Courtesy Creative Commons.
For most students, it feels as though the grind really never stops. Between hopping from class to class, spending hours on homework and trying to balance a healthy diet and physical habits, it’s no wonder so many students feel overwhelmed.
In response, Northeastern University students and a licensed mental health counselor shared their best tips on how to manage anxiety and mental health.
Before learning how to handle stress and anxiety, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
“Stress is our perception that what we have on our plate is greater than our ability to deal with that. We then perceive ourselves as unable to get our work done,” said Dasha Tcherniakovskaia, a licensed mental health counselor in Boston. “In order to shift that perception, it’s important to plan, and [think about] what could be done differently.”
Stress can often cause similar symptoms to anxiety, such as aches, pains, insomnia or even that uncomfortable feeling in your gut. However, it is important to recognize that experiencing stress is not the same as experiencing anxiety.
“Anxiety is feeling anxious about what hasn’t happened yet,” Tcherniakovskaia said. “It’s creating something in your mind and building a bridge to the future. That’s about figuring out if what you’re actually anxious about is realistic. Can it be solved? Is it just a fear?”
Tcherniakovskaia’s clientele includes several NU students, who she said tend to have a lot of anxiety. She also said for many students, the greatest issue is concretely defining their problems.
“If students laid out in their mind what they’re actually afraid of, then we could come up with a lot of concrete problems, and they would find concrete solutions,” she said.
By following these five pieces of advice, students can start to learn how to prioritize mental health while maintaining a busy schedule.
#1 Self-care is crucial.
Tcherniakovskaia stressed the importance of designating time and energy for self-care.
“Self-care is one of the most important things a student can do. That means sleeping well, eating well, seeing friends, exercising and getting fresh air,” Tcherniakovskaia said. “Plus, if possible, try to lessen your workload. And if that’s not possible, push yourself to take breaks throughout the day.”
Coleen Ross, a 22-year old computer science and business administration major at Northeastern, dealt with a lot of anxiety and trouble focusing earlier in her academic career. Ross was eventually diagnosed with ADHD and has found several ways to manage her stress and anxiety.
“Taking a step back, getting your mind off of your work and disconnecting for a little bit is good so you’ll be fresh when you come back to whatever is making you anxious,” Ross said.
#2 Organize and plan your work.
As previously mentioned, stress is a person’s perception that they will not complete their tasks on time. To combat this, Tcherniakovskaia said it’s important to plan ahead and practice time management.
“Lack of organization is the second biggest issue that students run into,” she said. “Whether it’s using online calendars, planners, a white board, whatever they need, students must find a way to get themselves organized.”
First-year computer science major Winnie Phebus also advised students with an overload of work to stay ahead of the game.
“It’s always better to be on top of your homework, and start it ahead of time. This way, you can get ahead, do the easy stuff first, and then have more time for the hard stuff,” Phebus said. She also explained that getting a head start grants students time to figure out what questions they have about an assignment before the deadline. Addressing these questions beforehand tends to result in better performance on the assignment.
#3 Accept your struggle.
Due to students’ busy schedules, mental health issues are often pushed aside until they become too problematic to ignore. After experiencing this, Ross said she believes mental health is crucial to academic success, and in order for students to deal with their struggles, they must first acknowledge them.
“I feel like when you’re in college, you want to push [your mental health] aside and tell yourself, ‘I’m fine, it’s fine. I got this far.’ But sometimes it’s not fine,” Ross said. “Sometimes you have to accept that, and that is really tough. It takes some acceptance and introspection.”
#4 Take advantage of your resources.
Northeastern’s University Health and Counseling Services department offers a variety of health and wellness resources, both on and off campus. Second-year business administration major Madison Lukowski recommends taking advantage of the university’s Disability Resource Center, or DRC.
After she returned from N.U.in Greece in January, Lukowski felt isolated for several weeks. She eventually confided in one of her professors, who referred her to the DRC.
Because of her experience with a lack of mental health support in high school, Lukowski didn’t initially think to confide in the university. But once she started talking with counselors at the center, she was pleasantly surprised with the feedback.
“The Disability Resource Center was very open to listening to me and helped me figure out whether or not I needed the school’s support. Now, I feel that even being open to asking for help and not being scared because of your past experiences will really help,” Lukowski said. “Northeastern has really surprised me in how open and willing people are to talk, even if they don’t know you.”
#5 Know that you’re not alone.
With a crowded schedule comes a crowded mind, which can leave students feeling isolated. But Tcherniakovskaia emphasized that the process of transitioning to campus life is a shared experience.
“It’s important to remember that [students] are in a big transition, living on their own, away from their families and friends that they’ve known all of their lives,” she said. “There is a lack of confidence, where they think other people have it all together, but they need to know that they are not the only ones struggling.”
To deal with this, Tcherniakovskaia recommends fostering healthy relationships with yourself and others.
“It is best [for students] to reach out, create a support system and gain confidence in themselves,” she said.