Mental health is an important part of overall wellness. It’s also a big part of college life. College students are at the age where they become more self-aware and make their own life decisions, they often struggle with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
If you’re struggling with these issues, there are ways to get better on your own. In this article, I’ll share 23 mental health activities that will help you improve your mental health.
1. Activities to Find Out What You Are Good At
People who focus on doing things that they’re good at tend to be happier than people who aren’t good at anything.
It’s not just about being able to do things well; it’s also about feeling like you belong somewhere.
Focusing on your strengths could help you build confidence and a mindset that focuses on positive growth.
You might want to figure out what you’re good at so that you can build meaningful relationships, enjoy a fulfilling career, or to decide how to change daily habits to become happier.
We’ve found personalized quizzes that can help you with all 3 of those goals! Click on the links below to the quizzes that can help you find out what you’re good at:
- Work through the free online Game of Desire workbook to find out what you’re good at in relationships.
- Take the CareerExplorer quiz to find out what you’re good at for a fulfilling career
- Take University of Pennsylvania’s “Authentic Happiness Inventory” quiz to find out what what you need to do to achieve genuine happiness for yourself. You’ll have to make an account because it’s a 3-hour quiz that will give personalized lifestyle habit suggestions.
2. Activities to Learn How to Identify and Manage Difficult Feelings
Learn about the different types of emotions and what each one means. You can use this knowledge to understand yourself and others better.
You may have heard people say “I’m feeling down” or “feeling blue.” But do you know why?
What does it mean when you tell yourself that you feel depressed? How would you describe your mood in general? Do you feel happy most of the time? Or sad sometimes? Are you anxious all the time?
Understanding these feelings could help you regulate your emotions and start feeling more positive about things that happen to you.
If you feel like you’re dealing with MANY difficult feelings every day, try this simple exercise to help regulate your emotions:
Step 1. Identify what you’re feeling. Make a list of everything that comes into mind whenever you think about your current emotional state. For example, are there any experiences, fantasies, or flashbacks that come up? Write them down. Ultimately, you want to think about which emotion feels strongest.
Step 2. Name the feeling. Once you’ve identified the specific emotion that you’re experiencing, write its name next to the item in your list. No matter how long your answer is, complete this sentence: “I am feeling _________”. This way, if you notice another feeling coming up later, you won’t mistake it for the same thing.
Step 3. Accept that feeling. Hold it there – no matter how happy or shitty it makes you feel. Take some time to really describe the experience from your point of view. What is happening inside of you right now? Where exactly are you physically located mentally?
Step 4. Let go of that feeling. When you let go of the thought, memory, fantasy, etc., that was causing you distress, you release the energy associated with that emotion. It doesn’t disappear completely — but it becomes less intense as you continue letting go.
Step 5. Do something you like. Even if you were able to get rid of just ONE negative feeling, reward yourself for being able to do so! So take action by doing something enjoyable. Not only does this condition you to work through your difficult feelings, it also helps distract you from whatever caused the bad feeling in the first place.
Step 6. Repeat. After you complete step 5, repeat steps 1–5 again. The goal here isn’t necessarily to eliminate ALL difficult feelings; rather, it’s to reduce their intensity over time.
If you want to go deeper into working through difficult feelings, I highly recommend the 5-part book series called “The Gifts that Lie Hidden within Difficult Emotions” by Yuichi Handa. Each book helps you work through some of life’s most difficult emotions. You can choose the most relevant ones to start with:
- The Gifts that Lie Hidden within Difficult Emotions (Part 1): Confusion
- The Gifts that Lie Hidden within Difficult Emotions (Part 2): Feeling Stuck and Frustrated
- The Gifts that Lie Hidden within Difficult Emotions (Part 3): Feeling Lack and Not Enough
- The Gifts that Lie Hidden within Difficult Emotions (Part 4): Disconnection and Loneliness
- The Gifts that Lie Hidden within Difficult Emotions (Part 5): Competitiveness, Control, and Jealousy
In brief, we need both good and bad feelings to function well. So as you navigate college life, use these mental health resources to work through the range of big, small, simple, and complex feelings that you’ll face in college.
3. Activities to Learn How to Regulate Your Stress
Stress is a normal part of living. It helps us adapt to changes in our environment. But too much stress can be harmful.
