Maintaining Your Physical and Mental Health in College
By Monica Jablonski
The transition to college comes with various new experiences and challenges, which can understandably be stressful at times. This also makes it the perfect time to take care of your physical and mental health to ensure that you’re really getting the most out of your college experience. While there are countless distractions and excuses you can make at college (at BU, it’s a constant struggle to not order Insomnia Cookies at 2 am), implementing a healthy lifestyle in college will set you up for a healthy lifestyle throughout adulthood.
We’re going to discuss sleep as the first aspect of a healthy lifestyle, since college was the first time I got my sleep schedule in order; it completely transformed my life.
I’m sure you’ve already heard about the importance of getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night. To ensure that you’re consistently getting enough quality sleep, begin by setting a consistent bedtime and wake time. The only way I was finally able to achieve this was by making sleep a priority—once I decided that I would go to bed by 11 p.m., even if I had not finished all of my work for the day, I made sure to go to bed. Eventually, I managed my time and expectations better, and was consistently in bed by 11 with all of my work done (usually). Ideally, you should stick to this schedule all week. That being said, it’s obviously tricky to maintain a reasonable bedtime during the weekends in college, but being consistent during the week is a great habit and step in the right direction.
Another way to get quality sleep is to have a sleep routine. Remember when you were a kid and had a bedtime routine every night? Well, being an adult is not all that different (unless you can get your roommate to read you a bedtime story, in which case it’s no different at all). I usually stop doing schoolwork by 9 p.m., and then call my parents for about an hour. After that I’ll shower and plan out my next day before heading off to bed. Whatever you choose to do, make it relaxing and be consistent so you begin to associate those activities with winding down and turning in for the night.
In your nighttime routine, try to avoid caffeine and exercising, as it can interfere with sleep. Also, limit your time in front of your laptop and smartphone before going to bed as the blue light emitted from your device delays the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for your sleep-wake cycle, and can prevent you from falling asleep.
Protip #1: If you’re having trouble falling asleep for more than 15 minutes, it’s actually suggested to get up and do a light activity, like reading, for a few minutes before trying to fall asleep again.
Everyone always talks about how they want to start exercising, but rarely sticks to it. College is a great time to experiment to see what type of exercise you like. Whether it’s weightlifting at the university gym, biking to class, swimming, or joining an intramural sport, find an activity you enjoy and get into the habit of doing it at least three days a week.
One way to stay motivated and to be held accountable is to get a workout buddy.
Protip #2: Telling somebody about your goals will make you more likely to stick to them! So tell a friend about your goal to hit the gym five times a week.
Alternatively, joining an intramural sport is a great way to meet new people and make friends.
Another way to stay consistent is to use exercise as a study break or to workout in the morning to get a head start on your day. Personally, I like to get my workout done first thing in the morning to get energized for the day. I’ll also take advantage of Boston’s Esplanade, a walkway along the Charles River right alongside BU’s campus, to go for a run or walk if I feel like I need a study break.
Really take advantage of what your university has to offer—between the free gym, intramural sports, and having a campus to walk around to get to class, it’ll never be more convenient to keep active than it is right now.
Chronic stress not only affects your emotional well being, but it also adversely affects your immune system, cardiovascular system, and central nervous system, which is why having techniques to deal with stressful periods is crucial.
As a general rule, you need a break most when you don’t think you have time for one. So when you’re planning out your time, make sure to account for hobbies, extracurricular activities, and downtime. Personally, I make it a rule to not do any work on Fridays past 3 p.m. unless I have exams coming up, and it’s a great way for me to wind down after a long week.
If you’re having a particularly stressful day, give yourself a break and do something you wouldn’t usually do. Don’t be afraid to step away from your routine to binge watch that new Netflix series or order an entire pizza to split between you and your roommate. At the end of the day, your mental health is the most important part of a positive college experience.
Protip #3: Volunteering is a great use of your free time. Not only does volunteering help those in need, volunteering can also positively affect your psychological well-being by counteracting the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. Find a cause that your passionate about and join an organization working in that direction!
Maintain and Build Your Support System
Having a strong support system is vital during stressful times, and it’s been shown to be a protective factor against virtually every mental disorder. Make sure to keep in touch with high school friends and family by establishing and setting aside time to check in with them during the week or month. Form a group of close friends at school and get to know your professors and advisors, as the more people you know, the more connected you’ll feel at college.
Protip #4: Find a mentor in your field who is willing to guide and help you! Mentors who support you and guide you towards achieving your goals keep you motivated, especially when you feel overwhelmed.
While college life may seem overwhelming and stressful at times, establishing a routine and healthy habits early on will make the process much easier. Getting into the habit of working out regularly, ensuring a proper sleep schedule, and connecting with those around you will positively impact your school year and well-being.