08/16/2016 11:43 EDT | Updated 09/06/2016 12:00 EDT

Mental Health Strategies To Help You Have A Great New School Year

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University students walking in a campus

Remember the Staples commercial a few years ago, the one that featured parents happily shopping for school supplies with a modified version of the Andy Williams song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" playing in the background? The idea was, parents were thrilled to see the kids return to school; the kids...not so much.

Well, whether you are entering grade school, high school, college or university, this time of year can indeed bring conflicting emotions. In this post, I am writing specifically to the returning student...the content will be useful for parents and teachers of those students as well.

It is no surprise that schools -- just like workplaces -- are focusing time, attention and financial resources on initiatives aimed at providing information and strategies for maximizing positive mental health. In fact, pick up any newspaper or magazine, and I'll bet you will find an article related to mental health before turning the first page.

I know what you are thinking... this sounds like more blah, blah, blah...

What's it all about? you wonder. What does it have to do with you?

Here is my proposition for you: You can start to positively impact your mental health, right now, and every action you take to improve your mental health can positively impact your results (that includes your grades, your relationships and your overall sense of joy)!

When you begin each day with a positive message, your automatic default narrative has no chance to start circling in your mind.

And, we are going to keep it simple. You all know about "Stop, Drop and Roll," the simple fire safety technique you learned as a young child. Well, we are going to use the same terms to remember what to do to maximize your positive mental health. We'll use them in a different way, however, because the best approach when it comes to your mental health is one of prevention of mental illness/distress/unproductive negativity (i.e. we aren't waiting to "smell smoke" before we jump into action).

Rather than waiting until the state of your mental health is potentially life-threatening, STOP at the beginning of every day and choose a mantra, a positive affirmation, a motivating message to yourself. It might be something simple like "It's going to be a great day, today" or "I am looking forward to meeting some new people this year" or "I know I can do well in this course if I set my mind to it and work hard" or "I am not alone; most other students feel exactly the same as I do."

When you begin each day with a message like this, and keep repeating it (perhaps while you brush your teeth, on your bus ride to school), you are helping to "program" your brain to look for evidence to support this message, and to help yourself behave in alignment with the repeated message. When you begin each day with a positive message, your automatic default narrative has no chance to start circling in your mind. You have intercepted it, and added a positive message that will become your new mental "playlist."

DROP in throughout the day to see how you are doing. You have regular times for breaks during the school day. Rather than burying your face and your mind in your iPhone or other devices, take a few seconds to close your eyes and "drop in" to observe how you are feeling and what you are thinking. If you are noticing some negative thoughts or less than productive feelings, recall your mantra, re-frame it for the current or future situation, and repeat it a few times to yourself.

Remind yourself of all of the strategies you have already developed that help you ROLL with whatever comes your way. Here are a few of my favourite strategies to keep rolling. They each include three thinking questions and a body exercise:


Thinking Questions:

1) What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?

2) Is it possible? Is it probable?

3) If it did happen, who can I call on to help me? Who are my resources? What can I do?

Body Exercise:

Deep Breaths: Take up to 20 slow, deep breaths in through the nose (repeating "I breathe in calm," and out through the nose (repeating "I breathe out anxiety."). If you lose count, start over. Notice when you start to feel calmer.


Thinking Questions:

1) What am I saying to myself?

2) What's the opposite message?

3) What can I let go of to feel peaceful?

Body Exercise:

Hands Over Eyes: Rub your hands together rapidly until they are warm. Place a hand over each eye. Notice how the soothing heat from your hands calms the state of your mind.


Thinking Questions:

1) What is funny about this situation?

2) What can I learn from this experience?

3) What do I admire about myself going through this experience?

Body Exercise:

Sink and Rise: Imagine your body sinking into the floor. What do you notice? Imagine your body light as air. Notice where in your body you "rise above" the moment.

So, remember that you can STOP, DROP, and ROLL as a preventative measure (to build long-term resources for internal, mental well-being), not just a reactive one (to protect yourself from imminent, external, threats to your physical well-being)!

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