Opinion—In case someone hasn’t reminded you lately, don’t push it too hard


Taking a walk can help you decompress from the stresses of daily life, aiding your mental health.

Akasha Khalsa

If you’ve been feeling particularly down, hopeless, angry, jittery, heavy, sleepy, teary, randomly panicky, prone to substance use or unmotivated lately then it’s definitely time to make a little space to take care of your mental state.

This year of COVID-19 has been linked to concerns over widespread negative impacts on mental health by many health experts.

“Although a rise in symptoms of anxiety and coping responses to stress are expected during these extraordinary circumstances, there is a risk that prevalence of clinically relevant numbers of people with anxiety, depression, and engaging in harmful behaviors (such as suicide and self-harm) will increase,” according to a United Kingdom survey on concerns over mental health issues relating to the pandemic.

On top of stress related to the pandemic, college students already face mental health-related worries. In fact, according to an American Psychological Association study, more than 85% of students with mental health problems terminated their schooling without completing a degree.

So we should all be a little more on the lookout for continued, severe, troubling emotional states in ourselves and our friends and loved ones.

Some things to look out for when you’re worried about your mental health or the health of others around you are changes in sleeping patterns, overeating or undereating, fatigue, loss of interest in activities, being weepy, anxiety and thoughts of death or hurting yourself, according to healthline.com.

I’m not a health professional, so everything I have to say is based on personal experience and very basic research. But I can say with certainty that your mental health is, believe it or not, more important than that paper due in your English class, that page of math homework, or that event you’re not sure you can tolerate Zooming into. That’s not to say little twinges of angst or anxiety should be used as excuses to habitually skip out on responsibilities and miss your personal goals (that will just get you more down and make you feel guilty). But taking care of yourself shouldn’t be disregarded either. 

I’ve found that balancing the two priorities is often a series of difficult decisions. Should I go to class today? No, I haven’t missed a class yet and today I’m struggling hard. Should I work on these analyses or take a walk and try to get some good brain chemicals flowing? Perhaps try to finish the analyses and then go out. Can I afford to skip meals today, or is this presentation more important than food? Definitely eat, then work on the presentation. Etc, etc.

There are many things you can try if you find yourself having an overwhelming moment. 

First off, take a break. Assess your responsibilities and see what you could eliminate for perhaps a week, to give yourself a little respite. For example, let your student organization know you need to take a week off to attend to personal affairs. Request an extension on a paper or project; many professors are quite reasonable. Inform your place of work if possible and ask for a little leniency, being open and honest if the workplace allows.

Or at least, take a walk. This will get your body moving, and you can have a brief respite from your responsibilities and problems while breathing fresh air.

Stop spending energy on toxic people for a little while. Friends with constant drama, a partner who makes you feel negative, etc. You don’t have to talk to them all the time anymore, you really don’t. You also don’t have to read the news, answer calls from manipulative people, or engage in extended interactions with people who make you feel small or hopeless. That said, don’t isolate yourself. Perhaps join a student organization, connect with those who support your growth and happiness.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek help. This looks like calling helplines, going to a counselor, telling loved ones you need some support, even going to the hospital if you’re scared you may hurt yourself. Taking these actions to help yourself are all okay, and may be necessary.

Remember it’s not selfish, and it’s not irresponsible to prioritize your mental state a little more. Eat nutritious food, go for a walk, hug someone, and do what you can. You’re more important than your responsibilities.