OPINION: Give thanks beyond Thanksgiving.

Gratitude is a boon to mental health in difficult times. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Between increased housing costs, an on-campus mental health crisis and a class divided by socio-political conflict, USF students have faced unprecedented challenges this semester on top of pursuing their degrees. Thanksgiving break is a well-earned pause in some of this semester’s chaos. 

While it may be a holiday cliche, giving thanks is an effective way to steel yourself against the stress and struggle of modern life.

Practicing gratitude is a mindfulness exercise that has gained real traction in mental health circles in recent years. It involves small tasks like journaling what you’re grateful for that day, following a guided meditation or repeating daily affirmations.

It may sound reductive when compared to the grandiose issues students are grappling with. And it’s true – you cannot “Thank-you” your way into cheaper rent or a more peaceful political world. But the first step to cultivating a better life is to tend to the garden you can touch. Whether you’re advocating for change or just attempting to cope with the world around you, clear-headedness and peace is the first step.

Related: As USF implements suicide prevention measures, do students and faculty think it’s enough?

Much like the rest of the world, the USF community was rocked by the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel triggered a series of on-campus protests and demonstrations.

The rights of on-campus pro-Palestinian groups were then challenged statewide on Oct. 25 when Chancellor of the State University System Raymond Rodrigues issued an order to disband them. While the order was halted, the pressure remains. 

Jewish student groups like USF Hillel are concerned for their safety due to “increased antisemitism” on campus. For students on both sides, the tension is reaching a fever pitch.

While grappling with world conflict, USF students have also experienced a struggle more universal: crippling housing costs. The cheapest dorms cost $6,410 annually, and are set to increase by 4.5% annually for the next five years. Off-campus housing doesn’t offer a cheaper alternative.

“It’s stressful, and I don’t have a lot of spending money outside of school stuff, because I’m shelling out all this money into a meal plan and stuff. So I can’t really eat anywhere else besides the Hub,” junior studio art major Anna Waite said in an Oct. 17 Oracle article.

These are daunting stressors for students that can lead to depression and feelings of hopelessness. While practicing gratitude won’t solve the world’s issues, it’s a practical coping skill that can be a boon for preserving both your mental health and energy to make positive change.

Thankfulness exercises like helping strangers in small ways or telling a loved one that you appreciate them have conclusive mental effects. A series of studies by UC Davis Medical Center showed that gratitude practice diminishes stress hormones, reduces the risk of depression by 41% and decreases hopelessness in suicidal patients by 88%.

For students motivated to enact positive change, mental self-care and outlook management is one of the most effective forms of activism.

Advocating for change or even just keeping up-to-date on social issues can be exhausting, especially for students who compound global issues with everyday stressors. This exhaustion can lead to “activist burnout,” which creates long-term cynicism and feelings of inefficacy that stifle one’s ability to advocate effectively and have a lasting impact on self image. 

That’s why, in times of conflict, socio-political injustice and economic struggle, it’s crucial to maintain a positive outlook on life. While thankfulness cannot end wars or repair the economy, appreciating life’s small joys wards off pessimism. Gratitude is remembering what makes the struggle worth it.