Many of us are currently in the throes of back to school season. While this can be a stressful time under normal circumstances, the pandemic adds an extra layer of pressure and confusion that may make it more difficult to manage your mental health. However, you can make the transition back into school life a little easier by taking a few simple steps at the start of the year.
- Establish a routine and get organized.
After being in quarantine or on summer break for a few months, you’ve probably settled into a familiar routine. However, once school starts again your routine will look quite different as you get busier. Even if you’re attending school online, establishing some sort of daily routine can help you to feel more productive and in control of your day. This could be as simple as waking up and sleeping at the same time each day or doing something energizing in the morning. You could also create a more structured outline of your day. As well, make sure you’re staying organized and keeping track of what you have to do each day. Online classes can make it trickier to stay on top of schoolwork, so it might help to write down due dates and to-do lists in a planner.
- Set boundaries.
Finding balance is key to maintaining your mental health while staying productive. Set firm boundaries around school and relaxation so that you can focus on all the things that are important to you. You can designate a specific block of time each day that’s devoted only to schoolwork, and once that time is up you’re done for the day. This ensures that work doesn’t take over your entire day, which can happen pretty easily when you’re working from home. Be just as firm about your boundaries with relaxation or fun time. If you decide to set aside one day a week for self-care and rest, commit to not working on that day and make sure you finish your work before then so you’re not panicking.
- Reach out.
Now more than ever, it’s important to stay connected and maintain relationships with others. Being quarantined or unable to see friends can be isolating and disappointing, so make sure that you’re reaching out to others. Set up regular FaceTime or Zoom calls with friends (I’ve found that Zoom game nights really boost my spirits), make friends with someone in your classes if you can, connect with people on social media, or spend time with your family. If you want incentive to get your work done, try setting up a study group or finding an accountability partner. Tell each other what you want to do by a specific time and then check in to make sure you’ve gotten your work done. Also, if you’re struggling, don’t feel pressured to go through it alone. It helps to confide in someone you trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher/professor, friend, mental health professional, or help line. Just make sure you’re finding ways to express your emotions instead of bottling it in.
- Be intentional.
One of the most important things you can do for your mental health is to be intentional about who and what you’re surrounding yourself with. Be conscious of your habits, the activities you’re doing, how you’re using your time, and the people you’re spending time with, and make sure that these things make you happy. If there’s something taking up your time and energy that’s causing you unnecessary stress or hurting your mental health, take steps to replace it with something positive. For example, pay attention to how much you use social media as it can be a big source of stress. If you find that it’s draining you or preventing you from being present, don’t be afraid to take a break or cut down your time. Journaling can help you to reflect on and keep track of negative things in your life that could be replaced with positive substitutes, as well as negative thought patterns that you can swap out for more helpful thoughts.
- Try new things.
An easy way to boost your mood is to try something new. Sometimes we can get stuck in a rut if we’re constantly doing the same things, so getting out of your comfort zone and trying something you’ve never done before can be super refreshing. After all, you’ll only find something that makes you happy if you try lots of different things. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new skill, work on a passion project or pick up a hobby just for fun, a new school year could be the perfect time to start, especially if you’re stuck at home. If you’re able, this is also a fun way to meet new people by joining clubs or connecting with people who have similar interests.
- Take care of your physical health.
Your physical health can have a huge impact on your mental health, so make sure that you’re not neglecting your body once the new school year is back in session. Make sure you’re adhering to public safety guidelines to protect yourself and others. Additionally, exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep have all proven to have a major effect on your mental health, so try to prioritize taking care of your body, even when you feel like you’re too busy to eat or you’re tempted to pull an all-nighter. Your brain will thank you.
By making a few adjustments and setting good habits at the start of the school year, you’ll be able to better manage your mental health even when school gets busy. Good luck!