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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Cheap and Free Activities that Improve your Mental Health.

Taking care of your mental health, your emotional self, can be difficult, especially in your first year away from home.  You miss home and your parents (even if it’s hard to admit). The lifestyle is different away from home.  The studying is much harder than you expected or have ever experienced.  The level of stress is high, and your parents aren’t in the kitchen, ready to listen to your concerns.  What do you do?
Luckily, most colleges and universities have free help for young people: counselling, health care providers, nurses and physicians ready to listen to you.  But what if simply need a few outlets or escapes from all the noise and the stress?  A Caribbean vacation during Reading Week would be great, but unlikely to ease the financial stress.  Ditto for the posh yoga studios or the personal trainer.  Here are a few budget-friendly ideas to find mental peace and feeling zen.
Seek Nature
Studies have shown that spending time surrounded by nature boosts both mood and self-esteem; exercise surrounded by nature has even more effects and the effects are even more powerful if there is water (a stream, a pond, a lake) in the environment.  Most campus have a few green spots, even downtown.  If you feel that you need to study 24/7, try studying outside when the weather permits it, or make your walk to your building via a wooded area.
Hold a Baby or a Pet
Not that a baby or a pet are equivalent (I do not want to insult any parent here), but the effect of holding a young or vulnerable life in our hands puts us as peace and reminds us of what is important in the grand picture.  Offer to babysit late at night – the baby will most likely sleep a lot, but you’ll get to hold him or her a little too.  Offer to pet sit or just take a dog out for a walk.  You don’t know anyone with a pet? go to a dog park and ask owners if it’s ok to play with their dog. 
Play Music
If you play a musical instrument, make time every week (or every day) to play.  It can be a favorite piece, or a new one you want to work on.  Seeing progress on a new project may lift your spirits when everything else seems to be stalled.
You physician will tell you, Public Health Centers will tell you, exercise keeps you healthy physically and mentally.  And it doesn’t have to cost a penny!  If you don’t enjoy the free access to sports facilities where you are, go for a walk, a run outside, work on push-ups or sit-ups, start cycling to school instead of taking the bus, or do yoga with a YouTube video. 
Renew with your Church, Synagogue, Mosque or Temple
You don’t need to be very religious to enjoy a service.  Maybe you grew up going to a weekly religious event ; maybe you’d like to explore your cultural beliefs.  Try it a few times.  If anything, you may feel the peace and the serenity you are looking for.  However, you may find a home away from home, and the strength to rely on a higher power in tough times.
Learning to meditate isn’t hard.  What is difficult is to keep the practice going on a regular basis and the discipline to meditate even when we feel to hurried to find the time to meditate, even though it’s when we are rushed that we need meditation the most.
I never liked gardening; as a child, I did not even play in the sand!  However, buying a few plants and taking care of them has brought me a few bits of inner peace.  Repotting a plant from a small to a larger pot, cleaning up the dead leaves, observing the new leaves and maybe a few flowers open is magical.  In the Spring, I buy a few potted herbs to grow and use over the summer.  I use to have a ‘black’ thumb and now, it’s just dark green… I guess anyone can learn!
As you see, there are many ways to improve your mental health for little or no money.  As students, we often do not see mental health (or decreasing our stress level) as a priority; however, I have seen many students ‘crash’ as they are too stressed, too tired, too bothered by little things.  It IS important to take a few moments once a while to decompress.  You CAN do it without it impacting your budget.  And on a purely financial aspect, feeling blue all the time is not efficient will demotivate you to study, and make you more at risk for failing a class or two.  Therefore, mental distress CAN hurt you financially.

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