Taking care of your health and wellness might seem impossible in college, especially when you're caught up in classes, clubs, and social stuff. But it's possible. And it's important!
It can be difficult to learn how to take care of yourself when you go away to college, because for many years, you had other people taking care of you in some way, shape, or form. When your parents bought groceries for you that included vegetables and fruits and whole grains? Yep, that’s a form of someone else caring for you. But when you go to college, you don’t have someone’s mother stocking the café fridges, and chances are you will run into a lot of fried, processed, frozen, fat-sugar-and-sodium-heavy foods that you weren’t exposed to with so much regularity before. Similarly, chances are you had a more regimented routine in high school: you probably went to bed at a similar time every night and woke up around the same time every morning with few exceptions. When you go to college, however, your eating and sleep schedules will probably change drastically . . .
Your classes probably won’t start at the same time every morning, and even if they do, your work schedule might change up the time you go to bed each night, or you may have meetings that end at 11:00 pm. It can be difficult to find time to eat during your busy schedule, and if your school doesn’t have the best café hours (like mine), you might find yourself in the middle of a long day with few food options.
On its own eating poorly will make you feel crappy. But if you combine it with lack of sleep too, your body is going to respond even more negatively. You will feel flustered, angry, irritable, tired, hungry—an affliction more commonly known as being hangry. Yes, that’s a real thing. On top of this, if you are hungry and tired, or simply not getting proper nourishment, you will feel more stressed and be less capable of handling normal amounts of work because your brain and body aren’t getting the rest and fuel they need.
Therefore, it is essential that you take care of your mind, body, and your spirit during your time in college. This may seem like an impossible feat—but it is possible to have it all.
The first way is to get organized. I have written about this before, but it is essential that you figure out how to keep track of your classes, homework, work work, clubs, and other responsibilities. Whether it’s a physical planner or an app that sends you reminders, you need to find an organization method that works for you. Believe me, even if you are the most organized person in the world (I like to consider myself as such) with every day completely mapped out, you will still feel overwhelmed and stressed sometimes. So don’t take any chances!
The next important aspect of wellness in college is to figure out what you need to do to feel relaxed. No matter how busy you are, you have to schedule in time for yourself. If this means taking a nap, coloring in a fun coloring book, reading a novel, listening to music, watching YouTube videos, etc., find some a time in your busy day to do it! Once you map out your day-to-day schedule, you are bound to find small gaps in which you can implement self-care. Self-care is important because your body and your mind are like a very important, cool battery. Batteries can only run for so long (looking at you, iPhones) until they need to be recharged. You need to be recharged too!
Having trouble finding time in your day for yourself? I read a cool article about figuring out what you really do with your time. For one week, record your activity every half hour. Then you can look and realize, “hey, I really do spend four hours a day on Facebook!” even if it is broken up throughout the day or concentrated to the late hours of the night. By prioritizing your time, you can find where “me time” fits in.
Keep healthy food around
Like I mentioned before, you need to eat! And you need to eat good food. College is stressful and the food isn’t always the best, but that is not an excuse to skip meals or live off of protein shakes. Nourishment is nourishment is nourishment, and if you eat fried or processed food three meals a day, seven days a week, you probably won’t feel your best. But you also don’t want to be sitting in a three-hour night class on an empty stomach week after week. You can always supplement cafeteria food with your own snacks from the grocery store. Buy milk and cereal, carrots, string cheese, oranges, bananas, low-sodium soups, granola bars—whatever you’ll eat that will also stay fresh in your dorm. Sometimes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made in your dorm is tastier than whatever fried fish dish they’re serving in the dining hall anyway, not to mention a little healthier and filling. This way, when you just cannot fathom eating one more Caesar wrap from the cafeteria, you have alternatives readily available, instead of just skipping meals, or spending your own money on fast food (which can be just as bad or even worse than some of the food served by schools!).
Make time for sleep
Sleep is another important aspect of life that college students often just . . . forgo. Again, when you’re super busy and stressed, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or choose to go to bed later each night as you work hard to finish all your assignments. But again, the battery that is your body needs recharging or it will stop working. And your brain not only rests during sleep; it needs sleep to store and process memory. So you'll find it a lot hard to remember what’s on your midterm if you never let your brain rest!
I suggest getting the Sleep Cycle Alarm clock (though there are plenty of other sleep-tracking apps and products out there). It monitors how well and how long you sleep every night, and you can even put in sleep notes such as “stressful day” or “ate late.” After some time you’ll be able to see the patterns that lead to better or worse sleep. It also monitors your movement throughout the night, so it will wake you up when you are the most awake (as opposed to in deep REM sleep), within a half-hour time frame. This is something I have used since high school and have seen great results: I didn’t feel sluggish or irritable when waking up, and the results carried on throughout the day. I found I was less tired and could concentrate better. Plus, keeping track of how well you sleep and what affects each night of sleep is beneficial because you can use that to plan your “me time.” If coloring every night for a half hour consistently appears on nights you slept well, you just found a wellness action that works for you in a multitude of ways.
Use college services
Now, having shared all of this good advice, sometimes you can be doing everything right in terms of eating, sleeping, and taking care of yourself—and it might still not be enough. There is nothing to feel ashamed of if you get into a funk that you just cannot snap out of. Most colleges and universities have wellness centers where you can go to get counseling, do light box therapy, visit puppy rooms (that’s right, a room full of puppies. Feel better yet?!), and more. While you may have to pay for some of these services like counseling or seeing a school psychiatrist, most colleges have a certain number of visits built in to their tuition. So use them! If you have free counseling, why not go? Even if you feel fine, you will be surprised how much just talking to someone helps you understand yourself better. Your campus might offer wellness events throughout the semesters as well, which I encourage you to take part in! Lots of free stuff is given away, and it gives you an opportunity to learn about all the different resources you have at your disposal to be the healthiest you possible.