It’s no secret that winter in Michigan is dreary. The sun only comes out when it wants to, and when it does, its heat is dampened by the cold wind. Sunny days are miracles that cannot come often enough. So far this winter, we have been lucky to have a decent amount of them, but even with our atypical number of bright skies, it’s easy to get caught in the grayness of winter.
It’s important to point out that self-care isn’t “the cure” to anything, least of all mental illness. Not all of the problems you may be facing will magically go away if you take some time to take care of yourself, but they may be easier to manage. The goal of self-care and monitoring your well-being is not to make hard things disappear or to cure any anxieties you may be facing, but to make coping with those stressors easier. Self-care is not a solution to a problem but could be a relief from some of the symptoms.
The first thing to remember when it comes to mental health is that there are a number of free resources available to all students on campus. CAPS has a team of professional counselors in a variety of areas including emotional, relational and spiritual health. They have same-day access to 30-minute appointments on a first-come, first-serve basis, and there are crisis appointments available as needed. In addition to CAPS, residential life staff (your RA and RD) are available to be a listening ear. There are people on campus who are here to help you through things, no matter how big or small; take advantage of that.
Outside of designated resources, there are a number of measures you can take to care for yourself. The greatest asset when it comes to monitoring your mental health is resting, and that doesn’t mean only getting to bed a little early. It is important to make sure you are taking time to actually rest. Put the schoolwork aside, just for a little bit, to exist in the moment. Resting can be as simple as just doing what you enjoy. Whether it’s playing an instrument, playing video games, reading, writing or doing nothing at all, taking time to enjoy what you are doing is important for your mental health. Make sure you set time aside to do the things you enjoy doing so that you can operate as a whole, complete and well-rested person.
Another way to take care of your mental health is by taking care of your physical health. Again, this is not to claim that exercise will make all mental health troubles go away, but it certainly does not hurt. Working out releases endorphins, which boost overall mood levels. It also helps you to sleep better and improves memory. Those are three of the biggest things college students struggle with, and they can all be improved with exercise. Exercise helps your body in countless other ways outside of just physical fitness.
Eating a balanced and nutritional diet can also be one step towards taking better care of your mental health. The brain runs on the fuel from the food put into the body. It only makes sense that it would run the best when you consume the healthiest food. A study from Harvard Medical School has shown that the quality of the food you eat has a direct correlation to the amount of serotonin your body creates. Since “about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.”
February is the easiest time to get caught in the starkness of winter, but you don’t have to. Taking time to be intentional about your mental health is a great way to feel the sun in this otherwise cold and cloudy season. Another important thing to remember is that you are not alone. If this season has become isolating for any number of factors, remain faithful in the truth that you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not the only one facing gloomy moments or seasons. Among many of us, believe that you are understood and valued. Your state of mind matters. The moment we believe we are entirely alone or no one understands is the moment we begin to sink.
Be aware of your own worth. Your mental health matters because you matter. It is exhausting to reach out for help in a moment when spurts of energy come rarely. Not only do the ones battling for rest deserve encouragement, but so do the ones watching. We encourage you to walk beside your friends in their seasons like this because those struggling may never speak out about their negative feelings. It may be on you to ask or to notice.
Written by Eli Maxwell and Emily Voss