Mental Health in College

They say college is the best four years of your life, but they, being the older, wiser people within our orbit in attendance at our graduation parties, have not been to college in the current age.

Students are expected to attend class and dedicate “three hours for each one hour of class” to homework for each course, all while an expectation that students will have already started working in their field mounts.

“The expectation by employers for students to already have some experience in their field most definitely can increase a student’s stress and anxiety and the pressure put on oneself,” said Dr. Mary Kaye Anderson, director of MTSU Counseling Services.

Then, for those of us who live close enough to travel home and have a decent relationship with the family there, we are expected to lead an entirely separate life there, going home on weekends to spend time with loved ones.

None of these things are bad. None of them, on their own, are hard. But let’s do a little math.

A full-time load of classes is 12 hours a week; multiply that by four to get the amount of time students are expected to spend on coursework. That’s 48 hours alone for classes, more than a full-time job. Twenty hours a week for a part-time job. Let’s say this hypothetical student has drive and wants to be able to get a job after college, so they do some extracurricular work to build a resume to get an internship at some point in the near future, we’ll say 10 hours a week.

That adds up to 78 hours a week of straight hustle, just two hours short of two full-time jobs. If that is constrained to five days a week, since, on weekends, we go home to spend time with family and friends, it’s over 15 hours a day. That leaves nine hours a day to sleep, eat, be social and take time for yourself.

In conclusion, college isn’t easy. And there really isn’t anything students can do to make it easier. There aren’t things that can be given up or sacrificed, but something has to give.

The only option is self-care and sleep.

“It is no wonder so many students are sleep-deprived and stressed out. Unfortunately, students think of self-care as just one more thing on their ‘to-do’ list,” said Dr. Anderson.

Self-care is often rendered unhelpful due to an underlying sense of stress about the different tasks being put off until later. Even when in the act of self-care, whatever that may look like, students worry about the rest of their list.

The question is: how do we accomplish true self-care when there are still items on our to-do list?

Accomplishing the items on the to-do list

Making a physical list can be extremely helpful. Physically checking a box allows you to see actual progress. Once an item is checked off, reward yourself by giving yourself a break. Scroll on TikTok, watch an episode of your favorite show or read a book — any mindless activity to catch a break.

The difficult thing here is restraint. Once you finish your reward, returning to the list is vital. Guilt can creep in if you’re not careful, making the reward more harmful than helpful.

Setting boundaries for when you accomplish schoolwork

Many students lose sight of work-life balance, working late into the night and sleeping late into the day. An easy way to start prioritizing self-care is by setting limits for when you work on schoolwork.

Jobs are from nine to five for a reason. Once you leave work, you are done for the day. Turning off that part of your life and moving into your personal life is integral to taking care of yourself.

Nine to five doesn’t work for everybody. Find the section of your day when you feel the most productive and confine your schoolwork to that time. By setting limits, you can turn the part of your brain off that works for other people and start working to better yourself.

It sounds simple, but setting boundaries and rewarding yourself are cliché for a reason.

“Self-care, which includes good sleep hygiene, eating healthy, exercise, and managing stress, is the foundation needed in order to achieve health and happiness in all areas of life — relationships, school, work, family, etc.,” said Dr. Anderson. 

College is a busy, hectic time in everyone’s life. Taking care of yourself isn’t going to solve all your problems while you’re in college, but it will minimize the long-term effects.

Author Kailee Shores is a sophomore in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media in the College of Media and Entertainment.