A Guide to Mental Health for the STEM Student
Another week, another post? Hell yeah! This week, we are diving deep into some tips and tricks, I have learned to better navigate life as a STEM student. Mental health was never something that is often talked about in my country. We still historically are influenced by the ever so wrong ideas that mental health is not like physical health. HOWEVER, I have started to become more at peace with the idea, that maybe mental health is just as important as physical health, over the past several years.
While experiencing this journey, I also started learning a lot more about ways, tips, and tricks that I could better navigate especially as a STEM college student. And now, it's about time I take you along on this journey. You may be asking me, and yourself: Why is this so important to STEM students? Well, according to a survey done by Harward (read here) graduate students are 6 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the general population. Further, 36% of them have sought help for depression or anxiety caused by their studies. Without boring you with further research findings on the severity of the issue, this is highly understandable.
STEM majors experience an outstanding amount of pressure in and outside of college. From the competitiveness of these fields, to increased pressure related to funding, resources, imposter syndrome, very hard and challenging courses. As well as the outside clubs, organizations, societies, design teams and many many many others they are not only choosing to, but are expected to participate in gives them an outstanding amount of pressure, anxiety, and hard to manage everyday life. The work-life balance is almost fully impossible to achieve as every waking moment is spent managing their work, courseload, and many others.
Overall, it is without question that these students are not only struggling with mental health, but this needs to be placed as a number one priority in their life.
So without further ado, here are some things that were game-changers for me, aka the guide to mental health for the STEM student!
Destigmatizing mental health
It is crucial to make students understand, that their mental health is not something they should be ashamed of or feel that they shouldn't be asking for help regarding it. Going to a therapist is just like going for your yearly checkups. We all get colds, and we all have bad days. If you had a broken arm, you wouldn't try hiding it or fixing it yourself. We all have harder times, and I am a true believer that everyone should see a therapist. Even if things are great, even if you think you don't have any serious issues. First of all, a good talk is great for everyone's soul. Secondly, seeing a therapist doesn't have to be because you are trying to "fix" something, or because you are having a challenging time. It can be so you can grow, develop and be a better overall human. So you can become a better version of yourself for yourself, and a better human for those around you as well. It's all about growing.
Experience and experiment
Live a little more. When you are in college, constantly surrounded by other anxious students, it feels almost impossible to get out of the mindset. The mindset of working, studying, and getting things done. Try to experience the things you are doing. Aim to step away from these and do some other things. Work out, hang out with friends, go bowling, eat a cake. Whatever it might be focus on experiencing those things. Don't have your mind on the things you have to do. Have your mind on the experience of just how good that slice of cake really is. And when, you have a hard time doing it, and even in general, experiment. Try a new route, a new book, a new recipe, listen to a new podcast, go to a different grocery store. Whatever it might be, force yourself to do new things, to force your mind onto experiencing.
A lot of anxiety and stress of everyday STEM student life roots in the ever-changing situations, homework, etc. By preparing some of the everyday life things ahead of time. Let it be lunch or outfit prep. You are helping yourself feel less overwhelmed and concentrate on other things. This also lets you spend some time on your weekend preparing for the week ahead, therefore it will feel like you are ready to go on a Monday morning.
And I mean it. Trying different breathing techniques, such as box breathing, increases your ability to handle a very stressful situation. Panicking and anxiety most often showcase themselves in rapid breathing. By focusing on your breath, you will be able to handle the stress much easier.
Say good things about you
Often just by being kinder and nicer with and to yourself you can boost your mood and be a lot more confident. Let yourself and force yourself to say good and amazing things about yourself. Because a bad time doe sin no way reflect or alter all the progress you have made. Just because you slip a little, does not mean you have not already climbed half a mountain. Remind yourself of these things.
If something feels great, take note of it
When you are enjoying yourself or found a new way to relax, or even just a small hobby, take note. Therefore, when you have a hard time, you will be able to go back to them and do one of them. Or even just remind yourself of a really great time you had. Nostalgia is always a good time.
Small steps & Patience
All of this can also feel like too much sometimes, and that's okay. Stay patient with your journey and yourself. You will learn, and you will grow. So let yourself do those things and stay patient with yourself.
I know that it is challenging, but you will get through, and making time for yourself and putting effort into making your mental health a priority will not only make handling this much easier but also make you a better and happier student.