Prioritizing Cognitive Health In College

According to the World Health Organization, “there is no single official definition of mental health, as a person’s mental health refers to their psychological, emotional, and social well-being; it influences how they feel, think, and behave.”  Mental health entails keeping our minds healthy.  For the sake of humanity and appropriate therapeutic terminology, I will refer to “mental health” as “cognitive health” throughout this article.

People are generally more concerned with maintaining only their physical health. It is critical to remember that both your physical and cognitive health are necessary for better performance and overall health outcomes.  Based on a behavioral health study led by the Johns Hopkins University, located in Baltimore, MD, found that “untreated persistent mental health conditions place the body and mind at a state of fight or flight.  Exposing one to be at risk of developing health conditions such as hypertension, myocardial infarction,  diabetes, arthritis, hyperlipidemia, lack of sleep, anxiety and depression.”  Meaning rehearse healthy habits to sustain wholesome.  

According to the Collegiate Mental Health Report, “the most common secluded cognitive health issue amongst college students today is anxiety by 60 percent.”  Students can become academically burnout resulting in constant worry and brain exhaustion which could affect academic pursuits.  Because our bodies and thoughts are one and the same, it is not strange that your body might be affected by your cognitive health. Therefore, it’s crucial to love and take care of yourself.   For example, anxiety can cause an upset stomach, while depression can accompany headaches and lethargy which can lead to digestive issues.

Every student’s transition to college is unique, but those who are also dealing with a cognitive illness may find it especially difficult.  Based on statistics almost one out of every four people over the age of eighteen in the United States has a diagnosable cognitive condition at any given time. 

 For some students, at this time, many are living away from home for the first time, disconnecting from friends, family, and pets. However, this independence also carries with it new opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities. While this may be a happy time for some college students, it may be additional environmental stressors especially for those with existing behavioral health conditions.  

Six tips and techniques to maintain your cognitive health

First, students can improve their cognitive health by eating a well-balanced diet, practicing good sleep hygiene, and remaining physically active.  Putting thoughts on paper by joy journaling, which can bring happiness and relaxation.  

As a college student, one might feel awkward talking about inner feelings.  But it is normal to be free to express yourself and practice gratitude for all the amazing people and things in life by writing in a notebook. Writing may help the mood relax a little until feeling comfortable at speaking to someone in person.

Second, take in the beauty of nature.  Unwind and enjoy a stress-free day outside by either strolling through the local stores, campus, downtown area, meditate or listening to the serene sounds of nature while walking or exercising.  To illustrate, the writer has set a consistent goal of exercising for an hour five days per week.  Afterwards, the mood feels excellent and prepared to take on the day.  Exercise does increase blood flow throughout your body, generates feel-good endorphins that makes one happy, and diverts attention from worries to break the loop of unfavorable thoughts that fuel depression and anxiety.

Third, surround yourself with upbeat individuals, even if just online, volunteering as social interaction tends to lessen feelings of tension, worry, and loneliness. Spend time and cultivate relationships with lecturers and college peers or join student organizations to broaden your networks.  For instance, when facing academic or other obstacles, when the writer needs to be heard, or simply wants to laugh, she turns to a trusted family, who also happens to be her extraordinary mentor, Doctor Christi McGeorge, a professor and scholar at North Dakota State University located in Fargo, ND.  McGeorge is always upbeat, eager to listen, has the best sense of humor, is patient, kind, and always willing to tutor and assist in mastering any subject materials.  McGeorge serves as a source of support and motivation and provides guidance and feedback to assist define and realize professional career objectives.  She encourages the writer, uplifts spirits, and gives the assurance to do the seemingly unattainable, simply a favorite therapist.

Fourth, effective time management proved to be a critical skill during college, as students faced a learning environment with more distractions.  Using time management can assist in staying organized before tasks begin to pile up. Creating a consistent schedule not only helps to reduce daily stressors, but it also improves overall brain well-being.

Fifth, refrain from any substance abuse or misuse such as drugs and alcohol to mask your difficulties, instead be honest and realistic with yourself and seek immediate help.  Alcohol and other drugs can cause behavioral anomalies, aggravate mood or cause other symptoms, leading to more serious health problems if not addressed or treated.

Sixth, Student access to campus-wide mental health resources may be the secret to academic success.  Take use of the free behavioral health intervention offered by the counseling department at North Dakota State University.  The center offers group, couples, and individual counseling.  The North Dakota FirstLink crisis prevention line is also available by dialing nine hundred and eighty eight if ever experiencing any behavioral crisis.  For many students, the stigma associated with seeking counseling for cognitive health is significant. However, asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather of boldness and strength.  Students must allow themselves and others the time and space to figure out the best way to take care of their cognitive health.

Collaboratively, let’s maintain a healthier Bison community by building stronger bodies and minds.  Cognitive health issues can affect a college student’s success and ability to do well in the classroom. Poor cognitive health can contribute to lack of motivation, attention issues, and subpar grades.  Students must practice healthy cognition techniques, to enhance their learning, reduce stress, meet academic standards, become more creative and productive, have stronger prosocial behavior, with better physical health, and increase longevity.  Students’ cognitive health determines their capacity to take constructive criticism in stride.  Always remember to smile, be optimistic and forgiving towards yourself and others.

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