Make time for self-care in May

CMU Counseling Center staff offer advice to make the most of Mental Health Awareness Month

| Author: Ari Harris

Eating right, getting enough sleep and making time for exercise are part of a healthy physical routine. Did you know they also can improve your mental health?

May is national Mental Health Awareness Month — a great time to take a fresh look at our lifestyles and to add self-care to our daily routines, said Melissa Hutchinson, interim director of counseling services at CMU's Counseling Center.

More than a healthy attitude

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being and can affect how we think, feel and act. It can, in turn, be affected in positive and negative ways by our genetics, our upbringing and the world around us.

When we're in good mental health, we often find we can work productively, connect with others in meaningful ways and enjoy life. We feel good.

But it's not always so easy to identify when we're in poor mental health, Hutchinson said.

"Sometimes it is hard to articulate how you're feeling when you are stressed or anxious, but you know you don't feel quite right. It can be an inability to focus, a change in appetite, having trouble sleeping or remembering things, or even just feeling sad."

A checkup for mental health

Just like physicians encourage patients to come in for annual wellness checkups, Hutchinson encourages people to consider making mental health checkups part of their self-care routine.

"You don't need to be in crisis to make an appointment to talk with someone. Mental health isn't always about mental illness. It's about navigating life's roadblocks," Hutchinson said.

More than half the students who come into the center are seeking help for stress and anxiety, Hutchinson said. They also may come in for help navigating relationships and for stress related to classes, homework, finances, work and more.

During a free individual session, counselors will talk with students about their challenges, suggest resources and develop a plan, which might include additional individual sessions or group activities. Students can make an appointment by walking in or by calling the center.

Make time for self-care and fun

Michelle Bigard, associate director of the Counseling Center, said activities that give individuals a chance to pause, reflect, breathe and engage in creative activities are also good for self-care. They can include physical activities, such as yoga; mental activities, such as meditation; and emotional activities, such as spending quality time with a friend.

Bigard says CMU's Counseling Center frequently takes self-care and creative programs out into campus, speaking to organizations and classes and hosting events such as drum circles and art workshops. Even playing with cute dogs through the center's Pause for Paws program can help reduce stress.

It's part of the comprehensive counseling model CMU uses to reach out to students before they are in crisis, Bigard said. This spring, Bigard hosted a bubble-blowing party on the Park Library lawn during exams and a series of random acts of kindness in November to honor World Kindness Day.

"There is real value in play. There is value in serving others. These breaks are fun, and they also are grounded in science," Bigard said.

Make time for self-care and fun

The most recent National College Health Assessment showed that more than 60 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety, and more than half felt they were experiencing more than average levels of stress and struggling with academics.

Hutchinson said CMU offers many resources to help students:

  • The Counseling Center, which offers a variety of programs and services ranging from individual appointments with counselors to drop-in stress breaks.
  • Therapy Assistance Online, an online self-help resource available to all CMU students, faculty, staff and alumni.
  • Success coaches, who can help students develop effective study skills to make the workload from classes more manageable.
  • University Recreation, which offers fitness and wellness programs that can reduce stress, improve sleep and ease the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Academic Advisors who can help students schedule classes to manage workloads and keep them on the right path to graduation.
  • The Student Food Pantry and Student Emergency Find which can help students meet immediate basic needs.
  • The Financial Wellness Collaborative, which can help students develop a plan to manage student debt and plan for their financial future. Help for struggling students

Help for struggling students

If you or someone you know are struggling and need help, don't wait. At CMU, we take care of one another and ourselves. Anyone can complete a confidential online order form to request help for yourself or someone you care about.

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