What a whirlwind this year has been! It’s likely that the last school year looked very different for you than previous years. Perhaps you had to leave campus, attend classes on Zoom, or graduate virtually. While being back in school may conjure up some excitement about that new textbook smell and seeing familiar faces, there may also be some trepidation. How can you transition back into some semblance of “normal” life? And how do you prioritize your wellbeing in the midst of change and uncertainty?
If you’ve had a hard time with your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. Results from a US CDC survey indicate that young adults aged 18-24 are the most likely age group to experience a mental health challenge during the pandemic (Czeisler, et al., 2020).
Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries equips the Church to support mental health and wellbeing. That includes your mental health and wellbeing as a Christian student. And one of the best frameworks for incorporating this into your everyday life is the five ways to wellbeing: learn, take notice, be active, connect, and give. Based on a research review conducted by the New Economics Foundation, these are evidence-based actions that can help you feel good and function well (Aked et al., 2008).
These ways are also congruent with God’s desires for our lives. Throughout Scripture, we see that God cares about our minds, emotions, bodies, and relationships. This tells us that we should prioritize these things as well. It can be tough to focus on your mental health when you’ve got midterms to cram for and papers to write. But God loves and values you; taking care of yourself acknowledges your inherent God-given value. Below are some ideas for incorporating the five ways to wellbeing into your everyday life as a student. We encourage you to view them as a way to receive and engage with God’s love for you.
Learning is about more than passing your required classes. It’s also important to expand your knowledge in other areas. Research shows that learning as an adult can help you increase self-confidence, self-esteem, open-mindedness, and social engagement (Campbell, 2006; Motschilnig et al., 2012). You can kickstart your learning by taking electives in subjects outside of your major. You can also try learning a new language using a free app, learning how to fix your bike, listening to insightful podcasts (may we suggest The Sanctuary Podcast?), or taking up a hobby like photography or crafting.
Taking notice is about being present in the moment. Be aware of your surroundings; soak in the sounds, sights, and scents that you experience. Connect with your thoughts and feelings to ground yourself in the present. The emotions wheel is a fantastic tool that can help you identify and name your emotions1. Being able to name and express how you feel, whether they’re positive or difficult emotions, can help you understand, process, and respond to your experiences. It can also help you have conversations with others about mental wellbeing. Open dialogue surrounding mental health and wellbeing reduces the stigma around this topic. If you want to connect this action item to your faith, try reading through a Psalm and identifying the emotions that are present in the text. You can also watch an IGTV from Sanctuary Ambassador Dr. Hillary McBride on emotions and their connection to the body on Instagram, @sanctuarymentalhealth.
Exercise can help improve your mood and take your mind off any worries (Weir, 2011). Being active doesn’t have to be complicated —move in ways that feel good and honour the body and capabilities that God has given you. As a student, you likely have access to discounted gym memberships or cheaper fitness classes, so take advantage! You may want to join a student club/activity such as an outdoors club, recreational sports league, dance class, or martial arts studio. If your relationship with your body and exercise is complicated, you may want to focus on movement that simply brings you joy. Try taking a walk, stretching, skipping stones, gardening — anything that feels comfortable and fun.
Social relationships are crucial for emotional support and creating a sense of belonging. God created us as relational beings with a need to connect to others. Yet that need has been disrupted by the pandemic and social distancing measures. You may be missing loved ones, having been unable to see or touch each other for a long time. Perhaps restrictions are changing where you are and you’re wondering how to reconnect with people. Sanctuary Mental Health’s free app, Together Again, is one way to ignite conversations surrounding mental health and faith. Featuring a virtual deck of conversational cards filled with both light-hearted and serious questions, you can use these to connect with your friends and family as you navigate the transitions and challenges of the year together. Search for it on the App Store or Google Play.
If you’re experiencing Zoom fatigue, try going on a walk or bike ride with loved ones who live close by. Simple phone calls work too and can relieve the pressure of being on-camera, while reducing screen time.
Throughout the Bible we see how God gives to us — his children — out of love (John 3:16-18) and encourages us to do the same so that we may be blessed (Acts 20:35). Giving makes us feel good and has also been shown to positively impact our overall wellbeing. For example, one 2018 study found that volunteering is predictive of “better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, [and] happiness” (Yeung et al., 2017). Finances can be tight as a student, so you don’t necessarily have to give money. You can give your time, energy, or skills to a cause that’s important to you. Serve in your church and consider volunteering at a food bank, shoreline cleanup, tutoring club, or seniors’ home. You could also encourage a friend who’s feeling down, or give your time and attention to someone having a hard day. However, it may feel difficult to serve if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. God invites you into dialogue with him; consider asking Him about the ways in which you can give that still prioritize your wellbeing.
There you have it — five concrete ways to wellbeing that you can start implementing today. As you learn, take notice, be active, connect, and give, be encouraged that you’re taking proactive steps to prioritize your physical and mental wellbeing. Invite God into your journey through prayer and reading scripture as you nourish your mind, body, and soul. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing mental health challenges, please take advantage of mental health and crisis resources available on your campus.
About Sanctuary Mental Health
If you’d like to continue learning about mental health and faith, head to sanctuarymentalhealth.org. Sanctuary creates quality mental health resources in collaboration with theologians, mental health professionals, and people with lived experiences of mental health challenges. Their flagship resource, The Sanctuary Course, is free and open to anyone who wants to learn more about mental health and faith. It’s an eight-week course designed for small groups that features a thought-provoking discussion guide and engaging videos. This resource is a great place to start as you prioritize your mental health and wellbeing this school year. You can also follow along on Instagram (@sanctuarymentalhealth), Facebook (@sanctuarymentalhealth), and Twitter (@sanctuarymh), to find more content and resources about mental health and faith.