Your college years have the potential to be both incredible and terrifying. They’ll be full of events, assignments, new friendships, exams, parties, and extracurriculars. All of that is objectively a lot. Plus, it’s the first time you live on your own!

Which adjective would you use to describe your current action-packed life? Your answer, probably, depends on whether you’ve managed to strike that fine balance between doing what you have to do and what you want to do.

If you fail to draw the line in the right place, it’s not just unfortunate. It can do some serious harm to your mental health. And, according to multiple studies, college students are especially prone to anxiety, stress, and depression.

The good news is that you can prevent your mental well-being from deteriorating severely. All you need to do is follow these six recommendations.

Don’t Stretch Yourself Too Thin

In other words, know your limits. Can you really handle these three extracurriculars and all the assignments piling up on your desk? Don’t forget that you’re a human, not a robot: you can’t be studying and working 24/7. You need to rest and socialize now and then.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Most likely, you won’t realize you’ve overestimated your capabilities until you’re already overwhelmed. And it’s okay. What’s important is what you do once you realize it’s too much. Here are several possible scenarios you can choose to follow:

  • Quit that extracurricular or organization membership that brings you the least joy. That is, of course, if ‘too many extracurriculars’ is your problem
  • Remember that you can pay for papers on to offload some of your homework. It’s the best course of action if academics stresses you out the most
  • Say ‘no’ to new commitments until you deal with your current ones. That’s a good tactic if you know you’re at your limit but haven’t quite crossed it yet

Take Care of Your Physical Needs

It sounds like one of those pieces of advice a boring adult would give you. But that doesn’t mean you should discard it instantly.

Since psychology is tightly knit with your neurological processes, your mental well-being can take a serious hit if you don’t sleep enough or don’t eat well. Remember this joke: ‘I can’t figure out if all my friends hate me or I just need to go to sleep?’ Well, it’s not really a joke.

If you’re still not fully convinced this is worth your time, just try it out. Follow these six simple tips, and compare your well-being at the end of the experiment with how you felt before:

  • Strive to get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. You can use apps like SleepCycle to keep track of your sleeping habits
  • Have your breakfast, lunch, and dinner at more or less the same time every day
  • Drink enough water (no, drinking coffee and coke doesn’t count as hydration)
  • Cut down on sugars: yes, they give you a rush of energy, but you won’t like the crash after that energy is spent
  • Cook your meals more often — it’ll save you money, too. That’s a win-win
  • Don’t skip out on showers. Seriously.

Find Your Daily Self-Care Routine

Ask yourself, ‘What do I enjoy doing?’ Then, pledge to set aside at least 15 to 30 minutes a day for this activity — or one of them, if you have multiple answers. It can be anything from drawing or watching The Office to reading self-development books or meditating.

However, it doesn’t have to qualify as a hobby. The only selection criterion is ‘it has to make you happy’. So, if ‘drinking a tasty cup of coffee in peace’ fits the description, turn it into a habit!

Another aspect of practising self-care is understanding what you feel and how to deal with a sudden (or not so much) onset of negative emotions. For example, if you’re prone to anxiety, grounding and breathing techniques will come in handy.

So, develop an ‘action plan’ for the times you feel down, stressed out, or angry. This action plan has to help you get these emotions under control.

Don’t Cram

It might be tempting to put off most of your homework when the deadline seems so far away. But then, chances are, you’ll find yourself in the middle of the night prepping for an exam, with dozens of questions left to go through until the morning.

That’s not great for two reasons:

  • Few things will get committed to your long-term memory, meaning you won’t actually learn much from studying
  • Your body will be exhausted by the time you’re finished, meaning your cognitive functions will suffer the morning of the test or exam

So, spread out your major studying goals in time and break them into smaller, easily attainable tasks. It’s also a good idea to take breaks while you study and stay ahead of schedule!

Go for a Walk Every Day

Just 15-20 minutes of walking can reduce stress and anxiety, boost your mood, and fire up your creativity. That’s the consensus among researchers — and it’s one of the top tips for anyone struggling with mental health issues or just seeking to improve their day-to-day well-being.

Sounds like magic? It’s not — it’s physiology. When you take a walk (or perform any other physical activity), your brain releases endorphins, the hormones responsible for relieving pain and reducing stress levels.

You can combine these walks with exploring the world beyond your campus. Maybe, there’s a great coffee place 10 minutes away that you have no idea exists. Maybe, you’ll find a park within a walking distance that’ll be your new favourite place to hang out. The change in scenery often helps when you feel down.

Sometimes, of course, you won’t feel like going out, like when the weather is too bad for staying outside for long. You don’t have to scold yourself for that. Instead, you can do some exercises in your room or go to the gym — or just allow yourself to have a lazy day if you need one.

Keep a Journal

You might think journaling is reserved for school girls and their diaries. But it’s not. In reality, it’s a powerful tool that you can use to stay mindful in your daily life, track your mental well-being, and understand the root causes of negative emotions and feelings you experience.

The bottom line is, journaling helps you get to know yourself better. That, in its turn, means that you can find new coping mechanisms when necessary and make better major and minor decisions in your life.

Here are a few tips for you to make the most out of your journaling:

  • Make it a habit to make an entry on a daily or weekly basis
  • Keep asking the ‘why’ question to understand your thoughts, behaviours, and emotions better
  • Reread your older entries from time to time

In Conclusion: Prioritize Your Well-Being

These tips are just the tip of the iceberg. Treating yourself now and then, learning to manage your time well, calling home, or hanging out with your friends can also go a long way in making things feel better.

However, it’s up to you to discover which of these tips work the best for you. All people are different. You might find out that having a creative outlet does miracles for your mood, but it won’t work for everyone.

Still, if there’s any truly universal piece of advice to give to all students struggling to remain sane, it’s this: ‘Treat your mental well-being as the most important thing in your life’. Because it is.