Alfie by Lorraine_International Student blog Maynooth University

Focusing on Mental Health

For this month’s blog post, I would like to take some time to discuss the importance of mindfulness for mental health, particularly during exam season. I’m sure everyone can agree that exam season, especially during a pandemic with exam dates that have been squished together within the same week, will have an extremely harmful effect on one’s mental health – I personally struggle with increased anxious thoughts and depressive slumps.

The purpose of this blog post is to be empathetic towards ourselves. We all have bad days, bad weeks, even bad months. It’s important that we can slow down, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves to be present and be proud of what we have achieved this year (I’m looking at the overachievers and perfectionists here who can’t stop racing towards the future). I know there are some fellow people out there who struggle getting out of bed some days, who struggle to complete self-care and hygiene, who can’t bear to stare at a computer screen any longer and who get nauseous at the sight of a textbook.

It’s important that we’re not too hard on ourselves, particularly throughout this pandemic. The will to succeed and do well in academics, and even in personal affairs, has definitely decreased in most students and that is a perfectly normal reaction to social restrictions and academic restrictions – but that does not mean that we are lesser than others. We have survived through one of the most challenging periods of our lives, especially at the ripe ages of 17-22 when we’re meant to be engaging ourselves with our degrees, making friends, socialising. And in addition to this, we have had to cope with a drastic change that quite literally happened overnight. It’s not within human nature to isolate ourselves and restrict ourselves so much, so we need to give ourselves a pat on the shoulder and be proud that we have survived thus far rather than putting ourselves down for it.

I believe that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. We should be able to talk more openly and honestly about it – it’s a natural aspect of general health. The impact of an event in someone’s life on their mental health differs on an individual basis – some people react fine to this, others will be triggered into a pitfall  which will impact different aspects of their lives, naturally. The magnitude of this trigger also varies on an individual basis and I am not one to comment on this, we are all unique individuals.

For people with high-functioning disorders and regular cycles of various mental issues, it is important that we make efforts to alleviate them. For example, exam season hasn’t been so kind to me and I just did my first ever yoga workout. I’ve read about its health benefits and how it reinforces mindfulness and stress regulation into a person’s life. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, some of which can be vices such as smoking and drinking, caffeine addictions, sugar addictions. But ultimately, they do have a negative impact on one’s mental health and exercise has been proven to aid mental health issues, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. There is a stress reliever for everyone out there. In addition to this, I’ve found that being true to myself regarding my interests and hobbies is extremely important for me to feel in-tune with myself, rather than adhering to social norms and constructs – it re-enforces individualism. As cheesy as it may sound, be unapologetically you.

This is where self-love also comes in. Instead of putting ourselves down the next time we look in the mirror, we need to state positive affirmations in our heads. Rather than singling out things we are insecure about or dislike about ourselves, take note of things that you do like about yourself. I can’t recall where I read this but, love yourself and take care of yourself like how you would take care of your lover – unconditionally. Be kind and appreciate yourself because there’s only one of you.

And so, with exam season in full swing, don’t forget to take time out for yourself and do something you enjoy doing, whether it’s watching your favourite Netflix show, gaming, practicing self-care, reading a new book, sketching and painting, or doing your favourite workout routine. Mental health is just as important as academics, if not more important.

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