Thursday, February 5, 2015

Self-Care in College: Staying Healthy.

College is wonderful for the opportunities to learn, work, gain professional experience, gain research experience, expand social and professional networks, and to learn more about one's interests and passions. In the midst of all that, it can become quite easy to lose track of one's own mind and body, but when combined with stress this can be an unfortunate circumstance. My parents tell me to take care all the time, and I'm sure many other loved ones, parents and family say the same to my peers. Thus, here's a *condensed* checklist of things to pay attention to in order to maximize self-care, and make your friends/family happy :)

  1. Do your homework. This implies doing it in general. I've seen more than a handful of classmates fall behind in challenging courses for neglecting to do work outside of class. In my own experiences, getting behind on work (even reading/practice problems) can be a huge bummer, and very stressful. That being said, at no point should schoolwork shroud one's entire existence. If those orgo problems are just not happening some night, come back to it later or schedule time with a tutor. Luckily, if you're really struggling with a class there are resources to get you through. Do your best, but don't stress!
  2. Do something with your body, sometimes. Different people enjoy/prefer a variety of exercise pursuits, and by no means should every student on campus be lifting three times a week. But exercise has been shown to heighten feelings of happiness, enthusiasm and excitement (Hyde et al.), so moving your body with some level of regularity will probably make you feel better. Even while doing homework in the library, I'll get up every so often for a five- to- ten-minute stroll around the book stacks and when I get back to my work, I feel much better. This might be especially important in the winter, when the snow and cold can get one down.
  3. Get some sleep. Whenever it works for you. I know people who are most productive from the hours of 10PM til the early hours of the morning, but they'll sleep during the day (hopefully when they don't have class). I tend to want at least 7-8 hours of sleep between the hours of 12AM-9AM, and that's what I shoot for. But what's important is to make sure sleep is happening in a reasonable quantity, at whatever hours work best for one's schedule.
  4. Find some way to chill that doesn't include a screen. I really, really hate staring at a screen all day. That's why I'd rather do something like read or talk or play a game to chill. I think watching a show or a movie is a great way to unwind, but I also think that doing that all the time will make you boring. Especially at a moment when so many of our peers have screens fit for an HD movie in their pockets, it's important to find ways to pull away from those distractions and unwind differently. Taking a bus ride downtown to do nothing but people-watch or walk around or grab a coffee will occupy about the same amount of time as a Netflix binge, and probably yield greater happiness and fulfillment.
  5. Eat well. To the point about exercise, I don't mean to say that one should only eat salad and lean protein in college. But the way I like to think about it (and I'm ripping this off from my dad) is that there's food for fuel, and fuel for fun. Food for fuel includes the stuff that you'd eat before a workout or when you're not at the Friday/Saturday night grill. Examples: veggies, protein, some carbs, and some dairy if you like/eat that. Food for fun is more obvious: wings, fried foods, extra cheesy foods, candies/sweets, cakes, etc. would fall into this category. My rule is that most of the time (75-85% of the time), I'm focused on eating food for fuel. The rest of the time, I'll eat food for fun in moderation. I also think it's important not to be too harsh on oneself here (like exercise and homework). Say your parents are up some weekend, and you do nothing but eat delicious junk food with them, That's awesome, because it doesn't necessarily happen every day. Long story short, it's important to know what makes your body feel good.
So there's the short (ish) list, but the point of all this is the importance of being healthy in college. When you're surrounded on one side by school/responsibility, and on the other by friends/fun, it can be easy to justify behavior that doesn't serve your mind or body well. But at the end of the day your body keeps your heart beating, and your mind keeps you happy and focused. 

Cheers to practicing self-care to the best of our abilities! Thanks for reading.

P.S. - I really like this video, and it's somewhat related to self-care. It's about being alone, but the woman in the video covers a lot of self-care topics and offers good habits to practice. Check it out!

Works Cited

Hyde, A. L., Conroy, D. E., Pincus, A. L., & Ram, N. (2011). Unpacking the Feel-Good Effect of Free-Time Physical Activity: Between- and Within-Person Associations With Pleasant-Activated Feeling States. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33(6), 884-902.

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