Five ways to prioritize your mental health as we continue to navigate uncertainty and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The start of the year is often seen as a new beginning–an opportunity to set goals, typically related to health and wellness. However, 2022 has already presented some real challenges: COVID-19 cases are rising again, and schools nationwide have delayed in-person returns to campus.
We have made significant progress with the pandemic, but we continue to navigate uncertain times. If you are currently dealing with feelings of anxiety, loneliness, grief and loss, or academic stress, you are not alone.
Here are five ways to practice self-care and prioritize your mental health as we begin the new year and beyond.
1. Connect With Others
Humans are social creatures. Whether you feel sad, stressed, or lonely, don’t keep these difficult emotions to yourself. By connecting with others, you may also find that you’re not alone in what you feel right now.
Check in frequently with your friends and family members, and make a point to connect in person when it is safe to do so. If you’re worried that someone you know is struggling with their mental health, “seize the awkward” and reach out.
Despite the pandemic, college is also an exciting time to meet new people. Consider expanding your horizons this year by joining clubs specific to your interests, participating in sports as permitted, or getting a job on campus.
2. Identify Achievable Goals
Whether you’re currently in college or are thinking about attending college, you probably have an end goal in mind. Maybe you want to be an accountant, a software developer, or a writer. Maybe you want to go on to medical or law school. Maybe you’re undecided and figuring things out. With so much uncertainty around us, it is easy to feel like these goals are distant or forget why they matter to you.
It is important to remember that the pandemic won’t last forever, and your hopes, dreams, and whatever you want out of life will be waiting for you post-pandemic.
Identify small, achievable actions you can take now to accomplish what you want to in the next month, six months, or year. Do your best to participate in class and develop relationships with your teachers, professors, and classmates. Consider attending networking and career events to learn more about your intended industry, connect with alumni in your field, or even discover a passion for something totally new.
Remember to exercise self-compassion as you work toward your goals, too. As helpful as it is to have something to focus on, attention and focus are challenging for most of us right now. Be patient with yourself, potential limitations, and limitations of others.
3. Remember to Relax
We cannot devote all of our time to school, work, and internships. Set aside time for hobbies or activities that you find genuinely relaxing and engaging. Whether that’s gardening, knitting, dancing, or collecting coins, the options are endless. These are challenging times, and taking a moment for things that authentically bring us joy can be a healthy way to re-center, ground, and soothe ourselves.
4. Maintain Physical Health
Our physical health can influence our mental health, and it is just as important. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and exercise regularly. For those experiencing depression or anxiety, taking time to exercise, in particular, can be very challenging. Still, there are many benefits to simply moving your body each day, even if it is for a brief walk or stretch and not a full exercise routine. You may also consider meditation or yoga to help reduce stress.
5. Ask for Help
Part of prioritizing our mental health is realizing when we can’t do it alone and need additional help.
If feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety intensify–or persist for more than two weeks–please reach out to a trusted adult or mental health professional for support. If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The pandemic has forced all of us to navigate complex emotions, and it has lasted far longer than anyone would have expected. But the pandemic will eventually end. And although we are beginning the new year with a surge in cases, remember that so much progress has been made from when this first started.
In fact, as an individual, you likely contributed to that progress by staying home when required, wearing a mask while out, washing your hands, and getting vaccinated. That matters. Your health, well-being, and future matter, too.
Make 2022 a year of self-compassion and patience as you continue to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and your community.