Published: Feb. 12, 2021

Girl doing yogaWhile 2020 was an incredibly difficult year for many of us, it also showed us how important it is to prioritize our mental health and take care of one another. Here are 4 tips and takeaways from the past year that your student can use to improve their mental health in 2021.

1: Start with the basics

Prioritizing our basic needs like eating, sleeping and getting physical activity is important for our mental health. Taking care of our bodies can improve our mood, stress levels, self-esteem and help reduce anxiety. Reminding our students to take care of these areas can be helpful:

Sleep: Our students need about 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night. Encourage them to shut off their phones before bed or try some relaxing activities to help their body unwind, like journaling, reading, yoga or listening to music. They can also attend a free Healthy Living workshop provided by Counseling and Psychiatric Services, which covers a variety of topics, including sleep.

Eat: Your student may be overeating or undereating in order to cope with stress or anxiety. Encourage them to honor their hunger cues and eat at least one meal each day distraction-free (no phones, no computers, no TV, etc.). It can also be helpful to remind them to pack snacks if they are planning to have a long day on campus. Students can get additional help with nutrition, meal planning, intuitive eating and more through Nutrition Services

Move: Students can make physical activity more enjoyable by choosing activities that they like and are excited to do. Working out doesn’t have to be strenuous or burn a lot of calories to count. Moving their body through walking, yoga or low-impact activities is just as beneficial for their mental and physical health. If your student is looking for support to get started, they can check out the Rec Center for classes, outdoor activities and more. 

2: Take a break from Zoom

Between Zoom classes, Zoom meetups, Zoom game nights and all the other things we Zoom about, it’s no wonder many of our students are feeling fatigued by virtual socializing. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to tell your student to unplug and find alternative ways to meet people or connect with friends and family. Here are a few ideas you can try with them:

Snail mail. Sending letters, postcards or small care packages in the mail can be a great way to connect with friends, family and other loved ones. It can also give your student something to look forward to.

Pretend to have a landline. Video calls have swiftly replaced face-to-face interactions. While this can be a great way to see and chat with friends or family, it can be fatiguing to be on video all day. If your student dreads video chats, try making an old fashioned phone call instead. You may be surprised by the difference.

There’s an app for that. Meeting people organically can be hard, especially with public health guidelines in place. If your student is struggling to meet new people, it may be time to get creative. Encourage them to branch out of their normal circles and try apps like MeetUp. Apps like this can be a great place to start finding people or joining groups your student clicks with.

Volunteer. Is your student passionate about a cause? Volunteering can be a great way to get more involved in the community (in person or online) and meet new people who have similar interests. The Volunteer Resource Center has a number of resources to help your student get started.

Socialize at a distance. Encourage your student to take part in activities that allow them to see friends while maintaining a safe distance. For instance, outdoor activities like hiking or biking are a great way to enjoy social time while still following public health orders. Remind them to check the current dial level for restrictions before heading out.

3: Talk to someone

If your student is struggling, let them know it’s okay to reach out for help. Seeking connection and support from friends, family or professionals can help your student through the hard times. Here are a few resources on campus that are available to help:

  • Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS): CAPS is the primary mental health resource for CU Boulder students. They offer mental health assessments, brief individual and couples counseling, workshops, group therapy and Let’s Talk consultations.
  • Office of Victim Assistance (OVA): OVA is the primary resource for students, staff and faculty who have experienced a traumatic or disruptive life event, including death, illness, harassment, assault, abuse, bias and more. They offer brief individual counseling, advocacy services and Ask an Advocate consultations.
  • Peer Wellness Coaching (PWC): Peer Wellness Coaches are students who are trained to support their fellow Buffs. PWC is a great option for students who want to set goals, connect with additional resources or make positive changes in their lives.

If your student is experiencing a mental health crisis, please utilize emergency and crisis care options.

4: Practice

We live in a culture that emphasizes quick fixes and easy solutions. However, mental health is a complex issue, and it may take time, patience and practice to feel better. One important factor in working to improve our mental health is to stick with it. It can feel tempting to continually scroll through mental health practices looking for the best and easiest solution. However, encouraging your student to take stock of what they already know and putting it into practice can often be more helpful than searching for new alternatives.

For instance, if your student knows that going to bed early or disconnecting from the news is helpful for them, encourage them to keep it up over an extended period of time. It’s also important for your student to know that there’s no shame in looking for alternative strategies, but remind them not to neglect the tools that already work for them.