By Cheong Wen Xuan
As students, it’s no secret that we routinely jeopardise our physical health by burning the midnight oil, getting little to no proper rest, and chugging unhealthy amounts of caffeine. What many of us overlook, however, is how we also put our mental health at risk by juggling school and work commitments, making time for our personal and social lives, worrying about our uncertain future, while still trying to catch as few Z’s at night. This all culminates in us being crushed by destructive amounts of stress, and it’s scary how mental breakdowns and panic attacks have become such a normalised part of the average student life.
Here are some ways you can tackle the overwhelming levels of anxiety and stress that threaten to suffocate you each semester, and how to make sure that your mental wellbeing gets just as much attention as your studies.
1) Look at the big picture
We tend to get so wrapped up with our studies and responsibilities that we become myopic – we start to obsess over the paper due tomorrow or the exam to sit for in a few hours, and we put unnecessary, unwarranted amounts of stress on ourselves.
What we don’t realise in the moment is how we sometimes make a mountain out of a molehill, and that this giant of a problem will hardly matter much a month from now. Because honestly, how many of us look back on an exam that we did badly for last year and still cry over it, or still berate ourselves over a class that we overslept for last semester? The truth is all these little commitments probably won’t mean anything to us in a few months, so if things go wrong even while we’re trying our best, remember to take a deep breath, and a big step back. What may seem to us like failures of life-or-death magnitudes are actually just tiny bumps in what’s going to be a loooong journey, so and the important thing is to just pick yourself back up and to continue moving forward. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
2) Be kind to yourself
Forgive yourself. I know everyone is their own biggest critic, but we often forget that we should be our own biggest cheerleader as well. Just like how a letter grade does not define our worth, academic performance is not the only indicator of ~success~! The meritocracy has raised us to be overly harsh on ourselves, and the fixation on the paper chase has bred in us toxic ideals of victory or accomplishment. We tend to forget that spending time with our loved ones, nurturing our talents and passions, or even simply getting a good night’s sleep are all victories too. So each time you feel stressed about what you have to do or failed to do, you should remember the things that you have done, and give yourself a pat on the back!
3) Talk to someone
It could be a friend, family member, psychologist, or counsellor. What’s important is to voice out your worries and anxieties, rather than keeping them all to yourself, and eventually, after being pushed past the tipping point, exploding in a messy emotional meltdown… ugly crying and all. A support system is very important, so surround yourself with encouraging, positive people who cheer you on! Talking to someone can be a great release and an effective way to vent, and sometimes, structuring and articulating your worries helps you realise that things aren’t as bad as they seem, and getting another person’s opinion and advice can help you think more clearly, lessening your stress!
4) Seek medical help
If you feel like nothing is helping, you’re at the end of your rope, and your anxiety is taking a toll on your mental wellbeing and inhibiting your everyday life, don’t be afraid to seek help from a psychiatrist, who can prescribe you the right medication! While it’s definitely a last resort, you should never avoid medication if you’re truly in need of it, just because you think of it as something shameful or unnecessary. Brain scans have shown that individuals with different mental or anxiety disorders experience a physical change in the brain, such as an excess or decreased production of certain chemicals. After all, the brain is an organ as well! If your kidneys were sick, you wouldn’t hesitate to seek help from a doctor to treat them, or to take medication. Why is it that when your brain is sick, people struggle so much with seeking help from a doctor? You wouldn’t tell an asthmatic person to ‘suck it up’ and to ‘just keep breathing’, or that ‘it’s all in your lungs’, so why would you tell a person experiencing abnormal amounts of anxiety that ‘it’s all in your head’? There should be no stigma in seeking help from a psychiatrist if your mind feels unwell, and trust me, there will be no regrets in the long run.
While it is right to put an emphasis on our studies, and while our grades are indeed important, remember that we should never neglect our health, both physical and mental! And hey, don’t worry, you’re doing great 😉