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Treating Mental Wellness as a Skill for Success

Posted January 28, 2021 by Giselle Weybrecht - Author, Advisor, and Speaker - Sustainability and Business

Photo by iStock/junjie

While students enter business school to learn the tools and skills to kick-start their careers, there is one skill most don’t think about: how to protect and strengthen their mental health. Being successful doesn’t just come down to completing the required coursework or landing your dream job. While your business degree may help you get that job, learning how to manage your mental health will help you succeed in it.

All students experience stress and anxiety at some point during their degree programs. This stress can be caused by a challenging course, looming graduation requirements, and the job search, but it can also be brought on by other responsibilities a student might have, including personal relationships, finances, or self-imposed pressure to excel. Whatever the reason, experiencing stress in business school is completely normal and to be expected. But recognizing when you need help, where to find it, and what approach works best for you in different situations is an important skill for future leaders to develop. Business school is the perfect time to develop it.

Some students might find stress relief through deep-breathing exercises or conversation with a close friend, while others may need the help of a university or college counselor or an outside mental health professional. Business schools, and their larger institutions, have always a place where students in need can turn to, but some students don’t use these services, or aren’t even aware they exist. Students sometimes think that seeking help will make them appear weak, that they are incapable of coping with their struggles. They might fear that other students will look down on them if they open up. Others may feel that their problems are not important enough to ask for help or that they don’t, or shouldn’t, need it.

But mental health isn’t just about dealing with serious issues; it is also about building your resilience. Optimum mental wellness can help you study and concentrate, make better decisions, manage your emotions, develop healthy relationships, and even be more creative.

Because of these benefits, business schools and universities have started putting mental health front and center. Mental health support is no longer seen just as a service that is offered but as an important part of your degree. This means that students can now access a wide range of initiatives to help them develop life habits that will benefit them throughout their careers.

Find What Works for You

With mental health support, one size definitely does not fit all. Every student will need different kinds of help throughout their academic careers. As a result, schools are putting in place a number of new programs to help students deal with challenges they might currently be facing, or might face in the future. 

Easily accessible anonymous support: The University of Reading has a Student Welfare Team, available every day to help students deal with crisis, friendships, relationship, bullying, and harassment, among other issues. Their Togetherall platform is a free, anonymous online community accessible 24/7 for students to request and find support.

Learning how to manage stress: Vivekanand Education Society, which oversees a group of educational institutions in India, offers a variety of short, interactive workshops for its students on various aspects of mental wellness, such as managing emotions, dealing with disappointment in a constructive manner, working on self-esteem, overcoming peer group pressure, and shifting one’s attitudes for the better. They also offer yoga sessions for managing stress.

Staying active: The University of Ljubljana in Slovenia has created a series of fun and engaging videos to demonstrate easy and short exercises that students can do to take active breaks in the classroom or at home. Because physical activity and mental health are so closely connected, all students at the university are required to take a physical education course in the first year of their undergraduate study.

You are what you eat: MetMUnch, a student-led social enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University, shares information with students about how food can have an impact on their mental health. Students can take part in nutrition programs that cover a range of topics, from sustainable diets to changing unhealthy eating habits, to help improve the well-being of the students.

Join a support group: Many schools offer a number of support groups that may not look like what you would expect. For example, students at Victoria University of Wellington can join Storycraft, where creative writing is used as a way of exploring well-being, and the Cultural Coffee Club, where students can discuss mental health through a cultural lens.

Practicing meditation: All students at Chiang Mai University Faculty of Business Administration in Thailand are given opportunities to meditate for five minutes at the beginning of each class. The school produced several guides and videos to help students with this practice. Students can also take an elective, Meditation for Business Leaders.

Mindfulness sessions: Mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to the present moment, is increasingly making its way into business school programs everywhere. For example, IÉSEG School of Management in France launched IÉSEG Cares in 2020 with multiple online resources for students to cope with the challenging period of COVID-19. One of these initiatives is a weekly online mindfulness session.

As part of a class: Some schools now offer whole courses on mental health from a business perspective. Students at the University of South Australia in Adelaide can take a four-week mindfulness program, and at IÉSEG students can enroll in an elective course on Mindfulness and Management offered at the master’s level.

Be, or find, a mentor: While mentors are there to help you in your professional path, they are also there to help when things get tough. The Business School at City University London (formerly Cass Business School) has made major investments in mentoring projects for students. They teach students how to mentor and how to be mentored within the curriculum.

Start Honing Your Skill

Business students often seem very confident, but don’t be fooled. Most of your fellow students are probably going through their own set of challenges with academic performance, self-esteem, and external pressures. Here are some ways you can begin looking out for your mental health:

  • Look at what options you have access to. Whether you think you need them or not, it is important to understand what services your school offers if you, or others around you, need them.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, seek help early. If you are feeling overwhelmed or upset don’t wait before you look for help. The sooner you can seek help, the better you will be for it.
  • Don’t wait until something is wrong. Attend sessions and events that offer tools to help you deal with stress now and in the future.
  • Find what works for you. There are many different approaches to strengthening your mental health. The key is to learn what works for you in different situations. Try lots of options, even if you have preconceived notions about a certain approach; this is how you grow.
  • Start small. If you aren’t sure whether any of this is for you, start small. Try something as simple as stopping to take some deep breaths when you are feeling anxious. These few moments of mindful attention can help refocus your thoughts.
  • Give it a chance. The benefits of caring for you mental health won’t come from doing one yoga class or attending one counseling session. Turning the lessons you learn from these experiences into habit takes practice. Be consistent, be patient with yourself, and reach out when you do need help.

If you aren’t finding the kinds of resources you think would benefit you, reach out to someone at your school to suggest new programs or tools. The faculty, staff, and administrators want you to succeed and need your input to help them make improvements.

Take your mental health seriously—as seriously as you take your physical and your financial health. You will need it to reach the goals you have set for yourself, both in your career and in your life in general.

Giselle WeybrechtGiselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker on sustainability. Her most recent book is The Future MBA: 100 Ideas for Making Sustainability the Business of Business Education. Follow her on Twitter @gweybrecht.