Let's Talk about Mental Health.
Written by: Julia Shaw
The sad truth is that feelings of depression and anxiety are all too common among grad students. Here are five strategies to cope during your studies.
You are not alone
Feelings of depression and anxiety are often fuelled by internal and external stressors, such as starting a new program, being away from home in a new city, or — specific to this year — going into the second wave of a global pandemic. As the seasons change and the days become shorter, low levels of sunlight can also exacerbate these feelings.
While it’s difficult to completely lift your spirits, here are some self-love tips that will hopefully help you cope just a little bit better. And remember: we’re all in this together. Many people are experiencing the same feelings as you. You are not alone.
1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Emotions are heightened for a lot of people during this difficult time, and particularly in these months. This can mean that you might see yourself as weaker, or less-than something or someone else. If you’re getting affected by mental health concerns, it can also mean that you’re not feeling very productive. Maybe your workload feels heavier than normal (hello back-to-school September!), maybe you’re not getting things done as quickly as we once were, or maybe you’re just not doing as much as that other person over there…
The most important thing you can do to love yourself is to stop comparing yourself and your journey to someone else.
During these months, recognize that your journey might be leading you up a bit of a steep climb. Recognize that this year has thrown more at you than you ever thought possible. Recognize that you survived it! You’ll slow down, sure, but you’re not stopping. And since your journey is different than everyone else's, they may or may not be on the same steep climb as you.
Comparison can only lead to jealousy and envy, and you will never be happy with yourself or your path if you compare yourself to other people. Maybe take a break from Instagram or Twitter. Maybe meditate tomorrow morning instead of logging onto Facebook. Focus on your road ahead and what you need to do to make your climb a bit easier on yourself.
2. Change your Perception
Depression and anxiety are often accompanied by pressures of looking or feeling a certain way. With gyms closing again, more time sitting at your desk, and colder weather setting in, it can be easy to beat yourself up for not looking the way you wished. Instead, let’s try to beat this pattern.
To love yourself, you must change your perception of yourself. This really CAN be as easy as saying positive things about yourself, again and again, until you actually start believing every word. The reason this works (seriously…read this article) is because this is how you started to dislike yourself or parts of yourself in the first place: you kept seeing yourself in a negative light and finding the flaws until you started believing those thoughts.
Turn that process around and start finding the positive. Stop with the self-deprecation, disengage with people who don’t think you’re as awesome as you truly are, and look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re a rockstar—and mean it!
This might look different for you than the next person. The way you move your body is up to you and your body!
Ask yourself what your body needs. Sometimes we need to push our body outside our mind’s comfort zone in order to see results, progress, and calmness. Sometimes we need to listen to what our body and mind are telling us and slow down. Maybe you’ll lift weights, go running, or cycling—or maybe you’ll try something new, like walking to a new neighbourhood you’ve never visited, try a dance or yoga class, or go hiking (we recommend the Gatineau Hills!).
Either way, physical activity is a great way to learn to love your body. Trying new exercises or taking on a physical challenge helps you get to know your body in a whole new way. You will discover new abilities, new strengths, and new power just by moving.
We all know exercise is good for us. And it isn’t news that it’s good for our mental health too. But by trying to do something you’ve never done before, you will also start to see just what you are capable of.
4. Practice Gratitude
What does journaling mean to you? More often than not, journaling makes us think of keeping a secret diary about feelings, emotions, and what happened that day at school or work. Sure, this can be a great hobby and habit. But journaling can also mean so much more—and it can also mean less!
Using a journal to jot down one or two things every day that you’re grateful for will create some peace in your life.
Be grateful that you are healthy. Be grateful that you have the resources or mental clarity to study at the University of Ottawa. Be thankful for what you have, what you can do, and how far you can go. Be thankful that you’ve made it this far! Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.
5. Eat for your Happiness
When we don’t feel happy, we tend to look for something to comfort us. Food is the best thing to comfort our soul. But a solid diet can help you tackle the winter blues and “COVID fatigue”.
Since we’re all spending more time at home, make it a priority to use your kitchen! Cook your own meals even though restaurants still have take-out. Comfort food doesn’t have to mean unhealthy food. Who doesn’t love a good bowl of homemade chili? When battling SAD, it can be really difficult to perform simple tasks like cooking or cleaning, but your body will thank you, and maybe you’ll find you even enjoy it.
Nowadays it can be hard to connect with others, but food brings us together! Dinner parties are a no-go for now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cook and eat with your friends virtually. We have the technology, so use it! Food is meant to be enjoyed, so find a healthy recipe and FaceTime a friend.
During these next months, the sun is going to rise a little later and set a little sooner—but you’ll be ready with these tips. Remember to learn to love and appreciate yourself and everything you’ve already overcome to get to where you are. Try to practice these tips every day, and see how you feel. Remember it’s ok to not be ok, but resources are available when you’re ready. Like we said: we’re all in this together.
Click here for emergency mental health hotlines.