When I was a freshman in college, I was diagnosed with depression. I know I’m not the only person who was, as one out of four college students struggle with some form of mental illness, including depression; taken altogether, we’re a susceptible bunch to it.
Between the poor sleeping habits and the high tension of midterms, depression is not an uncommon campus phenomenon. If you don’t have it, it’s very likely that a friend, roommate, or classmate will suffer from mental health issues at some point during their time at university.
Once diagnosed, naming the problem can feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Giving depression a name makes it feel less like you’re going crazy, and more like you finally understand the reason behind some of your problems. It feels more possible to overcome.
Yet the road to recovery from depression is hardly a straight path, and at times you may even go backwards. Sometimes, the road may seem so dark that you don’t know if you will find light again. As a college student, recovery can be especially hard given the constant stress the lifestyle brings.
If you or someone you know has depression, you are not alone, and recovery is possible. Easy? No. But possible. Diagnosis is a great first step to recovery. The next steps can be difficult, but I promise that they are worthwhile.
1. Find Support. You Cannot Do This Alone
Depression thrives on silence. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those closest to you. If you have a roommate, family member or friend that you can trust, talk to them when you feel low. Sometimes it’s easy to withdraw. Fight that feeling. When you feel isolated or lonely, connect with those closest to you. You do not have to be alone when dealing with these feelings.
When I was a freshman, I spent my first semester trying to overcome depression alone, and the second with the support of friends and family. It was a night and day difference. Telling those who love you what you are dealing with doesn’t make you weak; having support makes you stronger and more able to deal with the bad days when they come.
2. Visit Your University’s Counseling Center
Knowing your resources is an important step to overcoming depression. Assuming that you’ve been diagnosed, you may already be seeing a counselor or therapist. If not, most universities have a counseling center that offers their services to students for free.
Take advantage of this and don’t feel like that by using them, you are burdening anyone. They are there for students like you, and they can provide excellent support and tools for combatting depression. They may also refer you to additional resources such as support groups, or help you get on anti-depressants.
3. A Healthy Diet: It’s More Important Than You Think
Yes, you really are what you eat. The link between diet and mood exists, and certain foods can help you on your path to recovery. As a university student, it may be difficult to eat much else besides ramen and cereal. Try to eat a more balanced diet by adding a fruit or vegetable to daily meals.
Food may seem like a little thing, but a balanced diet can help boost your mood and make recovery that much easier. If your university has a nutrition department or dietician on-campus, consider calling or sending an email to find ways that you can eat healthier and happier.
4. Take Time to Exercise or Spend Time in the Sun
You don’t have to become a gym rat to reap the benefits of exercise. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week can have a profoundly positive effect on your mood. Not only does physical exertion release chemicals in your brain that function as natural anti-depressants, it can add a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment to your day.
If you can, spend some time in the sun, too. Internal body clocks get out-of-sync without sun exposure, which can throw off the way you regulate hormones, sleep and appetite. With winter approaching, it may be hard to find sunlight hours. Take advantage when the sun is out by walking around campus or doing a quick study session outside.
5. Help Others as You Help Yourself
If your university has a service center, now may be the time to get involved. Volunteer work is a great way to combat depression. Sometimes, depression pushes you to withdraw from others. Service may be the answer to reaching outside yourself and reclaiming purpose to your life.
Volunteering is not the only way you can reach out. If you do not feel comfortable volunteering, you may find similar benefits when helping friends or loved ones. Doing something kind for a friend or providing service for a family member are both great ways to add a little extra brightness to your day.
I encourage you to read this article on simple ways to help people in need .
6. Avoid All-Nighters or Late-Night Study Sessions
Sleep deprivation makes it hard to think clearly or function at your fullest potential, and it is also a strong trigger for depression. If you’re getting less than six hours of sleep a night, try to find a way to get more rest. Whether that’s setting a personal curfew or finding time for a nap during the day, know the importance of sleep and make time for it.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, avoid getting too much sleep. This can also cause fatigue and fogginess. Seven to eight hours of sleep is the general recommendation for adults. Do what you can to fall within these parameters.
7. Notice the Little Victories
Recovery from depression can feel fraught with setbacks. As they start to add up, you may feel frustrated or hopeless. Shouldn’t you be recovering faster? It’s easy to get caught up on the big things and see very little improvement.
But recovery is not always about winning the large battles. Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. Getting out of bed and attending classes, refraining from self-harm and reaching out to a loved one when you need help are all small steps that pave the road to overcoming depression.
Give yourself credit for the little things. Realize that they add up. You are doing better than you think.