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Salt+Light Intern Reflects on Taking Care of Yourself in First Year University

May 11, 2018
Breanna is one of Salt + Light's student interns and has just completed her first year in Ryerson University's Media Production program.  In this reflection for Mental Health Week, she shares her thoughts on how young Catholics - and students of all faiths - can maintain balance amidst the difficult transition into higher education.
As someone who has a hard time with change, my first year at university was definitely not a walk in the park. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed myself, and made sure to get everything out of my first year experience, but I still struggled with a common issue that many students struggle with today: our mental health.
Amidst adapting to a whole new atmosphere, juggling all the deadlines, tests, exams, midterms, while still maintaining a social life, self care can easily take a back seat in your list of priorities. I mean, who has time to sit back and watch an episode of your favourite tv show, read a book, pray, meditate or relax? There were days when I even found myself skipping meals, because in my mind, assignments came first, and everything else came after. Needless to say, this plan of mine taught me a hard lesson - yes your grades are important in the short term, but your physical and mental well being matters more in the long term.
I eventually realized that all those days of anxiety, and excessively stressing over assignments, just left me feeling even more negative and stressed. I struggled with such simple tasks as brainstorming ideas for projects. To complicate matters further, after finishing my last exam, what was now supposed to be my time to relax and enjoy myself, I was instead constantly filled with negativity, tension and anxiety. Now that I wanted to relax and make time for myself, my body was constantly on high alert, anxious all the time. By the end of the day, I felt more exhausted and drained, than I had throughout the school year.
This is why I can’t stress this enough: There’s a difference between working hard, and killing yourself over your assignments. Just try your best, and give your work up to God. Let God do the rest. That’s all you can ask for. Make time throughout the school year to discover what helps you relax and makes you happy amidst the chaos of assignments and deadlines. I can assure you, that the more you take time out for yourself, the more positive your mental state will be. You will not only have a more joyful, and positive outlook on life, but you will find it easier to enjoy and work your way through assignments. Here are some tips that I found useful when taking care of my mental health:
Take time out to pray: This may sound repetitive, but I find that if you just sit alone in a room, and share your struggles with God, it really does lift some weight off your shoulders. God is always open to listening to your problems. It’s during your most difficult times in life when God is always there the most, even if it may not always appear that way. The last thing He wants is for you to face those difficulties alone. “During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints in the sand it was then that I carried you.” ~ Footprints in the Sand
Meditate: Meditation can be done in many ways. For instance, I find that saying the Rosary, gives me time to once again reflect and clear my mind of all the assignments and projects that need to be done. Before you begin the Rosary, think about your intentions. Dedicate the Rosary to something specific or someone in your life. How about your struggles with stress and anxiety? As you pray the Rosary and remember the Mysteries, think about your personal intentions and imagine God taking that stress and anxiety away from you.
Take up a hobby or do more of something you enjoy: Films and tv shows have always been one of my favourite past times. Occasionally, if I’m feeling down or mentally exhausted, I’ll put on an episode of my favourite tv show, or a favourite film, and just focus on the story being told. Look for something that allows you to escape from reality, even for a short time, to allow yourself some relaxation and peace of mind from your daily schedule.
Meet up with loved ones (family and friends): As difficult as this may be sometimes, whenever you can, look for opportunities to spend time with friends and family. This can be as simple as going to the movies, taking walks or even going out for dinner or coffee. If mutual schedules don’t allow friends to meet up, organize an occasional skype call.
Get fresh air: Most students, if not all of them, practically live glued to their laptops and electronics, spending hours on them each day completing assignments as well as taking breaks. While spending time watching Youtube videos, or scrolling through Instagram might seem like the best way to relax, it really is not the ideal way to destress. There’s always the option of going outside. You don’t even have to go for walks, just sitting outside, away from your electronics can wake you up, allowing you to prepare yourself for the day ahead.
Manage your time: If there’s one thing university will teach you, is that proper time management is key to reducing stress. Although we are human, and it’s very easy to stray from our “to do” list, or ignore it completely, doing what feels better in the moment. While this would probably be the preferred option, it’s important to exercise discipline, and get out of this habit. Think of it this way, the better you manage your time at the beginning, the less anxiety you will feel closer to the due date, and the more time you’ll have to relax.
Get enough sleep: This is something that I struggle with the most. For university students, getting the recommended amount of sleep each night (around 7 to 8 hours) can be a challenge. Even when you have the option to get to bed early, it’s normal to choose to stay up late to relax instead. While you think you’re doing yourself a favour, this is not always the best choice. It will be a struggle to get through school the next day, making it difficult to do your best on assignments and tests. Over time, this can lead to serious health problems.
In addition to the helpful tips mentioned, it’s always important to talk to someone if you are struggling with your mental health. It can be a friend, family member, doctor, or other student resources on campus. There’s always someone available you can talk to. Remember, no matter how much an assignment is worth, it’s never worth more than your mental and physical health.
 
If you'd like to know more about Salt+Light's internship program, click here to watch a short video on one of our past students, Kailee Giorgi.
Our internship program is made possible in large part due to the generosity of our donors - we thank them for their support both of our network as a whole, and in helping to raise up the next generation of Catholic communicators!

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