Besides the advice given in the last issue of The Journal, there are still plenty of other ways for students to keep themselves mentally healthy over the summer in the face of extra free time and additional lifestyle adjustments.
One of the worst things that a person can do, with regards to mental health, is spend the summer trapped indoors doing nothing. Even just taking a small walk in nature or window shopping at a nearby mall can provide a good break from the monotony of the home environment. Try something new to escape the boredom of a routine pick up an unfamiliar book or listen to a new musical artist. Being able to take breaks once in a while from cell phones, social media, and electronics in general can also reduce stress for a multitude of reasons. Constantly being bombarded with notifications and new information can be taxing on the modern mind.
Being alone for too long can have detrimental effects. Make sure to connect with family and friends that are available at the time. On the other end of the spectrum, too much time with certain family members and friends may be stressful. Knowing oneself and establishing the right boundaries with them is key.
Bethany Bilyeu, director of the Counseling Center at UIS, recommends making mindfulness a part of one’s daily routine. This may include focusing on the smallest and simplest things, such as one’s breathing or the intricate branching patterns on a leaf. Mindfulness is a way to practice gratitude for the world and its beauty. Gratitude and an appreciation for life have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and negative emotions such as hatred or jealousy.
The temptation to drink more may arise for students who have less obligations to fulfill during summer months, so try to limit alcohol use and other behaviors that hurt the body. No one wants to deal with a hangover on vacation, and alcohol decreases the ability of the amygdala to regulate emotions effectively.
Bilyeu also advises that students discover what self-care means to them. For some people, self-care is an elaborate practice of setting up spa days. Other people are happy just being able to lie back with a snack and watch their favorite show.
Once the personal definition of self-care is established, be sure to practice it whenever possible. Even doing something small but enjoyable once a day can make a huge difference.