12 Mental Health Tips for Online Students
Pursuing graduate studies online comes with many benefits, especially for those who are professionals working full time or taking care of family responsibilities. However, when you’re constantly trying to juggle school, work, family, and a social life your mental health may be at risk even if you aren’t stepping foot on campus.
With endless amounts of tasks to accomplish, mental health may not even be on your radar. To successfully complete everything on your list, it’s critical that you practice self care and balance all aspects of your life in a healthy manner.
12 Mental health tips for online students
With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a busy schedule can easily consume your mind. Don’t forget, you need to be kind to yourself in order to live up to your full potential. Follow these mental health tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle:
1) Practice mindfulness
Staring at a computer screen all day and night can be exhausting. When you're constantly busy and going from work right to logging on and doing school, you don’t have time to stop and breathe — this can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression. Practicing mindfulness can improve your mental health through breathing exercises, guided imagery meditation, and other methods to help relax your body and mind.
Mindfulness allows you to stop and focus on the present instead of letting your mind run wild with thoughts of deadlines, meetings, exams, and assignments. Set aside some time during the day — it doesn’t have to be very long — to slow down your thought process. You can practice mindfulness during your most stressful moments to bring yourself back to the here and now, so you can concentrate on the present moment.
2) Get enough rest
When earning your degree online you may think that it would be better to stay up all night to study, watch recorded lectures, and finish papers. The next day you wake up early for work and feel completely drained. Getting only a couple hours of rest can take a toll on your body and mind. In fact, research shows that those who aren’t getting enough sleep are actually less productive and make more errors in their work.
Allow your body to rejuvenate properly by going to bed at a reasonable time that gives you seven to nine hours of sleep. If you aren’t resting enough, you may be at a greater risk of depression and anxiety, heart disease, impaired memory, reduced immune system functioning, weight gain, and accidents. Avoid these by setting a consistent sleep schedule and following sleep hygiene tips to experience the health benefits that come along with getting enough rest.
3) Eat a balanced diet
Believe it or not, the way you fuel your body greatly impacts your mental health. Many graduate students find it hard to maintain a healthy diet due to their demanding schedules, even if all their classes are online. Cooking isn’t always a top priority so you may decide to either skip meals or go with convenience and low cost options such as fast food, microwavable meals, chips, and other snacks.
While this may seem like a good idea to save time and get more work done, you could actually be harming your mind. Foods that are highly processed or high in sugar can alter your mood, leading to an increase in anxiety and depression. Furthermore, when stressed and anxious, many people tend to either eat too much, or not eat enough. Eating too much of these sugary, processed food can make you feel sluggish. Not eating enough food can cause fatigue and exhaustion, making it harder for you to concentrate on your work.
To feel better, energized, and less stressed, try making some changes to your diet. Instead of opening a bag of potato chips for a snack, grab some carrots. Make sure to fill your plate with lots of fruit and veggies for each meal. You can even keep a food journal to track how your eating habits change when you’re feeling more anxious and stressed.
Physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand when it comes to living a lifestyle that promotes reduced stress and anxiety. While pursuing your online education, it can be easy to either sit around all day at a computer screen, or overload your schedule to the point where you’re exhausted and just want to sleep. It’s important to take care of your physical health and keep your body moving.
Exercising can help to relieve stress by releasing feel-good endorphins that enhance your sense of well-being and boost your mood. You’ll also be distracted by movement which can help to end the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and worries. Everyday you should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise. If you can’t find the time in your schedule, consider a brisk 10 minute walk during lunch, or throw yourself a dance party in your pjs before bed!
While you continue your education online, you may unconsciously be secluding yourself from friends and family. Remember, with online education, you don’t get the same amount of socialization with classmates as you would with in-person classes. This means you should try to block out some time each week to get together with friends and family.
Socializing is an effective way to manage anxiety and depression as it creates social motivation. Being around others who make you happy gives you something to look forward to, and encourages you to think about something other than your worries.
6) Find your support team
Managing stress as you pursue your online education can be a struggle and can leave you feeling unsupported and alone. Think about those in your life who you can trust and vent to when you’re having a rough day. Surround yourself with people who always have your back and can put a smile on your face even when things are tough. When you know you have friends and family who constantly support you, you may feel more motivated to push through the hard days.
7) Manage your time wisely
When taking graduate classes in-person, you have a set time that you know you have to be somewhere. If you’re taking graduate courses online, you don’t have that structure and instead are left to manage your own time. While online degree programs give you the ability to have a more flexible schedule, they also require you to be diligent and responsible.
Once you’ve created your course schedule, figure out blocks of time where you can work on each class. Take into consideration any jobs you’re currently working, family responsibilities, and other items on your personal to-do list. Remember to be flexible with this and create extra time during weeks where you have exams or projects due. Leaving anything to the last minute can create more stress and anxiety.
8) Make time for fun
Coming up with ways on how to manage stress can be as simple as leaving time for you to enjoy life and have fun. Don’t let work and school be the only things you do on a daily basis. Overworking yourself will likely lead to burnout, depression, and anxiety.
It may sound weird, but plan on making time for things that bring you joy. Is there a new hobby you’ve been wanting to try? Or maybe a movie you’ve been dying to see? Scheduling in some “me time” can boost your mental health and leave you feeling refreshed.
9) Be kind to yourself
It’s completely normal to feel like you’re under pressure when completing your graduate degree online. Graduate school is hard and you have to navigate multiple courses, deadlines, and work. Although it can be easy to criticize yourself for not getting an “A” on your midterm, or forgetting about an appointment, self-criticism can harm your self-esteem. Consider journaling to let yourself feel your emotions without lingering on them. Try to go easy on yourself and remember that your self-worth does not rely on your GPA or the mistakes you make.
10) Take breaks
Trying to do everything on your list back-to-back, or spending hours on-end for one task can be grueling and overwhelming. You may actually find it harder to stay focused and notice that you’re less productive. Taking breaks throughout the day allows your mind to rest and reset so you can make the most of your day. Stand up and stretch, go for a walk, grab coffee with a friend, or do a 15 minute guided meditation — a short break goes a long way in managing stress.
11) Set goals and reward yourself
Looking at your massive to-do list and wondering how you’re ever going to get through it can actually decrease your motivation. Feeling overwhelmed before you even start working makes it hard to get going because you already feel defeated.
Consider setting reasonable goals for yourself each day to create some structure and give you something specific to work towards. You’re more likely to complete the task and stay focused when you know exactly what steps to take. Once you’ve reached your goal, reward yourself and celebrate!
12) Ask for help
Whether you’re struggling with feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or any other mental health conditions, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it. If you’re feeling nervous about asking for help, talk to someone in your support network such as a parent, sibling, or friend for encouragement. Talking to a mental health professional can help you feel better, and give you coping techniques so you can effectively manage your worries.
Many universities that offer online graduate programs also offer counseling services. NJIT online students have access to the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (C-CAPS). The mental health professions who work in C-CAPS can help you de-stress, manage anxiety and depression, cope with challenging situations, optimize your graduate school experience, and improve the quality of your life.
No matter what the situation is or how overwhelmed you are, know that there is always someone there to support you. Counseling and psychological services can help you in any and all areas of your life. Help is just one phone call away.