Part 1 of 3: Prioritizing mental health creates a healthier student lifestyle


Julia Bonilla, Staff Writer

Xavier sophomores utilize their break outside to enjoy each other’s company. They listen to music, talk with each other and reset their minds for their next classes.

This year, Xavier’s administration has decided to conduct in-person learning without any virtual learning. This decision will impact all students as the past year-and-a-half has been primarily virtual or hybrid learning. With this decision, many students will need to make some adjustments.

Mental health affects the day-to-day lives of students in the way they interact, handle stress and perform. The demand to excel academically as well as socially can often be mentally and physically taxing. 

This academic pressure, in conjunction with online learning, can have a detrimental toll on students’ mental health. Students didn’t get the regular social interactions that they would have experienced on campus. Instead, they stared at a screen for seven hours.

The online learning environment was very difficult for many Xavier students, who found themselves more depressed, anxious and easily distracted. A virtual lesson lacks the interaction and engagement present in a typical Xavier classroom. 

In any decision, Xavier prioritizes the well-being of students. The decision between returning to school or staying online was no exception. This school year (2021-2022), students have been able to return to fully in-person classes. 

Sister Joan Fitzgerald said, “In-person learning did not eliminate distractions, but it lessened them. In-person learning gave immediate access to academic and personal counselors, it provided classroom interaction with teachers and other students, and it lessened family responsibility for those who had to care for siblings during the day while parents worked. Lastly, in-person learning allowed active participation in clubs and sports, lessened access to social media, and increased immediate access to facts that are a necessity for critical reading and writing.”

In addition to the adjustment to in-person learning, Xavier students can receive hours of homework daily, causing them to be so overwhelmed that they do not even know where to start, and they end up procrastinating.

Many Xavier students also become consumed with their grades because they think their grades determine the course of their lives. Because of this, students often get caught up in a negative and harming mindset, causing them to stress.

Xavier’s faculty has some tips and tools to help students prioritize their mental health at school and at home. For example, scheduling can allow students to set specific times to do homework in order to avoid overworking at one time.

In their schedules, students should take breaks between assignments to recharge their brains before their next tasks. During their breaks, students should avoid going into their phones because they can get sucked into hours of scrolling. Walks, stretches and other quick activities are good things to try.

Xavier mental health counselor Kathleen MacLeod-Ryan says, “I’m a huge believer in exercise.” Exercising, painting, listening to music and even just getting more sleep can help students better their minds and bodies.

It is important for students to prioritize taking care of their souls, bodies and minds. 

Xavier has many resources to help those struggling. For example, guidance counselor Kathleen Gannon reminds students that mental health comes first and the counseling team is always ready to talk.

School nurse Cara Gillem says, “My office is always open for students who need to lie down and relax their minds in privacy.”

If students are still feeling overwhelmed, taking a mental-health day can be a great option to destress and help relieve anxiety. Students can take the day off of school to sleep in, catch up on work if need be and focus on mental and physical wellness.

MacLeod-Ryan says that mentality is like filling a glass. If you work too much, you are going to stress and overflow. Students need to take a step back and make sure they are in the right headspace before doing more work.

Mental illness is often overlooked because a person cannot physically see it, but it is just as important, says Gillem. Students need to pay attention to signs of exhaustion to prevent further damage to their mental health. Between balancing grades, extracurriculars and maintaining healthy relationships, it is essential that mental health is prioritized.