By SARA LATTMAN
Growing up, my mom always gave my brother and I one “mental health day” each semester to ensure we were performing our best academically. During these days, I would spend my time cleaning up my room, spending time with my mom and refreshing my mindset. As I got older, I would use them to take care of errands or situations that had been on my mind constantly. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that this was, unfortunately, not a normal occurrence among students.
The topic of mental health has a stigma attached to it, and it causes young students to refrain from seeking help they might need. While getting professional help when needed is important, there are ways to take care of your mind in order to maintain a strong academic performance.
The majority of older college students and alumni will tell you the easiest way to succeed in college is to attend class every day. They’re generally correct, but it is important to remember that being physically available in class means nothing if your mind is too strained to focus.
College students in a 2011 report released by the American College Health Association said that depression and anxiety are some of the top impediments to academic performance. Sixty-four percent of young adults who stopped attending college did so for mental health-related reasons. Fifty percent of college students have experienced terrible anxiety, making it hard for them to succeed academically. Taking one day a semester to reset and refocus will do wonders for your productivity, eliminating mental exhaustion and allowing you to perform at your best.
What is a mental health day?
Mental health days are not meant for skipping class to avoid assignments, tests or other responsibilities. These days need to be planned in advance and are meant to renew your mindset in order to be a more successful student.
This summer, CNN covered a viral story where a software developer for Michigan-based live chat platform Olark took two sick days off work to recharge her mental health. Olark CEO Ben Congleton responded admirably, fully backing his employee’s decision and even encouraging others to do the same. He told CNN, “It’s 2017. When an athlete is injured they sit on a bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”
Here are a few signs that I’ve noticed over the years in my personal experience that indicate you might need a day to reduce your anxieties:
You are distracted by something that requires your attention. If you need to take care of a medical issue or have to deal with something major in your life, take a day to handle those things directly instead of putting them off and working distracted. This will help you return to classes much more focused and clear-headed. I’ve learned that clearing a to-do list makes it much easier to focus on your academic responsibilities.
You haven’t been sleeping. Sleep is vital to proper brain function. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep deficiency can alter your ability to make decisions, solve problems and cope with change. If you haven’t been able to sleep and you feel it is affecting your academic performance, a day to catch up may be worth it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to sleep lost because of partying on weeknights.
You have appointments set to help you with a mental health issue. Treat mental health like you would treat physical health. If you have an appointment that will help you take care of your mind, go to the appointment. Bring your professor a note from the professional if you’re missing something important.
How to schedule your mental health day?
A good way to start scheduling a mental health day is by evaluating your syllabus from each class and picking a slow day a couple weeks down the road that won’t disrupt your grades. Talk to your peers and have someone send you the notes or assignments for that day so you don’t fall behind.
If you get anxious about missing a day of class, try taking a mental health day on a weekend. Focus on yourself and your wellness instead of crowding your weekend with events and parties. Use your free time to get yourself back on track so you can start the new week prepared and focused.
How should you spend your mental health day?
While these mental health days may seem like a day you can spend watching Netflix and ignoring your responsibilities, it is much better to use your time productively. In order to stay focused on your academic success, tackling errands and to-do lists you would normally ignore will help you be less distracted in the classroom. You might also take part in stress-reducing activities such as yoga or exercise, and avoid unhealthy things that will only cause more stress in the future. The fitness center offers yoga classes to help you relax and meditate.
What resources are available to you?
Fortunately for UT students, our school has multiple resources available to students struggling with mental health. The Dickey Health and Wellness Center provides counseling to all full time students. You can get up to six sessions a semester. The hours of the wellness center can be found at ut.edu/counseling and there is also a 24-hour counseling center staff that can be reached at (813) 257-7777 in the case of an emergency. There are also multiple options outside of school such as the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay which can be contacted at (813) 964-1964.
Sara Lattman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.