Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rule of Thumb: Getting Involved

In some ways college students are more connected than ever. Social media has provided multiple methods of staying in touch with friends and sharing information and content. Gaming has also provided a venue of being connected with others and having fun at the same time.

But in other ways many students are not connected at all, and they struggle with "face-time" that is real and not just virtual. Many living environments are both heavily wired and private; if one chooses one may isolate for huge chunks of time and "communicate" widely, yet not actually interact with anyone at all. This is a recipe for diminishing mental health.

So here is a rule of thumb to protect against that deterioration: at least twice a week, get involved in something that takes you out of your living environment, puts you in physical contact with others, and has nothing to do with class, work, or partying. This simple strategy incorporates crucial skill sets which, once learned, will benefit you for a lifetime. The skills also promote good mental health and are also related to retention and academic success.

So what kinds of things can you do? Most students had interests and hobbies in middle and high school, but they may have drifted from them in the excitement of starting college. Consider returning to them, or perhaps be more adventurous and take up new ones. Psychologists believe that learning new skills every five years or so is actually protective of brain health, so it will be good for you on that score as well. On most campuses there are dozens if not hundreds of student organizations, covering topics such as sport, politics or advocacy, environmental awareness, outdoor recreation, art, and so on. If you can't find one that suits you, start your own. You can also see some ideas on this listThere is really no excuse not to try something.

On the other hand, there is no need to get over-involved, as this can lead to meaningless activity and burnout. Trying new activities also does not have to lead to long-term commitment. Simply try some and if they don't feel like a good fit, move on and try another. Frankly, what you pick does not matter. What matters is that you pick something in the first place, and that you expand your skills and relationships. This is part of the recipe for feeling satisfied and in good emotional health, and generally your grades will improve too. That's hard to beat!