Remember the last time you had to give a presentation in front of your class? Before the teacher called your name, your heart was thumping, palms were sweaty, knees weak and arms were heavy. Thankfully, those feelings of fear suddenly transformed into ones of confidence and relief after giving your speech. But imagine if that stress and anxiety you faced before presenting never went away? What if you went about months or years living with this unwarranted fear weighing down on your shoulders? It would be a miserable life.
Given the chaos of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and an uncertain future, that is the position many of us are vulnerable to fall into if we fail to nurture a healthy mind during this time of turmoil. Especially if, like me, you're a student going back to school. Many of us have been in a rather negative headspace that isn’t 100% prepared nor motivated to return. To expect students to have the self-motivation to learn in an environment other than a classroom, simultaneously with society's woes, is quite a lot to ask. Hence, it's crucial as students to take care of our mental health as we adapt to the new demands of the pandemic life.
Being a full-time college student, implementing self-care habits has been imperative for my ability to balance the demands of school with the demands of my mental well-being. Thus, I have two practices I would like to share that have tremendously helped me to stay optimistic as we adjust to the new conditions of our schools and society.
One of those practices that have helped me find serenity amidst the uproar is to take social media detoxes. Regardless if it’s Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, your social media feed likely features global or national news, which is often on the bleak side of the spectrum these days. While it's important to stay informed, there comes a point where our consumption becomes too overwhelming to handle.
Clinical psychologist, Dr. Amelia Aldao, described how “Our minds are wired to look out for threats…The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get.” Our perception is reality, so if we’re always ingesting news that makes us sick to our stomachs, we’ll tend to view our world under the same pessimistic lens. This is when taking a social media detox becomes handy.
Temporarily stepping away from social media has done wonders for my mental health and may for you too. Deactivating for a few weeks has brought me clarity and a sense of freedom knowing that my livelihood and happiness aren't reliant upon an app. You'd be surprised at how liberating it feels to allow the mind to take a breath after exhausting it with constant scrolling.
Despite being away from social media, this hiatus doesn’t mean that you have to live under a rock. Other forms of news include podcasts and email digests, such as NPR’s Newsletters, which can update us weekly rather than on a frequent impulse.
Nevertheless, stepping away from social media can revitalize the mind and give it time to heal from the subconscious wounds that overconsumption inflicts. A happy mind is a healthy mind, so briefly deactivating from social media doesn’t mean that you’re turning a blind eye to reality; it means that you’re reconnecting with yourself so that you’re better prepared to connect with the world.
Another practice I use to nurture a healthy mind is to direct my negative energy into positive actions. Although everybody faces stress, not everyone knows how to use it to their advantage. Instead of being the driver who steers the wheel, sometimes our reactions to stress buckle us down into the passenger seat of our emotions. Behaviors such as binge-eating, lying in bed all day, or gluing our eyes to the phone screen in hopes that a notification will cheer us up are a few unhealthy coping mechanisms. Understandably, we will have lousy days when it feels like we have no other choice but to be victims of our emotions.
Fortunately, there is a more enriching way to overcome these emotional humps. Actively coping with our stresses can give us control when we feel handcuffed to our circumstances.
Whether you have discovered it or not, everyone has an outlet to express their emotions healthily. For me, this means writing poetry or skating while listening to music. It has been a lot more productive than bumming out on my bed wondering if I could sleep away all of my worries. It has been much more forgiving than throwing temper tantrums towards the people I love. For you, it may be hitting the gym, drawing, FaceTiming a friend, going out for a hike, or doing a good deed for someone else.
Although I cannot define what your ideal outlet for channelling negative energy looks like, realize that any method capable of diverting your distress into positive action is worth exploring. Overall, putting ourselves in front of the steering wheel, rather than our emotions, is a critical step in making us feel powerful when we feel powerless.
Finding the willpower to stay on top of our academic responsibilities is already stressful enough as students. Unfortunately, our mental health is as vulnerable as ever to the unwarranted hardships that have resulted from a global pandemic and the injustices that have transpired this year alone. Living under such dire conditions characterized by fear and trauma, we should always support our mental health when our circumstances fail to support us. We have the power to take control of our reactions when everything seems to be falling apart.