If you are constantly feeling stressed out, try these activities to help you manage your stress levels:
1. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and think about something relaxing like listening to music or taking a bath. This is called relaxation training. It helps reduce anxiety by calming down your body’s nervous system.
2. Try counting backwards from 100 by 3s. Start with “100” then count backward in threes until you get back to zero. For example: if I said “100”, you would say “93”. Then you’d say “86”…and eventually you’d end up at “0.” Counting backwards calms people because they’re not thinking about anything else while they’re doing it.
3) Try these 50 “Stress Less Cards” that use Neuro-Linguistic Programming techniques and mindfulness to help reduce stress and anxiety. It’s a reliable deck of cards that therapists use! Carry them with you and pull out of a card when you start to feel stress building up. Get them here!
4. Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness means paying attention on purpose without judgment. One way to practice mindfulness meditation is to focus on each sensation you notice when you breathe in and out. Notice what happens when you inhale…then exhale….notice any thoughts that come into mind…etc. 5. Write down three things you feel grateful for every day. Gratitude can make you happier because you train your brain to focus on positive aspects of your surroundings. When you write them down, you make sure you don’t forget them.
6. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol which causes more stress. Make sure you have 7 hours of quality sleep per night.
7. Exercise regularly. Physical activity releases dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and oxytocin – all chemicals that lift mood.
8. Eat healthy foods. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts, seeds, beans, fish, poultry, eggs, low fat dairy products, and olive oil may improve depression symptoms.
9. Avoid alcohol and drugs. They increase adrenaline and cortisol which cause stress.
10. Spend time outdoors. Being outside has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol level.
11. Talk to someone who cares about you – yes, even if it’s your dog, cat, or plants. Talking reduces loneliness and improves self esteem.
4. Activities to Learn How to Regulate Your Anxiety
Anxiety is a normal part of being human. It helps us deal with stress and keep us safe. But when anxiety becomes extreme or out of control, it can affect our ability to function normally.
Anxiety disorders are very common. They affect about one third of people at some point in their lives. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry or fear.
Some people experience only mild symptoms while others may suffer from severe anxiety that interferes with daily activities.
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, it’s healthy to learn how to regulate it so that it doesn’t negatively impact your daily life too much.
1. Try to use an anxiety journal. An Anxiety Journal is a journal where you write down all of your worries and concerns. You can use this to track your progress over time, and to see if there are patterns in your anxiety. You can also use it to keep yourself accountable, and to help you understand what triggers your anxiety.
2. Use the Anxiety Book for Teens.Yeah, I know it’s “made for teens”, but because of the easy-to-understand writing and strategies, I found that it’s very helpful for adults, too. This workbook would help you identify situations that trigger anxiety and ways to cope with them. You can use it to prevent anxiety from happening again, or to help you manage anxiety if it does happen.
It includes tips and strategies to help you cope with and overcome anxiety and panic. You can also use it to help you understand what triggers your anxiety, so you can better prepare yourself for those situations. Get it here!
3. Try the Break Free from Anxiety coloring book. It’s made by Ken Goodman who’s a social worker. He filled this book with strategies and activities that would make learning and coping with anxiety enjoyable and relaxing. Get it here!
5. Activities to Learn How to Build Strong Relationships
It is important for your mental health to build strong relationships with yourself, your family, friends, and colleagues. These relationships are essential to your well-being.
They help you feel better about yourself, they give you support when you need it, and they provide you with opportunities to learn new things.
So, to build healthy relationships with yourself and others, try these resources to get started:
1. The Know Yourself Prompt Cards. This is a pack of 60 self-reflection cards that were made by The School of Life. You can use these cards to develop a better understanding of yourself so that you can strengthen your relationship with yourself. It’s a great activity for people new to self-love. Get it here!
2. The Five Love Languages. The Five Love Languages is a book written by Gary Chapman that explores five different ways people express love. It helps us understand what we want from our partners and how we can better communicate with them. It can be used to help couples work through communication problems and strengthen their relationship. Get it here!
3. The Healthy Relationship Wheel. The Relationship Wheel is a simple print out with 6 components of relationships that are rooted in respect – all arranged around in a circle. It can be used to understand what type of relationship you’re in, and can help you identify if you need to change your relationship habits. This can be useful for anyone who wants to understand their own relationship, and can also be used to help couples work through problems in their relationship. Check out an interactive version on Princeton University’s website here!
