How I’m Putting my Mental Health First this School Year

Meera Varma
Meera Varma

On March 13, 2020, I got the email from UCLA that everyone will be sent home, effective immediately, due to COVID-19. Since then, I’ve been living and doing school from the comfort of my childhood home. This month, however, we’re finally heading back to campus. I’ll be a senior taking classes and working as a Resident Assistant in the dorms, which is a pretty big change from my parents’ house. After not having consistent social interaction for over a year and a half, I’ve been having pretty intense feelings of anxiety and apprehension about starting a new leadership position and having class in-person, where I’ll have to interact with people everyday. Thankfully, I’ve found a few ways that have helped me prepare.

COPING AHEAD

One strategy I’ve been using to get ready for communal bathrooms, dining hall meals, and all other in-person aspects of college is coping ahead, where I imagine my new environment and schedule at UCLA, and go through tips and tricks I would want to implement to regulate my emotions. For me specifically, I envision myself painting and going for walks on campus to calm myself down. I also want to make sure that I have a plan in place to rely on if I feel I need some additional help. Active Minds’ Referral Resources provides information for hotlines, places to find help on campus, and ideas for finding support in your community that I know I can use if needed. Planning ahead and knowing what to expect is one way I have found is helpful for coping with major changes to my lifestyle and routine.

PRIORITIZING SELF-CARE

Before I get to campus, I’m making a plan to ensure self-care is a priority during my final year of school. Having a consistent self-care routine has always helped to ease my anxiety during difficult transitional times, and making time for myself is more necessary than ever. To prepare, I looked at tips for implementing self-care into my daily routine to make sure that I am taking care of both my body and mind every day, not just when I have extra time in my schedule. Personally, my favorite way to relax and unwind when I start to feel overwhelmed or anxious is playing my ukulele, channeling my thoughts through expressive writing, and drawing how I feel. But if that doesn’t sound right for you, there are endless forms of self-care to explore and try out! You might consider something like a workout class, a weekly hangout with friends, or a cup of tea with a nice book to calm your mind.

FINDING COMMUNITY

Another support I’ve found helpful to rely on in preparing for this transition is the family I’ve made at my school’s Active Minds chapter. I have found my closest friends there, and I get so excited thinking about being able to see my favorite people again. Part of what keeps me grounded is knowing that I’m going to be able to see my friends every week in meetings and that I’ll get to meet new members that are as passionate about mental health as I am. Active Minds has chapters all over the country, so if you’re looking for a community to lean on during this time, check and see if there’s a chapter at your school. Finding a community that supports you and understands how you may feel is a choice you won’t regret.

Amidst all the chaos and new uncertainties of this “new” life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. To anyone else who’s feeling this way, please remember your feelings are valid and you’re NOT alone in this! Every college student that’s going back to campus is going to be experiencing this transition. And even if you’re not returning to campus yet, that anxiety may still be present as you wonder what another year of virtual learning will look like, or as you begin to look ahead to when you will be able to be back on campus. Remember, if you ever feel alone, don’t forget about your Active Minds family – we’re always here to support you!