Overwhelmed in college? Tips to help improve your mental health

Not enough sleep. Cramming in studying. Feeling mounting pressure, maybe even depressed. Sound familiar?

College can be difficult and stress and even depression can sneak up on you. If you’re feeling the weight of the school year, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. The stats on college students reveal an expanding crisis:

  • Nearly 1 in 3 college-age adults have experienced a recent mental, behavioral or emotional health issue
  • 8 in 10 say they experience frequent stress
  • Nearly a third have been diagnosed with anxiety
  • Roughly 1 in 4 have been diagnosed with depression

According to the recent College Student Behavioral Health Report, 46% of college-age students self-report they or a college roommate/friend have sought help for behavioral or mental health in the past year. However, many admit, they aren’t sure where to turn for help or how to find and access resources.

If you feel like you need help to reduce stress ahead of finals, here are five ideas to consider from UnitedHealthcare StudentResources:

1. Map it out

Sometimes the simple act of organizing can be a stress reliever. Start by making a thorough list of what’s left this semester. Prioritize tasks, so you can tackle each one ahead of its deadline. Be realistic about what you can get done to avoid being overwhelmed and make a point to celebrate progress as you move through the list.

2. Prioritize your zzz’s

While you might be tempted to pull a bunch of all-nighters, it may be more helpful to focus on sleep. Many experts say college students should get seven to nine hours of shuteye every night — and most don’t. Keeping a regular lights-out routine and allowing for at least seven hours of sleep per night may help you be more clear-eyed. (Pro tip: Turn off electronics for at least 30 min. before bed to make it easier to fall asleep.)

3. Eat and drink wisely

They say you are what you eat — so eat and drink to score well on tests. Your body and brain need fuel to achieve peak performance for test time. Build meals with lean proteins and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and remember to stay hydrated. Consider a refillable bottle to track how much you’re drinking each day — with plain water being the best choice. Most women need at least nine cups and most men need at least 13 to avoid symptoms of dehydration that can zap brainpower.

4. Get moving

Try to work in short walks, bike rides or quick gym workouts between classes and studying. Exercise can help clear your head, and you’ll get benefits even if the work is in short bursts. Physical activity boosts endorphins, which may reduce stress and make you feel better. Bonus: It may also help with sleep and can be a great way to help shed extra pounds.

5. Check your health plan for help

Consider taking advantage of mental health resources you may have with your health benefits. For instance, UnitedHealthcare StudentResources offers a 24/7 crisis line answered by licensed clinicians for support with mental health concerns. Eligible students also have unlimited access to virtual counseling services with board-certified psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counselors — at no additional cost.1

One more thing: Give yourself credit for realizing you may need a plan and be kind to yourself as you work to get through the rest of the school year. And remember, if your stress or depression does not improve, please reach out to a doctor right away who can help you get back on track to feeling better and healthier.

For more ideas, check out this series of self-help videos or visit uhcsr.com.

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