Self-Care Tips for College Students

Self-Care Tips for College Students

Many college students are living alone for the first time in their lives, and that adjustment can have a huge effect on their mental health. Academic and social pressures, a sudden increase in unstructured time during the day, and feelings of homesickness or isolation can all contribute to mental health issues. According to Psychology Today“teens and young adults … are more stressed, anxious, lonely, and depressed than ever before.”

self-care tips in college

If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, it’s crucial to reach out to friends and loved ones. You may want to look for on-campus resources available at your university. Many schools offer at least a few free counseling sessions to students per term, with or without the school-provided health insurance program. 

It’s also important to look for small, consistent ways to take care of yourself on a regular basis. Exercise, meditation, and socializing with friends all have documented mental health benefits. Look for activities that improve your mood and make you feel better-equipped to tackle the major stresses of college life.

Stressed student

It’s also important to note that self-care isn’t just for students in crisis. Even if you aren’t dealing with overwhelming depression or anxiety right now, peppering your routine with a few activities that improve your mood can help you maintain your emotional health. It can also help you study more efficiently, enjoy your day-to-day life more, and feel better-equipped to weather any demanding situations as they come up.

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What is Self-Care?

Self-care refers to a set of activities that “maintains physical, emotional, and mental well-being,” according to the Scholarship System blog. The term is broad and sometimes misused, but it’s best understood as a practice of setting aside time to prioritize your health and engage in behaviors that make you feel calm and energized.

Self-care is most effective when it’s viewed as a habit that’s incorporated into your routine, rather than an occasional indulgence. For many people, especially in the middle of a busy term, taking time out of your schedule just to do something that feels good may seem irresponsible. That said, by adding a self-care practice to your day, you might find that you actually study and work more efficiently because you’re calmer and more focused when you hit the books.

Practice Sleep Hygiene

In college, sleep is often the first thing that goes out the window, especially when finals roll around. With schoolwork, extracurriculars, social gathings, and work, many students struggle to meet all of their commitments and still get a good night’s rest. That said, practicing good sleep hygiene can have major health benefits and may even help you study more effectively.

Girl sleeping

Sleep is an integral part of forming memories, allowing the brain to store and process information and aiding in the learning process, according to Harvard Medical School. What’s more, sleep problems can increase the risk for mental health issues, and treating sleep issues can sometimes help alleviate the symptoms of mental health problems, according to the Harvard Department of Health.

Sleep hygiene refers to habits that can help improve your sleep. They include limiting caffeine and alcohol intake before bedtime, limiting daytime naps to 20-30 minutes, limiting blue light and screen time before bed, and striving for consistency in terms of when you go to bed each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It’s also important to try to get some exercise if you’ve been having trouble sleeping, even if you just take a brisk walk around your neighborhood.

Write It Out

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you understand them more clearly, which makes it a great tool for coping with stress and other mental health concerns. Journaling can “help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression,” according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Guy journaling

It can also help you monitor your emotional health and identify patterns or triggers in your daily life. If you notice that certain negative feelings keep coming up after spending time with a certain person or engaging in a certain activity, that might be a signal to reevaluate that part of your life. Journaling also helps people develop and maintain a sense of perspective. If work or social issues feel especially overwhelming, looking back on similar periods in the past can actually be a source of comfort—you got through it then, and you can get through it now!

Aim for Regular Exercise

One of the simplest and most popular forms of self-care is working out. Whether you join an intramural sports team, hit the trails, or head to the gym, working up a sweat improves not only your physical health, but also your emotional wellbeing.

Guys playing basketball

The mood benefits of exercise are dramatic and well-documented. Studies have shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression “as effectively as antidepressant medication,” according to HelpGuideIt also reduces anxiety and negative moods and “[improves] self-esteem and cognitive function,” according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Exercise can help you get a better night’s sleep, which in turn has other positive effects on your mental health.

If that’s not reason enough to hit the gym, research also links exercise with improved cognitive function, meaning it can also help you study. The same endorphins that have mood-boosting effects can help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp, so going for a brisk walk or a jog could be your pre-exam secret weapon.


Whether it’s a coffee date or dinner at the dining hall, reaching out to friends is vital for your mental and emotional wellbeing. While it might feel like all of your classmates are socializing and partying without you, that’s not necessarily the case. Psychology Today published a guide for students experiencing loneliness, and the author emphasizes that loneliness among college students is common, and that it often takes a year or two for a new place to feel like home.

Girls socializing

If you feel disconnected from your campus community, consider joining a club or volunteering with an on-campus organization to help develop connections with other students. If your course load or work commitments are preventing you from socializing, make sure to carve out at least a few face-to-face social interactions every day. They could be as simple as a chat in the hall with a friendly classmate, or inviting an acquaintance to study in the library with you. Psychologist Susan Pinker explains in an interview with Medical News Today that social interaction “works like a vaccine,” releasing neurotransmitters that help us regulate stress and anxiety.

Take a Shower

One quick mood boost is taking a hot shower. Just ten minutes in a warm shower can act as a natural sedative, according to the Leaf blog. Showers calm our mind, body, and nerves and help us feel relaxed and drowsy before bed. The steam can also help when you’re coming down with a cold by loosening phlegm that causes coughing and sore throat.


Meditation is one of the easiest forms of self-care to fold into your routine. Instead of checking Instagram or Snapchat, start your day with a ten-minute guided meditation, and you might find that the benefits last well into the afternoon.


Meditation has documented emotional health benefits, including: reduced stress levels, anxiety relief, improved self-image, encouraging a more positive outlook on life, improved attention span, and better sleep, according to Healthline. Evidence suggests that meditation can even re-program a patient’s brain in order for them to feel more happiness on a daily basis, according to Inc.

If you’re new to meditation, there are dozens of apps that offer tutorials, including Headspace and Calm. You can also check out free guided meditations on Spotify or YouTube, or look for an in-person class at a studio near you!

Everything’s Going to Be Okay

Rates of stress and depression among young people are at record highs. It may seem like everyone around you is partying and having fun, but that’s not necessarily the case. If the stress of college life is getting to you, remember that perfection isn’t mandatory.

Happy students

If you don’t get the perfect grade, if you feel nervous in social situations, or if you feel isolated, remind yourself that the situation is temporary. It takes time to make friends, and you won’t always perform perfectly in every class. That’s okay.

College is about experimenting, learning, and growing as a person. If you’re struggling in one of your classes, look into on-campus tutoring services and take advantage of office hours. If your course load feels completely unmanageable, keep that in mind when you register for classes next term, and try to plan for a more feasible course load. And if you feel lonely, remember that many of your classmates are in the same boat. Odds are, that acquaintance down the hall could use a friendly chat or a study buddy.

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