If you're feeling isolated, anxious, alone, despressed, or any combo of the above, you're not alone. A November 2020 survey (pdf) of university students in the United States shows has found nearly half of students between 18 and 24 showed signs of moderate depression. If you're not feeling the pandemic pinch, chances are good someone you know is.
You probably know the signs: fatigue, low motivation, too much sleep (or not enough!), low self-esteem, and even thoughts of self-harm all come with the territory.
So what can you (and your loved ones) do about it? Here are three proven methods for managing good mental health, even in tough circumstances. Don't choose just one and run with it, though: all three together will help more than any one or two in isolation. You've faced a lot of tough challenges in 2020, and there are more to come, so don't sell yourself short. You can do this!
1. Get moving
Not to a new town, though maybe you could try that, too. No, we mean good old-fashioned exercise. Sweat dripping, heart pumping, limbs flailing: the works.
Well, kind of. You don't need to train for a marathon or do 1,000 pushups. Recent research suggests you need about a half hour of exercise a day, totalling 3 hours per week. That means you can do a 30 minutes each day and still take a day off once a week.
Your exercise could mean strolling around the block, hopping on a stationary bike, or pumping barbells while watching YouTube. Even if you've got issues with mobility, you there's lots of exercises you can do. You'll just have to get creative!
The key is building a routine out of your workouts. Morning jogs are great, or you could take an evening stroll after dinner. Heck, do a few jumping jacks on your lunch break. Both your body and mind will thank you.
If you don't feel you can manage a whole half hour a day, don't worry. Even 5 minutes will help break up your day and perk up your brain with those sweet endorphins that mean so much to our mood and outlook. Start small and build up.
Check out this 30 minute beginner's exercise routine for inspiration on getting started!
2. You're getting very, very sleepy...
Sleep's key. You probably know that already. Getting around 8 hours a night is a rule of thumb; different people need different amounts, and that amount varies across an individual's life.
But did you know that teenagers actually need more than the recommended 8 hours? Johns Hopkins suggests teenagers should get 9 to 9.5 hours a night! How's that for luxurious?
Still, getting that big 9 hours in the first place is only half the battle. For maximum health — mental and otherwise — you should try to keep your sleep schedule consistent. That means no 6 am wake-ups during the week and sleeping til noon on weekends. Your body needs time to adjust to these swings, so sticking with a schedule that works every day (more or less) is your best bet.
Your circadian rhythm might be out of whack for any number of reasons — excessive screen time being a major culprit. If you're a chronic sleep-inner, you may be missing out on crucial early morning sunshine, which helps regulate your energy levels throughout the day, including making you sleepy at night.
You could also try one of life's great pleasures: the humble afternoon nap. Catching a 30 to 45 minute snooze before dinner is not only a delight, but it's better for you than sleeping late into the morning.
3. Talk to a pro
If you need help, seek it out, social stigma be damned. More than ever, our society is becoming more comfortable discussing the need for mental health supports, meaning trained professionals are more available than ever to help you in whatever ways you might need.
Many people could benefit from having a sympathetic, non-judgemental ear to bend now and then. This will be the toughest of these three tips, as many resources are stretched thin during the pandemic. Plus, if you've never spoken with a therapist or counsellor, you might find it awkward and uncomfortable at first. Still, if you give it a shot, you may find some relief.
Most colleges and universities in Canada offer mental health support as part of their offices for student success. This may include an on-campus (or on-Zoom) professional you can book time with, or perhaps a subscription to an online service.
If you're not sure what services your school offers, or if you're not able to access them for whatever reason, check out eMentalHealth.ca, a Canada-wide database of helpful resources and connections, both online and in your area. Or maybe you'd prefer something more non-traditional, like Big White Wall, which connects you with a like-minded community for support. The LifeLine Canada Foundation has a list of paid and free resources across Canada.
Even if you're skeptical of therapy, counselling, or "self-help" in general, you may want to let your guard down and give it a shot. It's not a miracle cure, but talking to someone can really help your perspective and improve your mental health.
If you can't manage all three strategies at once, no worries. Any movement in the right direction is progress. Getting out of the house for a walk, taking a short nap, or texting with a mental health pro: each of these little steps can add up to big changes in your life.
Of course, you've got to want it! Motivation can be a big problem for those suffering depressive symptoms. If this list is overwhelming, start small. Your mental health is important, and your suffering matters. You don't have to take loneliness or depression as given, even during a global pandemic. Take your time, and be kind to yourself.
Your happiness matters. YOU matter!
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