Rest, Recharge, and Refocus – How College Students Can Stay Mentally Fit This Winter Break

At long last, winter break has arrived! After a grueling fall semester, college students finally have a chance to relax and reconnect with loved ones. 

However, be wary of taking winter break too easy! While it’s essential to get some R&R, college students should be wary of going overboard. It’s very tempting to fall into a “snowy season slump,” which could adversely affect students’ academic and social lives.    

With the added stress of the pandemic, we all should be carefully watching over our mental health this winter. Students especially should think about ways to use their time wisely to prepare for a stress-free spring semester.         

To help your student find a happy balance between “work and play,” we’ve put together a few helpful winter break college tips. All of the suggestions below should help your college student stay motivated as they mellow out this holiday season. 

Six Mental Health Tips for College Students

1. Want To Heal the Brain? Start With the Belly!

Want an easy way to lift someone’s spirits? Watch what’s going into their stomach!

The old saying is true: “We are what we eat!” In fact, digestive health plays a crucial role in influencing emotional well-being that scientists now call the gut our “second brain.”

Those of you who are interested in the latest health trends have probably already heard about the importance of probiotics. In a nutshell, probiotics are “beneficial bacteria” that help us digest food easier in our gut. Studies strongly suggest that people with fewer probiotic colonies are at a greater risk for emotional issues such as depression.

So, instead of reaching for those Christmas cookies, students might want to consider experimenting with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Items like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut are a few of the best all-natural sources of these beneficial “bugs”. If students have extra time on their hands, they can even try fermenting veggies at home!

As weird as it may sound, adding more probiotics to a person’s gut could have tremendous mental health benefits. So, why not encourage your student to give it a go this winter season?  

2. Schedule a Few “Digital Detox” Sessions

There’s no question that technology has made all of our lives more convenient. However, these high-tech devices can make anyone — especially students — pretty high strung if they’re not careful. 

In fact, evidence now suggests the more time people spend on social media, the greater chance they’ll have mental conditions like depression. Cognitive scientists also caution our 24/7 news cycle preys on the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, which might exacerbate anxiety conditions. 

While students need to stay informed, they also need to set boundaries. If possible, students should limit daily social media use. If you notice your student is getting angry or depressed while using social media, that’s a good sign it’s time for them to shut the laptop or turn off their smartphone and do something positive, like exercise or meditation.  

3. Learn About Finances and Budgeting Amidst the Festivities 

Speaking of stress, few things in life are as anxiety-inducing as money. For many Americans, finances are a significant source of tension throughout the year. Recent research suggests at least 70 percent of Americans worried about money matters within the past month. 

So, it makes “cents” for students to look into seasonal work to build up extra cash during the winter break. First of all, students should learn how to budget. Additionally, students should learn about different investment strategies like CDs, cryptocurrencies, bonds, equities, and Roth IRAs.

No matter what a student is majoring in, it’s always a smart idea to build a diversified portfolio. Winter break is the perfect opportunity for students to assess their risk tolerance and build a solid investment strategy. 

4. Track Your Emotions With Journaling Exercises 

Mainstream medicine now admits there’s a link between our mental states and physical symptoms. There’s now an entire field called “mind-body medicine” devoted to this topic.

So, if students find they’re struggling with conditions like headaches, back pain, or neck issues, there might be a psychological factor at play. Students who have pre-existing mental health issues might want to research this new field during winter break. A couple of great authors to begin with include Dr. John Sarno and Dr. Howard Schubiner

Continuing with this mind-body theme, it might be beneficial for students to keep a journal during their winter break. “Freewriting” or journaling is one of the easiest and most effective ways to deal with difficult emotions. As a bonus, it appears people who keep journals have stronger immunity than those who don’t. Whether students type or write, keeping a journal is an excellent mental health habit to get into this season.  

5. Feeling Blue? Maybe the Weather’s Getting To You! 

There’s no denying the impact weather has on our mood. “Seasonal affective disorder” (aka SAD) is a medically-recognized condition that can make us feel, well, sad! Students who live in particularly frigid areas may need extra help combating the winter blues.    

One of the easiest ways students can brighten the darkest of days is to invest in a high-quality “happy light.” These lights mimic full-spectrum sunlight, which could have a dramatic impact on a person’s overall mood. Parents might want to consider adding one of these bright lights to their home décor this year.

If the “happy light” isn’t cutting it, students should get their vitamin D levels checked. A surprising number of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, especially in regions with bleak winters. Research also suggests there’s a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and mental health. Fixing this common deficiency could help pull students out of the dumps.

6. Get Fit Without Going to The Gym – Take Full Advantage of Free Fitness Courses

Even though many gyms have reopened, some students might feel uncomfortable visiting these high-risk areas. While the risk of COVID at gyms is understandable, students shouldn’t use this as an excuse for skipping their workout routine. We now know that physical activity is related to mental well-being—plus, most students could use a little extra cardio after all those Christmas calories!

No, this doesn’t mean students need to drop a wad of cash on a pricey Peloton! There are many free workouts everyone could take advantage of from the comfort of their home.

One of the best fitness resources now available is the YMCA’s free on-demand workouts. From yoga and youth sports to Pilates and pedaling, there are dozens of professional fitness courses now available through the YMCA 360 platform. So, there’s no excuse for students not to feel a “runner’s high” this holiday season.   

Students Shouldn’t Shy Away From Seeing a Specialist! 

Lastly, if students feel excessive strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they shouldn’t feel ashamed to speak with a qualified psychologist. The latest evidence strongly suggests cognitive behavioral therapy can work wonders for patients. College students can also look into mental health programs available on campus. Encourage your student to be honest with themselves and seek professional help whenever they need it. 

If your student is looking for additional resources on coping with holiday stress, we recommend directing them here.

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