10 College Tips To Protect Your Mental Health with Kelsey Ryan [Back to School]

When we heard that Kelsey Ryan was balancing motherhood, student life and a full-time job, we just knew that we had to sit down and talk with her!

This week, we’re going back to school and interviewing some of our favourite student bullet journalers to discover how they look after their mental health during their studies.

Kelsey is an avid bullet journaler and a 32-year-old mother of two who works full-time for a production company as their accountant and social media manager, all whilst pursuing her second degree in criminal justice.

After discovering bullet journaling in 2016, Kelsey decided to go back to school and reconnect with her purpose - helping others. Her goal? “I hope to open a non-profit one day that helps women financially in the process of leaving a domestic abuse situation.”

When we spoke with Kelsey she was feeling motivated and ready to tackle her mile-long to-do list! Safe to say, we had a lot to learn from her. We chatted about all things mental health, school life and self-care.

Read on to get inspired by Kelsey’s story and discover the biggest lessons we took away from her story. This is how Kelsey protects her mental wellbeing whilst going after her student goals.

Image of Kelsey with hat and glasses on peach background

Kelsey Ryan, @kelsey.doodles

1. Be open minded when choosing your degree

“When I started bullet journaling in 2016, I found comfort in listening to true crime podcasts while I would draw.

Over time, I really started to feel drawn to the victims in the cases I would listen to. I finally decided in 2019 that going back to school to pursue my criminal justice degree is what I needed to do.”

2. Experiment with different learning styles

“I think I have the unique experience of attending school twice in different environments.

The first time I went to school for accounting, all of my lectures were in person. I would find that I would get distracted easily and I didn’t pay attention as much when I was younger.

Now that I am pursuing my second degree online, it’s a much better fit for me than I was expecting. I can take my notes in a way that works well for me. I am efficient with my time, and I have found my groove. So I would say I am surprised that online works better for me personally than in person lectures.”

4 journals open on orange fabric with various doodles and text inside

3. When times are tough, know that they will get better

“Mental health is extremely important to me. I am a trauma survivor. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and I attend EMDR therapy twice a month to help me cope with my mental health. I am four years in recovery for my PTSD as well as my eating disorder.

Advocating for mental health has become an everyday part of my life. I want people to understand that when they are at their lowest low- life is not over. It can get better. If you asked me 5 years ago where I would be now- I never would have thought I would be this healthy. I want to show people what it’s like on the other side of your lowest point. Things do get better.

I think mental health is important in my field because there are all sorts of injustices and eye opening situations I am exposed to in my studies. And it’s important to talk about how they affect me.”

Shop the Back to School Edit

Lined A5 Journal
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yop & tom medium ruled notebook
green lined journal lying on bed with pen
green lined notebook on white table
lined journal a5 - forest green main image
lined journal - forest green - zoom in on moon and star emblem
lined journal a5 - forest green - zoom in on Yop & Tom gold debossed logo on spine
yop & tom ruled notebook a5 internal pages
yop & tom medium ruled notebook
green lined journal lying on bed with pen
green lined notebook on white table
Dot Grid A5 Journal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
Undated Goal Planner
Front on shot of power of 3 goal planner in sunshine yellow showing gold triangle emblem and paper sleeve
Power of 3 Sunshine yellow Infographic showing features
Close up of Power of 3 goal planner gold emblem on sunshine yellow cover
Close up of Yop & Tom logo on spine of power of 3 goal planner in yellow
3 month goal planner page showing sections for goals, milestones and tasks
Monthly planner page of power of 3 goal planner showing full month spread, weekly wins and monthly focus
Weekly planner page in the power of 3 goal planner
Goal reflection page in the power of 3 planner showing which goals were hit and missed and focus for next 3 months
Yearly focus page in the power of 3 goal planner showing areas of focus for the year and list of yearly goals
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Power of 3 goal planners in charcoal, green and yellow
Power of 3 Undated Goal Planner - Sunshine Yellow
Front on shot of power of 3 goal planner in sunshine yellow showing gold triangle emblem and paper sleeve
Power of 3 Sunshine yellow Infographic showing features
Close up of Power of 3 goal planner gold emblem on sunshine yellow cover
Close up of Yop & Tom logo on spine of power of 3 goal planner in yellow
3 month goal planner page showing sections for goals, milestones and tasks
Monthly planner page of power of 3 goal planner showing full month spread, weekly wins and monthly focus
Weekly planner page in the power of 3 goal planner
Goal reflection page in the power of 3 planner showing which goals were hit and missed and focus for next 3 months
Yearly focus page in the power of 3 goal planner showing areas of focus for the year and list of yearly goals
Close up of sunshine yellow power of 3 goal planner showing corner of the cover and edge of paper pages
Power of 3 goal planners in charcoal, green and yellow
Power of 3 Undated Goal Planner - Sunshine Yellow

4. Turn bullet journaling into a tool to help you grow 

“When I started bullet journaling, it was a way to turn my mind off of everything that was happening in my life. I definitely used it as an escape.

Over time it has evolved into a form of creative therapy for me. Because I struggle with PTSD I have issues with memory loss. So I write down everything. And that makes me feel sane. I have these precious logs of everything I have done. All the memories I have made. And it’s just so nice to have this place where I can come to look back on how I have evolved over time.”

journal showing July page open on fabric with pens

Kelsey uses her bullet journal to keep track of everything she’s got going on in her busy life. Photo credit: @kelsey.doodles

5. Remember why you’re going to school in the first place

“My mental health was not in a good place before I started my second degree. I had just endured a difficult divorce that was drawn out over a few years and I was extremely vulnerable.

