Have an impact on your own mental health

Having a more positive outlook on life can help students academically and personally

Illustration: Sam Bullis

Illustration: Sam Bullis

“Just because we’re not suffering from anxiety or fearful of something, doesn’t mean we’re mentally healthy, doesn’t mean we are flourishing,” says Robert Malowany, student success co-ordinator at George Brown College (GBC).

Staying positive is hard for many students with the pressures of program demands, but understanding how to cope with negative emotions and how to make positive changes, can help students develop a more positive well-being.

Flourishing means that you are feeling good and doing something that makes you happy, something that many students aren’t doing, rather they are languishing, which refers to struggling with anxiety or things that may be bothering you that you can’t or have difficulty escaping.

“I think people who flourish are able to understand better what’s affecting them. I think if you are languishing it’s a lot harder to look at yourself and see the challenges you’re faced with,” said Malowany.

From increased levels of well-being and success at work, school, in relationships and with your health, having a positive outlook not only affects our abilities to handle different situations, it promotes healthier immune, cardiovascular and emotional systems.

Students who are flourishing have been observed to be feeling less depressed and become happier, and in Ontario only 43 per cent of students are flourishing, according to Corey Keyes, a researcher who used the stat in a conference called Flourishing Campuses.

A common trait observed in students who are languishing is procrastination, and Malowany often asks himself why there are things we procrastinate about and others that we don’t.

“Why do people who enjoy playing video games, don’t procrastinate in playing them?”

“Why do we not procrastinate going out for a coffee with someone we enjoy being with?”It’s the things that energize us in some way that we choose not to procrastinate in doing. “While some people turn to maladaptive things, whether they be drug use or careless sexuality, sometimes we turn to things that create more problems because it’s an attempt to energize ourselves,” said Malowany.While flourishing allows people to become better aware of negative areas in their lives, negative emotions are still important.

When students are languishing they may also experience low personal growth initiative, poor academic performance and suicidal behaviour. Malowany described this during Mental Health Awareness Week using a picture of a battery, depicting a person’s high or low charge—portraying times of flourishing and languishing.

Lucas Wade, a peer coach in the PAL Centre, says he connects with students not only on an academic level, but on a social level as well. It’s those times when students can “unplug and enjoy themselves,” at events and other gatherings, that they are more able to care for their mental health and well-being.

Negative emotions are not always bad, but sometimes they “tend to keep us closed or narrow, and dull our focus, thinking and perspectives,” according to an MIT experiment conducted by Daniel Pink.

Situations that contribute to survival such as fear can lead us to escape or feel anger. There are situations where negative emotions can be considered appropriate, they don’t necessarily lead to positive mental health.

“You need to recognize negative emotions are important, that they are healthy but sometimes they are not,” said Malowany. “It’s not about escaping negative emotions, it’s about making sure you have enough of the positive emotions.”

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Have an impact on your own mental health