Life is hard. For everyone. It’s easy to forget this because we minimize our own challenges by playing the “but who has it worse?” game. We can always win that game by pointing out starving children in developing Country X, our sister’s friend who’s dealing with Y, or those people on the news suffering from Z. Our problems seem petty then, and we feel petty for worrying about them. What gets lost in this game is the simple fact that being a human, just existing, is difficult business at times.
We must engage in respiration constantly. Our bodies need energy to move and think and pump blood and make new cells, which means we need a steady supply of edible food with the right vitamins and nutrients. We need a reliable source of clean water, shelter, security, healthy attachments, medical care, clothing, planning and organization, social skills, motivation, belonging, critical thinking, a sense of purpose, and on and on. Just getting through a single day means a lot of things have to go right. And life rarely happens the way we plan.
Fortunately, humans are miraculous, adaptable beings. Our lives involve ups as well as downs, triumphs as well as challenges. And we can adapt to meet the challenges. We can adjust. Mental health in my opinion is essentially this: maintaining our ability to flexibly adapt to the shifting demands of life.
Using this definition, if we were to graph the average person’s mental health over the course of their life, it would rise and fall in different places. We could probably connect some of the down slopes to certain events: losses, traumatic incidents, unhealthy relationships, financial problems, unexpected setbacks, medical issues, and periods of transition – just to name a few. Stress, without a doubt, can significantly impact our mental health.
Studying at the University of Oklahoma can be intellectually and socially enriching – a time of great excitement and discovery – but it can also be a time of high stress and difficult transition. College students are met with new responsibilities, novel problems, unfamiliar social landscapes, and the weighty task of setting the course the rest of their lives will follow. It’s no wonder many of us experience a dip in our mental health during these years. We may notice the development or exacerbation of excessive worry, feelings of loneliness or isolation, difficulty getting out of bed, or a host of other issues.
When facing a difficult problem, we use available resources, both internal and external, and work to overcome. Mental health is no different, and for a mental health problem, counseling is great place to start. OU’s Counseling Center in Goddard Health Center is available to all students, faculty, and staff, and our counselors are understanding of and sensitive to the unique challenges of studying/working on a college campus. But the Counseling Center is just one resource. Any OU staff member or student could be a potential resource or source of support – resident advisors, professors, advisors, classmates, etc. – and each can help connect you to other resources, groups, or communities. [For a full list of OU resources, hotlines, and more info click here.]
Develop a strong support system, and get involved. No person is an island. We all need connection and support. Life may be hard at times, but it need not be overwhelming. With the help and support of others, you will find there are few challenges you cannot overcome.
To continue reading the October 2016 Mental Health Issue click here.
Brad Stennerson is a psychologist at the OU Counseling Center. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from OU. While earning his doctorate, he worked with the OU Disability Resource Center and military veterans suffering from trauma and researched behavioral addictions. Stennerson also offers assistance to clients through Hope Springs Therapy in Norman, OK.
To contact Goddard Counseling Center, call (405) 325-2911. Click here for a full list of hotlines, OU resources, and more info.