It wasn’t until I started therapy and really taking care of myself that I decided to go back to school. I definitely needed the confidence to enroll and taking the time to grow through therapy was important for me.

I think my mental health has become much stronger since pursuing this degree. I have a level of confidence in myself, and I have something to look forward to. It is so important in this process to remember there is an end goal in sight!”

6. Use planning spreads to make it easier for yourself

“I am an avid planner. Before each semester I break down my schedule.

On top of school, I am a mother of two, a wife, and I work full time. I also have a social media presence that requires my time. So managing everything is really important. I start by making a time blocking spread like this:

Journal showing weekly spread by Kelsey Doodles

Photo credit: @kelsey.doodles

I find myself being less overwhelmed if I know how I am going to manage my time. Once I receive my syllabus, I then create a future log with all of my due dates so I have a place to refer. This also helps me to avoid missing assignments.

Open notebook showing monthly Overview planner spread by Kelsey

Photo credit: @kelsey.doodles

Because of my PTSD and anxiety, I don’t like surprises. So the more I know the better. These two spreads are absolutely crucial to having a positive and productive semester.”

7. Experiment with different strategies to manage your mental health at school

Creative Writing

“Creating collages, drawing, writing poems or feelings. Anything that allows me to turn my feelings into art.”

Belly breathing meditation

“I do this a lot in my EMDR sessions with my therapist, or whenever I am feeling anxious at home. Taking 5 full minutes to focus on breathing really changes my whole mood.”

Reading

“I have found that getting lost in a good book is so good for my mental health. Taking an hour to focus on something that is not all the chaos of life can not only be relaxing but also good brain fuel!”

Journal showing reading tracker

Tracking your habits can help you stick to them which is even more important when they help your mental health! Photo credit: @kelsey.doodles

Shop the Back to School Edit

Lined A5 Journal
lined journal a5 - forest green main image
lined journal - forest green - zoom in on moon and star emblem
lined journal a5 - forest green - zoom in on Yop & Tom gold debossed logo on spine
yop & tom ruled notebook a5 internal pages
yop & tom medium ruled notebook
green lined journal lying on bed with pen
green lined notebook on white table
lined journal a5 - forest green main image
lined journal - forest green - zoom in on moon and star emblem
lined journal a5 - forest green - zoom in on Yop & Tom gold debossed logo on spine
yop & tom ruled notebook a5 internal pages
yop & tom medium ruled notebook
green lined journal lying on bed with pen
green lined notebook on white table
Dot Grid A5 Journal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hot Air Balloon - Charcoal
Undated Goal Planner
Front on shot of power of 3 goal planner in sunshine yellow showing gold triangle emblem and paper sleeve
Power of 3 Sunshine yellow Infographic showing features
Close up of Power of 3 goal planner gold emblem on sunshine yellow cover
Close up of Yop & Tom logo on spine of power of 3 goal planner in yellow
3 month goal planner page showing sections for goals, milestones and tasks
Monthly planner page of power of 3 goal planner showing full month spread, weekly wins and monthly focus
Weekly planner page in the power of 3 goal planner
Goal reflection page in the power of 3 planner showing which goals were hit and missed and focus for next 3 months
Yearly focus page in the power of 3 goal planner showing areas of focus for the year and list of yearly goals
Close up of sunshine yellow power of 3 goal planner showing corner of the cover and edge of paper pages
Power of 3 goal planners in charcoal, green and yellow
Power of 3 Undated Goal Planner - Sunshine Yellow
Front on shot of power of 3 goal planner in sunshine yellow showing gold triangle emblem and paper sleeve
Power of 3 Sunshine yellow Infographic showing features
Close up of Power of 3 goal planner gold emblem on sunshine yellow cover
Close up of Yop & Tom logo on spine of power of 3 goal planner in yellow
3 month goal planner page showing sections for goals, milestones and tasks
Monthly planner page of power of 3 goal planner showing full month spread, weekly wins and monthly focus
Weekly planner page in the power of 3 goal planner
Goal reflection page in the power of 3 planner showing which goals were hit and missed and focus for next 3 months
Yearly focus page in the power of 3 goal planner showing areas of focus for the year and list of yearly goals
Close up of sunshine yellow power of 3 goal planner showing corner of the cover and edge of paper pages
Power of 3 goal planners in charcoal, green and yellow
Power of 3 Undated Goal Planner - Sunshine Yellow

8. Use your journal to help you when you’re overwhelmed

“When I start to feel overwhelmed, I grab my notebook and create a brain dump. This is a page where I get everything floating around in my brain out on paper.

I immediately feel less anxious when my brain isn’t full.It helps me to organize what’s most important and the order of how I can tackle my to-do list.”

Open journal showing daily notes on orange fabric

A “brain dump” can help you get all your thoughts out of your head and down onto paper. Photo credit: @kelsey.doodles

9. Surround yourself with the right people

“I have surrounded myself with friends who are compassionate and understanding of my situation. As much as they are there for me, I am there for them as well.

I think it’s important to remember your self worth and surround yourself with like minded people who are there to help you grow and evolve into the best version of yourself. It has definitely taken years and it has come about by just being picky about the people I want to have in my life.

You cannot pour from an empty glass. Just as someone cannot give from their empty glass.”

10. Ask for help when you need it

“My biggest piece of advice is to map out your semester before you start your classes. It is so much easier to accomplish something when you know all of the things you have on your plate.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. We live in an age where just about everyone needs some form of therapy. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Working on your mental health is so important.

Lastly, set aside time for yourself. For me, that’s going to the gym.It allows me to take care of my body while burning off steam and planning out my day. Self care is necessary!”

STAY INFORMED