an intramural team, club sport, or group fitness class on campus. “This will give you an opportunity to connect with people and get regular exercise,” explains Dr. Adams. Think of it as a two-for-one deal for your mental and physical health. You may even want to look into exercise classes that will earn you credits. For example, Boston University offers everything from beginner weight lifting to marathon training so students can fit workouts into their class schedules.
3. Don’t be tempted to pull all-nighters.
This is admittedly easier said than done, especially during busy times like finals week. But when it comes to nurturing your mental health, prioritizing sleep is critical. “Our brains need sleep to learn, process emotions, make sense of difficult experiences, and interpret subtle signs from other people about how they’re feeling, which is important for relationships,” explains Dr. Adams. Ideally, you should try to aim for a minimum of seven hours of solid shuteye per night (we know, a tall order!)
Dr. Adams recommends building your schedule around sleep, balanced eating, and classes first. “Other healthy activities can be tucked in around academic work and other obligations,” she adds. That means doing your best to plan ahead for big exams and papers, not waiting until the last minute to cram overnight.
If you have roommates, Dr. Adams suggests having a chat about everyone’s schedules and establishing ground rules that protect late-night hours in your home. (For example, no loud music after 10 p.m.) While you’re at it, consider picking up some earplugs, wearing a sleep mask if needed, or listening to some form of white noise to help you get a good night’s sleep on the regular, says Dr. Adams.
4. Find a self-care habit that you love.
Self-care looks different for everyone, so there’s no right or wrong way to practice it. In fact, the strategies on this list—like exercise and getting enough sleep—totally count as forms of self-care. Other calming habits like journaling, meditating, crafting, reading, or even enjoying face masks with your roommates during a movie night can qualify as taking care of yourself.
Regardless of how you choose to engage in self-care, know that it doesn’t need to be a picture-perfect practice. Start by slowly weaving a habit into your routine (say, about 10 minutes a day or 30 minutes a week), then note how you feel and decide if you want to adjust the time you spend on those activities.
Even then, this will likely ebb and flow throughout the year, and that’s okay. “It’s important to be gentle with yourself,” says Dr. Adams. “If you miss your workout or meditation time today, you can pick it up tomorrow. Be intentional, experiment, and find what works for you.”
5. Know that it’s okay to reach out for support.
A major college perk is that you have all kinds of mental health resources at your fingertips. But knowing that these services are available to you and actually reaching out for help are two different things. Sometimes, it can be hard to see or admit to yourself that you’re actually grappling with a really tough problem. There are a number of ways that mental health issues can crop up for college students, including homesickness, peer pressure, and financial stressors, as well as traumatic events like sexual assault or potentially life-threatening mental health crises like eating disorders or suicidal thoughts, says Dr. Weller.