BY CARLEE KREISEL
Given the high-stress environment of college campuses and the potential that stress has to exacerbate or bring on mental illness, it is vital that college students focus on maintaining their health and minimizing stress. When the burdens of work, school, extracurriculars, and relationships consume the majority of hours in the day, managing stress becomes its own burden and duly requires focus and discipline. Managing stress may then be perceived as an additional time commitment, but it is ultimately worth it and is a crucial skill to develop in life.
In an attempt to actively achieve a healthy mind, body, and soul LMU student Sarahn Sankofa recently set out on a journey she calls the “21 to my 21.” For the 21 days leading to her 21st birthday (Monday October 19 – Sunday November 8) Sarahn completes eight tasks every day that are all aimed at being positive lifestyle changes. The eight tasks are: mediation, exercise, pray, eat vegan, three positive affirmations per day, eight hours of sleep per night, journaling, and spending time in nature. With everything else she has going on, completing these eight tasks is indeed a challenge. Sarahn is an example of a student who is challenging the mainstream college notion that academics and professional outcomes are everything. Sarahn is making her mental well-being a priority which might seem like a foreign concept to many of us. It might be hard to imagine a day that is packed with numerous activities aimed at increasing mental prosperity instead of a day packed with activities all aimed at getting assignments done and fulfilling obligations.
When you casually ask your friends how they are doing, how many of them respond with “tired,” “stressed,” or “hanging in there”? How often do you respond in that way? Do we really want college to consist of persisting stress and a simultaneous inability to feel at peace with ourselves? While I am in no way dismissing the importance of hard work, ambition, and the attainment of academic/professional goals, I am criticizing the way in which the college culture so disproportionately focuses on academic outcomes relative to mental health outcomes. Sarahn’s journey is important because it demonstrates that prioritizing mental well-being is not only possible but worth it.
Sarahn has been writing about every day of her journey on her website https://sarahnsays.com/. She describes herself as “an aspiring life coach/therapist who finds purpose and passion in relating to readers with my words and thoughts on health and wellness, personal reflection and positive lifestyle changes.” She also has her own Youtube channel and is active on all other major social media sites as a way to connect with and encourage others.
Sarahn has already motivated many people to begin their own journeys which range from drinking 64 oz. of water a day to getting off of social media and Netflix. While these journeys may seems less ambitious than Sarahn’s, they reveal that there isn’t a “one size fits all” way of improving one’s well-being. What is important is not what exactly is done but that it works for the individual and helps them achieve a healthier state of mind.
I conducted the following interview with Sarahn in order to have her answer questions that readers of this post may have about her journey.
Carlee: How did you feel the first few days? Were there any major differences you noticed?
Sarahn: Eating differently definitely changed my attitude and energy immediately. It changed the way I moved through the day and allowed me to give my whole self to everything I was doing. Mediating and sleeping for 8 hours also had immediate benefits. More than anything, knowing that I was doing something that was going to improve the quality of my life just made me more optimistic and excited about my thoughts, actions, and attitude.
Carlee: Was it hard to stay disciplined and find the energy and time to complete all the tasks you set out to meet? Did you have to drop any other commitments in order to fulfill the new ones you took on?
Sarahn: I did have to move my priorities around. I’m not able to hit everything on my list, keep up with my social life and give lots of time to my school work and studies. So I had to have a serious conversation with myself about what I wanted for this time in my life. Knowing that people would support me through my journey and knowing that I would get everything done that I needed to for school, allowed me to really focus on my 21-day journey and give it the same effort I had given to those other things.
Carlee: For people who want to improve their mental, emotional, and physical health but aren’t able to commit to as many things as you did, what can you suggest they do? Which do you think are the most important?
Sarahn: Meditation I think is the most important! It only takes 20 minutes out of your day. It is definitely a practice and takes time to get comfortable with, but it is one of the highlights of my day, and an essential part of my mental and emotional health. Positive affirmations are really easy as well. It can be a simple as listening to an affirmation YouTube video while you get ready for bed or create your own that you reference during the day. I do both! And nature is of course always there whenever you get a chance to appreciate it.
Carlee: How important do you think it is to spend time and energy on your mental health especially relative to things like work, school, and friends?
Sarahn: Very important, it’s the most important thing you should focus on. How can you give your best to your work, how can you find passion in your purpose, how can you love and appreciate the people around you if you don’t love and appreciate yourself? And if you haven’t found passion and purpose within yourself? You have to be at peace with who you are if you want to give yourself to the world.
This post is in no way meant to be a comprehensive or scientific guide to combating mental illness. This post and Sarahn’s journey are simply meant to inspire an active approach to mental wellness and challenge current perceptions about success in college. Success must be understood not only in terms of tangible academic and professional accomplishments but also in terms of how good we feel inside—our internal success.