How the Practice of Gratitude Positively Impacts Student Mental Health

By Simone Figueroa, Co-Founder and President, U-Thrive Educational Services

The practice of gratitude might be one of the most powerful strategies available to help students overcome the college mental health crisis. It’s now more important than ever, especially as institutions are still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many colleges welcomed students back to campus this fall, with in-person orientations, classes, and open dining halls. At a quick glance, it might seem that the college experience has returned to normal as the pandemic has begun to subside. However, the invisible impacts of the pandemic still remain. This is especially evident when it comes to students’ mental health and well-being. Students continue to struggle with their mental health, which can negatively affect their academics, social lives, and overall college experiences.

While this can feel like an insurmountable issue, it’s important to focus on actionable, proven strategies that students can implement immediately to support college student mental health. With Thanksgiving approaching, you can help students learn to practice gratitude as a tool to increase happiness.

Why Is Gratitude So Important?

Practicing gratitude is more than just a “feel good” activity. Science shows that there are physical and psychological benefits to practicing gratitude. Psychology Today lists many benefits that can be provided by engaging in such activities. A few of these examples include:

  • Improved physical health
  • Better sleep
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Enhanced resilience

The connection between the practice of gratitude and overall wellness is clear. The benefits will not only help students have a better college experience overall, but they can even improve their academic performance.

There are various ways to practice gratitude and implementing these simple exercises can help students see great improvements in their mental health.

And it’s not just the students who are noticing.

Incorporating the Practice of Gratitude in Your Work with Students

No matter what your role is at the institution, you can help support student mental health. Whether you’re teaching students in the classroom, advising student organizations, or meeting with students one-on-one for career advice, you can help facilitate!

Here are a few strategies that can be easily implemented:

  • Gratitude journaling: Take five minutes at the start of a class or student meeting to have students write about what they’re grateful for. If you teach online, start a discussion board where students can contribute a few sentences.
  • Thank you notes: Have students write a note to a professor, mentor, peer, or staff member that they’re grateful for. Ask students to hand-deliver these messages to the recipient.
  • Regular reflections: Build in mid-semester or end-of-the-year reflections to think back on what went well and build optimism for what’s to come. Encourage students to share with each other so that they can hear what others have to say.

Incorporating the practice of gratitude into your everyday work is one of the easiest ways to support student mental health. These small activities can help students overcome big challenges.

Ways to Practice Gratitude Toward Your Students

In addition to facilitating practices of gratitude, you can also set an example yourself. Students look up to faculty and leaders on campus, and even though it might not always seem like it, your actions play an important role in their development. Let students see you practice gratitude throughout your day.

A few ways that you can practice gratitude towards students include:

  • Personal celebrations: Encourage students to share their academic, co-curricular, or personal successes with you, as well as their family and friends.
  • Feedback on assignments: Leave a personal comment appreciating something a student has written about or acknowledge the tremendous amount of effort that they put into completing a tough assignment.
  • Lead by example: Share with your students what you’re grateful for in your role at the institution and what you value about the students you work with. This recognition can mean so much to students who are working hard to achieve their goals.

Support Student Mental Health with U-Thrive Educational Services

It’s clear that the college mental health crisis isn’t going anywhere unless we take an active role in alleviating it. But improving mental health on your college campus doesn’t have to start with a huge overhaul of services. Small actions, like incorporating the practice of gratitude into your students’ daily lives, can make a world of difference.

U-Thrive Educational Services offers programs on a variety of topics to help students develop the skills they need to succeed, not all of which can be taught in the classroom. To continue to build an institutional culture of mental wellness and help students thrive on campus, contact U-Thrive Educational Services today for a demo.

About the author

Simone Figueroa graduated Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and concentration in Spirituality and Health. Simone graduated top of her class from Columbia University with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology in Education with an emphasis on Mind-Body Medicine. During her studies at Columbia University, she took a year long practicum in Positive Psychology and became fascinated with and quickly saw a need for Positive Education, which led to the start of U-Thrive Educational Services.

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