Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Succeeding in school as a student and in the “school of life” requires mental fortitude as you face and deal with challenges on the regular. Mental fortitude is not something that we’re born
with but rather develop and sustain through our daily habits and practices.
In our previous blog, we discussed some of the fundamental aspects for improving physical wellness and well-being (if you missed it, you can check it out here). In part two of this
three-part series, we’ll discuss important activities, strategies, and tips for keeping your mental
health in check to deal with your everyday challenges as a student.
#1 - Foster connection and communication
Our brains have evolved to mature and prosper through social interactions. In fact, socializing
triggers something fundamental at the biological level that makes us feel human. Not only
does socializing open our minds to alternative perspectives, it helps us to deal with negative
emotions and difficult situations in life, such as the loss of a loved one or failing a test. As such,
a lack of socializing is unnatural and has been shown to exacerbate feelings of loneliness,
anxiety, and depression.
Now that you know that socialization is an essential aspect of human nature, spare some time throughout the week to reach out to your friends, physically-distant family, teachers, mentors, or anyone else in your network. Keep in mind that balance is key, so this is not a free pass to spend all your time on Instagram and Tik Tok! For advice on how to balance your time on social media, check out these tips. For more information about finding a balance, keep reading below.
Engage in a community
Your brain seeks comfort in familiarity and will naturally feel satisfied by engaging with similarly-minded people. In fact, sharing common values and interests with others is a powerful source of human connection that provides us with a sense of belonging. It fosters social bonding by providing a basis for us to form new relationships and strengthen existing ones. On the other hand, a lack of community engagement can make us feel isolated, unsupported, and like we’re the only ones who experience certain challenges.
Whatever your values, interests, or challenges are, you can always find others with a similar
perspective. Especially in today’s digital age, it’s incredibly easy to find local and international
communities online. So, if you’re not already part of a community (or communities), NOW is a great time to join one.
Ask for support
Over the course of evolutionary history, humans have thrived because of our ability to cooperate with one another and achieve bigger goals than any one individual could on their own. Exercising this ability, which is orchestrated by none other than our brains, is inherently pleasurable and desirable. That’s why you'll find that your teachers, family, and friends are usually happy to support you, and why you should never shy away from asking for help when you need it.
Forming a support network and communicating with these people regularly is a crucial part of keeping your mental health is in check. This type of interaction ties in closely with socializing and community engagement, except it’s more personalized and is focused on your challenges. The most obvious people to include in your support network are often your family, friends, and teachers. However, it's also important to find a mentor who can nurture your aspirations, understand your challenges, and help you along your journey.
#2 - Find a balance
One of the most common challenges for students is finding a balance between school and
other aspects of life. A balanced life is not only paramount for maintaining your sanity (imagine only doing things that you don’t enjoy day in and out!), but also for achieving sustainability in your schooling, personal life, and future career. Your brain is very demanding and requires that all of its components are satisfied to function properly. Therefore, finding a balance is the way to prime your brain for achieving long-term goals and success.
A “balanced life” is by no means clearly defined and will vary from person to person. That’s why it’s up to YOU to determine what a “balanced life” means to you. Although they don’t necessarily teach methods for finding a balance in school, there are strategies that can help. For example, “the wheel of life” is an exercise that requires you to list all the different aspects of your life to which you dedicate time. This could include school, family time, socializing, leisure, etc. You’ll then list all the activities involved for each aspect (so, for school, you could list attending class, completing homework, studying for exams, etc.). This is a powerful tool because it allows you to visualize where you spend your time. You can then ask yourself questions such as: where do I spend most of my time? What do I like about my current life balance? What do I wish was different? What are some changes I can make over time?
Keep in mind that your life balance will change over time, depending on your values and
circumstances. For example, you may have started university and realized that your passion for
activism has grown. Therefore, you’re likely to change your time commitments elsewhere to dedicate more time to activism. It’s worthwhile to periodically perform this exercise to re-evaluate your balance, especially as your values and circumstances change.
#3 - Self-care
You can't pour from an empty cup
You need to be physically and mentally sustained to lead a life worth living and to give back to the world. After all, you can’t give (to yourself or others) if you have nothing left to give! Self-care is the proactive approach of improving the quality of your life by catering to your physical and mental health through regular practices and good habits.
We’ve already discussed the benefits of regular exercise, a good diet, and a consistent sleep
schedule – the trifecta of self-care - and how they affect the brain in our previous post. These
aspects should constitute the foundation of self-care for any student intending to improve their overall and long-term well-being. Slip-ups here and there are normal, but what’s important is to have consistency in your self-care practices and make them the norm to ensure that they’re the
dominant force influencing your health.
Writing your self-care practices down on paper is a great way to acknowledge your commitment to them. To hold yourself accountable, try sharing your personal commitments with someone you trust and who cares about you.
This is crucial for any student that’s feeling stressed, anxious, or experiencing an overactive mind. Why? Because breathing is one of those unique functions in the body that can be regulated
both autonomously (i.e. without you thinking about it, such as when you’re sprinting) or voluntarily. When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, like during a test, your sympathetic nervous system gets activated and induces “fight or flight” mode. This causes you to react in multiple ways, including an increased heart rate, sweating, and breathing. Fortunately for us, we can control our breath and counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system by consciously turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest and digest” mode. In that sense, breathing is a switch between the “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” modes of our nervous system!
Take advantage of this body and brain hack, since you can execute it anywhere you are. Simply
take a deep breath for 4 seconds (one….two….three…four…) and exhale for 4 seconds
(one….two….three…four…). Repeat this multiple times for 2 minutes and notice the effect it
has on your body and mind.
Note: Closing your eyes helps tremendously. Since most of our brain’s activity is dedicated to
processing visual information, shutting that activity down temporarily can go a long way towards calming your mind.
Do you see the glass half-empty or half-full? Most of us are familiar with this powerful proverb that describes how your mindset significantly affects the way you see the world and, consequently, how you act. It’s normal to experience both positive and negative thoughts and emotions throughout the day. This is beyond our control; it's just your brain trying to make sense of the world. However, the way we react to those thoughts and emotions will strongly influence the quality of our experiences.
By shifting your attention to focus more on the positives and hold on less to the negatives, you will start to acquire an “abundance mindset” that will improve the experiences you’re having,
regardless of what they are. Similar to any other skill, acquiring an abundance mindset is not
inherited, but rather developed through practice. A powerful method you can start applying today
to promote an abundance mindset is writing in a gratitude journal. Basically, at the start or
end of each day, write down three things that you’re grateful for. Simple! For more tips on
self-care and fostering a positive outlook in life as a student, check out the November issue of the Go2Grad Newsletter (coming soon!).
It’s the consistent actions that you take on a regular basis which will determine your overall state of wellness and well-being. Your mental state right now was already determined days, weeks, or even months ago based on your habits. Therefore, to nurture your brain and keep it healthy and primed for any challenges ahead, we recommend that you implement some of the suggestions listed in this article. Take a moment to reflect – better yet write down - what your current habits are and how you think they’re affecting you. Then, evaluate what differences you can implement in your life to foster that brilliant mind of yours.
In the final article of this three-part series, we’re going to let you in on some productivity hacks
to help you achieve your personal and school-related goals without putting in as much effort. Stay tuned!