4. The OUR MOMENTS Couples Card Game. This is a deck of 100 cards with thought-provoking conversation starters for couples. You can use these cards to spend quality time with your partner and enjoy date nights in a deep, meaningful way that builds emotional connection. Get it here!
5. The OUR MOMENTS Families Card Game. This is a deck of 100 cards that parents and children can use to have fun chats that also strengthen your relationship! The conversation starters encourage open and meaningful communication that is suitable for car rides or family game nights. Get it here!
6. Activities to Learn How to Manage Rejection and Criticism
Rejection and criticism are part of everyday life – especially when we start to grow up in college. They are also part of being human. We all experience them at some point in our lives. However, when they become too frequent or intense, they can affect our mental health.
1. Use this free 14-page “How to Deal Assertively with Criticism” workbook from Australia’s Centre for Clinical Interventions. It covers everything from why we respond the way we do to dealing with destructive criticism. Download it here!
2. Bouncing Back from Rejection. This self-help book written by Leslie Becker-Phelps PhD and Ronald D. Siegel PsyD could help you overcome your fear of rejection and criticism. It’s a step-by-step guide that should make you feel validated and capable of tackle any type of rejection. Get it here!
3. Try this free and interactive online “Handling Criticism” worksheet. It’s designed to help you make a plan on how to deal with criticism that you receive from a specific criticism. Download it here!
7. Activities to Learn How to Say No
Saying “no” helps you feel better about yourself, lets others know what you want, and shows respect for yourself and others.
Practice these scripts so that saying “no” in different ways becomes natural and pressure-free:
- “It’s not a good fit for me.”
- “That doesn’t suit me.”
- “Thanks for asking, I can’t make it.”
- “That’s not my thing, but thanks anyway.”
- “I’d prefer not to.”
- “Sounds nice, but I’m not available.”
- I’m not available at the moment. Maybe next time!”
- “Thank you but I’m taking some time off for my personal well-being. Maybe next time!”
- “Thanks for thinking about me, but I can’t.”
- “I’m honored that you asked about me, but I can’t do it.”
- “Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.”
- “Unfortunately, this isn’t something that I can do right now.”
Or try some of these…
8. Activities to Learn How to Let Go of Things
It is important for your mental health to let go of things, because if you don’t, you will be stuck with them forever. You won’t be able to grow into a better version of yourself.
1. Try this free Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) worksheet for letting go. It should help you let go difficult or distressing thoughts. Download it here!
3. Listen to “Letting Go: Pathway to Surrender” by Peter Lownds PhD. This audiobook provides a practical method for removing the inner blocks to feel happier. It is equally useful for all aspects of human life: physical, creative, financial, emotional, vocational, relationship, sexual, and spiritual. Get it here!
9. Activities to Learn How to Live In the Moment
Lots of people say that college is the peak of “living in the moment”. So let’s maximize on that experience so that you’re doing it in the healthiest way possible.
1. Try Dr. Kristin Neff’s “How would you treat a friend?” exercise. All you need is a piece of paper and 10 minutes. Follow these following steps…
- Take a moment to think about times when a close friend has felt awful about himself or herself or has been struggling in some way. What would you say to your friend in this situation (especially when you are at your best)? Note what you do, what you say, and the way you speak to your friends based on your typical behavior.
- Take a minute to think about times when you were struggling or felt bad about yourself. In these situations, what kind of response do you typically give yourself? Take note of what you typically say and do, as well as how you talk to yourself.
- What difference did you notice? Which factors or fears are at play when you treat yourself and others differently?
- Describe how you think things might change if, when you’re struggling, you treated yourself as you treat a close friend.
2. Use the “How to Live in the Now” guide by Ernest Holm Svendsen. This guide outlines a practical path to living in the present moment. It explains how to live in the present moment, how to let go of anxious thoughts and worries, how to create deep connections, and how to stop seeking approval. Get it here!
To Sum Up
– Mental health is very important for everyone, but particularly for young adults.
– College students are often stressed because of the pressures of studying and growing into adulthood.
– It is important to take care of your mental health by learning how to:
- find out what you are good at
- identify and manage difficult feelings
- regulate your stress and anxiety
- build strong relationships
- manage rejection and criticism
- say on
- let go of things
- live in the moment
– Use the resources and activities under each category to develop skills that safeguard and improve your mental health!