May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to share the importance of smashing the stigma surrounding mental health and find ways to cope with stress and mental health challenges. Now that we’re over a year into a worldwide pandemic, many young adults have indicated that COVID-19 has negatively influenced their mental health. Today we will discuss the ways that mental health impacts students in particular, and explore some tools to help cope with stress, anxiety, and low mood.
COVID-19 and the Impact on Students’ Mental Health
One February 2021 study revealed a stark increase in mental health challenges in adults. In 2019, one in ten adults in the US reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders, but during the pandemic that number increased to four in ten adults. These trends are also not limited to any one nation.
For young adults, university closures, distance from family and friends, and income loss have all caused more mental strain. A survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada revealed that “39 per cent of the youth from the community reported significant problems with mood and anxiety. For those drawn from the group of youth who previously sought mental health support, the figure jumped to 68 per cent.”
Unique Mental Health Challenges Faced by Students
There is no doubt that studying abroad offers enormous opportunities to students. The cultural experiences alone are life-changing for so many. That being said, attending university, living away from family and friends—and for international students, being far away from their home, culture, and communicating in a different language—can create additional stresses. Add in academic pressure, taking on new adult-like responsibilities, such as having to worry about finances, cooking, and doing laundry, it’s no wonder college and university students experience their own unique challenges with mental health.
Mental Health Tips for University and College Students
Today we’ll look at five ways that students can improve their mental health while studying abroad.
1. Keep Yourself Grounded
Many people with anxiety find it difficult to stop their mind from racing or spiralling into anxious thoughts. Finding some helpful grounding mental exercises is a great way to practice turning your mind away from stressful thoughts. Grounding exercises, including using a fidget tool, can help turn yourself away from anxious spiralling and focus on something tactile.
Some students may also find that meditation is a helpful way to control their thoughts. Apps like Calm and Headspace are commonly recommended tools by mental health professionals for meditation novices and experts alike. Please note: Some apps may require a paid subscription, while others may have free memberships available.*
2. Move Your Body
Whether it’s a ten-minute YouTube yoga routine, a peaceful trail hike, or a jog around campus, moving your body is a proven way to boost your mood. One study conducted in May 2020 found that university students who engaged in short-term aerobic exercise experienced improvements in their stress levels and mental health.
3. Be Kind to Yourself
You’ve worked hard to get to where you are today, and you should be proud of yourself. Be gentle with yourself too, and try to avoid self-criticism. Self-compassion means that you accept your imperfections and avoid self-critical or blaming thoughts, and self-compassion exercises are easy to start.
4. Find Connection
Social connection is a valuable way to improve your mental health and general well-being. While international students are living away from home, and typically away from some of their closest family and friends, it is still important to find social connection both nearby and with faraway friends and family. Whether you connect through FaceTime or Zoom, old-fashioned letter writing and care packages, or connect with local students—while following COVID-19 protocols—it’s important to engage with others for your mental well-being.
5. Ask For Help
Reaching out for help is crucial when you’re struggling with your mental health. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or any other mental health disorder, contact a local counsellor or access the mental health support provided by your university or college. Sharing your struggles with someone who is trained to support you is an important step towards healing.
Studying abroad has been a positive, life-changing experience for millions of students. It presents many fun opportunities and exciting new challenges, but it can also create stress. It’s important to know there are ways to help yourself succeed and many resources available to give you the support that you might need!
Additional Resources for Immediate Help
If you’re concerned about your safety or the safety of someone you know, your first step should always be to call 911 (or the equivalent if abroad).
If you find yourself in a crisis situation, you can also contact Crisis Services Canada by:
- Calling 1-833-456-4566 (available 24 hours a day)
- Texting 45645 (available between 4:00 PM to midnight ET; standard text messaging rates apply)
- Using the chat support service (when available)
*Please note: Some apps may require a paid subscription, while others may have free memberships available.