5 ways to boost your mental well-being whilst studying
Health and wellbeing is the foundation upon which the human experience lies. Mental health frames and filters our external perception. Being mentally healthy is a pre-curser to experiencing happiness, to finding fulfilment, and ultimately to engaging with our surroundings with positivity and gratitude. It is harder to change the world, than it is to reflect on our internal perceptions of it.
To all my fellow students out there, studying hard for a brighter tomorrow, this article is an ode to you. Hopefully my reflections are of some value, but I earnestly encourage you to find your own methods to improve your mental health. Do not delay.
Tip 1: Be a student
Whether you are a student currently, or looking to study sometime soon, this tip is meant in a grander sense. Be a student of life, or rather, never stop learning. Constantly seek to challenge yourself, find new horizons that push and enhance your worldview. This philosophy pertains to the Japanese concept of lifelong michi, or continuous learning. Where samurai’s found fulfilment in their devotion to their swordsmanship, and application of the arts. Learning is a lifelong journey, that provides a purpose and a path.
According to research from Thrive Global (https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-learning-and-working-help-improve-your-mental-health/), education and producing work you love, are the two most powerful ways to treat depression and anxiety. Learning is connected to reducing anxiety and dementia.
A case in point is my Grandpa, Alby. A jovial character, who at the age of 81 refuses to retire. He loves his work, it, along with his family, is his drive and purpose. I’ve never met a happier man cutting grass and trimming hedges. It is always a joy to work alongside him. I’ve noticed he remains sharp and as engaged as ever.
For myself, learning comes in the form of conversation. The greatest knowledge I have received has come from talking to others, who think and perceive differently from how I do. University has provided me with the opportunity to expand my horizons, by connecting me with fellow students from all walks of life.
Tip 2: Express yourself: Engage with your class peers
Studying can be an arduous process. Late nights, last minute assignment crunches, a constant feeling that you should be studying. All this can be a recipe for stress! An uninvited guest who gate-crashes your party (OMG seriously!). Connecting with classmates has been my solution for dealing with this unwanted visitor. Going out for lunch, forming a study group, or in true 2020 fashion; arranging a zoom call, makes me feel less alone in the liminal space that is studying.
In saying that I feel blessed to have met a great group at NZIE. Our small class fosters a spirited sense of togetherness, like a group of penguins huddling together to share warmth amongst a snowy onslaught. We stick together, for we start and will hopefully graduate as a team. This communal feel extends beyond the classroom, with tutors and staff’s open door policy making studying feel like a family affair.
Build a sense of familiarity with your class peers. Because no-one can understand your academic struggles like they do.
Tip 3: Exercise
If exercise were a drug, it would be the greatest one ever invented. For myself, I find it is the best way to detox and reset after a long day of study. It clears my head and allows me to think with greater clarity. It has been proven; there is a clear link between movement and brain health. Something as simple as a walk, increases our capacity to retain information, and boosts our overall mood.
Tip 4: Be organised - Stay on top of that coursework!
This tip I’m sure you have heard hundreds of times. Here I am, saying it again. Staying on top of assignments, and study, is the greatest way to reduce academic stress. I must admit, I too have done one too many last minute assignment crunches. From finishing work, to my study desk, red-bull in hand, pulling an all-nighter to get my essay complete. Leaving an assignment to the last two days, and hating myself for doing so. These have definitely been some of the most stressful periods of my academic career. However, I chalk this down to youth and inexperience. Today, I prefer to stay on top of my work, finishing and completing assignments early and at my own pace.
Whilst this advice is once again common knowledge, it often does not translate too common practice. Here is another gentle reminder – stay on top of your coursework. You’ll thank me later.
Tip 5: Meditation
This one is new to myself, but has been highly beneficial at boosting my overall mood. Meditation to me, means increasing one’s capacity to be mindful. Simply sitting for 10 minutes a day, and observing both my thoughts and my surroundings, grounds me within my current awareness. Too often I find my thoughts racing away from me, dreading something to come, stuck in a state removed from my immediate situation. What meditation has allowed me, is a greater awareness of the rhythms that exist around me. From my own circadian rhythms, through to seasonal cycles impact on my mood. During summer I often feel more elated in comparison to winter. Having an awareness of external factors impact on my internal mood, allows me to adapt to a more positive mind-frame.
Interestingly, the samurai philosophy was to operate with an empty mind. To exist in a state of flow, with seamless transition between movements and actions. I myself, have found this state of flow only in sport. From endless tennis drills, hitting thousands of balls, I find on the court I sometimes do not think, but simply do. My body instinctually knows what to do to produce the optimal result. Andre Agassi, one of the tennis greats proclaims to this too. His mind is empty when he plays tennis, it is clear. Meditation provides a platform to integrate clarity into the everyday.
These simply are techniques that I have come up with over the years, to improve my mental health whilst studying. Everyone however is different, so I encourage you to explore or evaluate your own techniques. Mental health is a lifelong process, we are all prone to fluctuations in mood and mind. Simply being aware, and having a platform for engagement is super important. You are not in this alone. To everyone out there, all the best on your journey.