It’s no secret that life for college students has always been stressful — they have to balance academic expectations, social pressures and financial restrictions while simultaneously trying to discover and refine their personal identity. So what happens when a life-altering obstacle like COVID-19 is thrown in the mix?
“Prior to the pandemic, it was well studied that college students are prone to increased anxiety, stress and depression. Now coupled with the pandemic and ongoing adjustments to diminished social contact and complete overhaul of routines, that is even more true,” says Rose Jerome, a licensed professional counselor and the outreach and resilience coordinator of NC State’s Prevention Services.
To make the most of these days, Jerome says “there are many action-oriented ways to take mental breaks, such as creating, meditating, being outdoors, taking a nap, listening to your favorite playlist or doing absolutely nothing. However, it is equally important to consider what is needed to make that self-care space possible.”
For your next wellness day, consider the following tips about how to approach and take advantage of it, courtesy of some of our university’s leading experts.
Plan the day.
A common trend among our experts’ suggestions is to schedule your day out, making sure to incorporate time for both work and breaks. This also includes setting clear expectations and being intentional about executing your plan.
“It is crucial to give yourself that moment to pause and take a break from everything going on with your everyday life,” Tiffany Chan, the Village coordinator of Residential Learning at NC State, says. She believes making a tangible plan for the day ensures that you meet the day’s goals.
Similar to Chan, Jerome points out that you should be aware of how hard you are pushing yourself. “Yes, things do need to get done. However, self-discipline does not have to be synonymous with shaming or being overly critical of ourselves,” she says.
These experts agree that to maintain a healthy balance, you also need to be realistic with the goals you make for the day.
Dr. Kari Lewis, a professor in health and exercise at NC State, recommends setting boundaries to help refresh the balance of your life — know what you need (and when) to decompress and find the best avenue to take advantage of that time.
On why it’s important to set boundaries, she says, “If any one area of our life gets out of balance, it can get so intertwined with the others that it’s like a loose piece of yarn on a sweater. Once you pull it, it’s going to start to unravel everything over time.”
The university promotes being aware of five particular types of boundaries that will help you pursue wellness for your whole being: physical, emotional, mental, time and energy, and material. Being mindful of these boundaries should help you become aware of any areas that are imbalanced or lacking attention.
To help think about how to set your boundaries, Lewis and Chan suggest asking yourself the following questions:
- “How will I make time for [a particular activity]? For me?”
- “Do I need to be doing this right now?”
- “What do I need at this moment?”
- “How often do I need this or something similar to it?”
Jerome also encourages students to be “mindful of news consumption and social media use” in order to minimize information overload, and to give your brain a chance to recharge and breathe.
Evaluate your six domains of health.
In addition to the five types of boundaries, NC State’s wellness experts also identify six domains of personal health that students should aim to evaluate during each wellness day. Those domains include: emotional, physical, occupational, spiritual, intellectual and social.
Lewis says that when one domain receives more attention than the others, it can create an unhealthy imbalance.
In her classes, she teaches this concept through a simple teeter-totter metaphor. “If you have a heavy emphasis on school stuff, it may start to outweigh everything else. And so, you need to add some emotional support to help balance it out. Keep the teeter-totter in balance,” she says.
“Obviously, you can’t [keep the domains in balance] every day of the week, but over a week to ten days, try to keep those in balance.”
The university’s Department of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA) website recommends using the following checklist to evaluate the current condition of your domains:
- Emotional. Give space for your emotions by journaling, self-checking in, talking with a therapist, confiding in a friend, etc.
- Physical. NC State offers different activities and opportunities for students to participate in, such as group hikes or Greenway biking.
- Occupational. Re-evaluate your workload and make boundary-based decisions. If you feel overwhelmed, ask yourself where you need to implement decompression times. If you don’t know where to begin, think about your current work-life balance.
- Spiritual. Consider taking a few minutes to meditate and attempt to stay in the present. Be aware of your senses by touching your chair or inhaling all the smells around you.
- Intellectual. Engage with things that bring you joy and life. Pick up that book you have not touched in two months, the one from quarantine that felt like a breath of fresh air.
- Social. With life being busy, think about navigating the craziness with others who can relate and understand. Join or create a virtual community to encourage those supportive relationships.
As stated on the DASA wellness day website, NC State pursues a successful and thriving environment for its students and aims to support their holistic wellness.