Keeping happy, healthy, and sane in college is a much tougher job than you might think. Life is busy, and keeping on top of everything can be exhausting when you’re not sure where to begin. Looking after your mental and physical health is key. Try these eight different ways to try and break free from the stress of college.

  1. Use the ‘Box breathing’ method – for whenever you need it, anywhere. Box breathing is a method where you breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four seconds and then breathe out through your mouth for five seconds. It is also a great beginner’s exercise to try. It will help slow down your mind and your heart rate as you tune in with your breathing. Focusing on the air going in and out of your lungs is a key part of this exercise to get the full benefits. Because of the circular but short structure, your box breathing can go on for as long as you want, so it’s a perfect exercise for helping you to relax as quickly as possible. Feeling overwhelmed while writing your study plan out? Struggling with nerves before an interview or an exam? Try a few rounds of box breathing to help slow your heart rate and get you back focused and ready for your next step. 
  2. Try meditation (mental yoga) – for when you have a bit more time and a quiet space. Comfy clothes and a quiet space are hugely beneficial for meditation sessions to prevent anything that might draw away your focus. Guided meditations are available for free on YouTube, and range in length from 15 minutes to over an hour long. A perfect opportunity to reset yourself after a long day, prepare for a fresh week, or help yourself to relax before an especially stressful event, like an exam. 
  3. Create affirmations for yourself or a mantra – figuring out what you’re working for and on can be a great help with motivation, and condensing that into a repeatable affirmation can be super helpful for keeping the motivation alive, and keeping you on track. They can be as long or short as you want, and about whatever it is that you need to remember. Your affirmation could be a reminder of what you’re working towards, such as to be happier, healthier, or do well in your studies… It could also be a reminder to be kind to yourself, a reminder that you are worthy of love, or you are worthy of self-love. It could also be a manifestation for your life; such as telling yourself that you are going to have a great day, or that you are going to work productively and smoothly. Saying them aloud is a great way of truly processing the words you want to focus on, and saying them in front of a mirror can be a great mood lifter at the start, end, or middle of your day. 
  4. Do yoga (physical yoga) – exercise and meditation rolled into one, yoga is an amazing way to slow yourself down and take some time for yourself. Focusing on the movements of your body is a great way of clearing your mind, and the breathing technique that comes along with yoga not only helps your mind slow down, but sends your body signals to relax too. Being in tune with your mind is important, and the added physical element of yoga is a great way of getting to know your body too. Most colleges have a yoga society, which would have a nice bonus social element to it as well. If that’s not what you’re looking for, there are loads of free tutorials on YouTube that cater to all kinds of difficulty and experience levels and range from 10-minute morning yoga routines to start your day to hour-long routines for when you have the time. And even though you’re sick of hearing it, physical exercise is a great way to relieve stress, increase endorphins, and keep yourself in shape (also a great key to sleeping well). The showers afterward are what make the physical exercise of yoga all worth it. And remember to roll out your muscles before bed. Thank me in the morning.
  5. Give sleep podcasts a go – keeping up with everything that goes on in our minds can be a big ask, and sleep is a very important part of mental health management. If you find that you are not getting enough sleep, struggle with broken or restless sleep, or just can’t fall asleep at night, sleep podcasts would be a great place to start. Spotify has a variety of options for sleep podcasts, such as mediation-based ones to help you fall asleep such as Get Sleepy: Sleep Meditation and Stories, and Sleep with Me, a rambling tangent podcast to take your mind off not being able to sleep and to keep you company while you do. 
  6. Getting some goddamn exercise – taking care of your body is a key step in looking after your mind. College sports clubs are a great way of staying moving and fit while having fun and making friends, and most colleges have a vast amount of sports to choose from, such as football, archery, rock climbing, fencing, a variety of watersports, and so many more. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, maybe give the college gym (which is usually free by the way) a chance, or try to take up running. Even a 30-minute walk a few times a week would be hugely beneficial for both your physical and mental well-being. Walking, running, or going to the gym are also great options for those weeks when you struggle to find time for team training in your schedule. If you’re strapped for time during exam season, try walking or cycling to college or work rather than driving or taking the bus where you can, anything to get your body moving. Taking care of yourself now will make it a million times easier to take care of yourself as you get older.
  7. Journaling your thoughts and feelings – journaling is not unlike keeping a diary, but with slightly deeper goals in mind than simply documenting your day or managing your time. When journaling about your day, take some time to reflect on it, and write about how you feel about what happened and what you would like to work on going forward, how it made you feel and why. Aside from your day, journaling can also be a space to look into your mind and help sort out what’s going on. What are your goals at the moment, and why are you aiming for them? How are you planning on achieving these goals, and how will it feel when you do? Not only can journaling in this way be helpful for planning your next steps but for understanding yourself more in the why behind your thoughts and goals. Knowing your why is a driving motivator factor, and utilising journaling like this could be a great way of actively shaping your goals into reality, and sorting your head out along the way. 
  8. Take up a fun hobby – taking up a hobby is a great way to show yourself some love and give yourself a dedicated time that is just for you. A hobby like this doesn’t have to ruin your schedule or break the bank. There are many hobbies that are affordable or free and can be done completely in your own time. Baking, for example, is fun and relaxing, and you get a cake out of it! Photography can be taken up using only your phone camera and your imagination and can be done nearly anywhere you’d like. Adult colouring books are a completely underrated way to relax. Not too expensive and hugely comforting, colouring while listening to music or a podcast or even during a silent study break can really help you to re-centre yourself, and by no means must you be a great artist to benefit!

Lastly, if you feel as if you’re struggling a bit more than usual, and may need help, there’s no shame in giving that a go either. did a great ‘masterlist’ of mental health supports all over Ireland (and a few in Northern Ireland) specifically for students. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a student adviser, a parent, or a friend if you need someone to talk to. You are not alone!

Written by Abby Cleaver