Health and Wellness Advice for New College Students
As a new class of freshmen heads off to college this fall, it’s easy to get caught up in all the myths and urban legends that surround this pivotal time. Sure, your first day of school may be exactly like what happens to the central characters in movies like Legally Blonde, Animal House, or Good Will Hunting — but chances are, it’ll be much less raucous, with a lot of more parental figures hovering in the background.
As you get settled into school, trying to balance your new class schedule, along with assignments, making new friends, and getting in three square meals a day can be hectic. Here are some of our best tips to help ease your transition into college.
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Reach for healthier food options
Students have a reputation for eating extremely poorly during their college years — while dorm meal plans have improved a lot in the last few years, many schools still partner with popular fast food chains to provide on-campus options to busy students. It’s tempting to spend all of your meal plan money there — after all, many of these options do contain some vegetables, and are an easy way to get a filling meal in under ten minutes. However, processed food is often loaded with hidden calories and tons of sodium. If you’re able to cook for yourself, it’s best to learn a few easy recipes and focus on eating whole, unprocessed meals, and snacks. Even if you don’t have access to a full kitchen, you can still make sure that your snack options are healthy.
Organize your schedule
As you settle into classes, one of the best ways to ensure that you’re always on top of class times, assignments, and readings is to make a schedule and stick with it. There are a ton of options out there — whether you’re an online calendar guru or can only follow something that’s written down in an organizer or agenda, the best option is the one that works for you. Once you’ve figured out a good system, use it to track all of your commitments and school work. Just knowing what you have coming up will help you feel less overwhelmed.
Make time for exercise
Most colleges have some kind of exercise or athletic center, and most of the time you’ll be paying for a membership as part of your tuition, so you may as well take advantage of it. Even if lifting weights or using the treadmill isn’t for you, you can still take part in exercise classes, use the pool, or consult a personal trainer, who can help you figure out an exercise regime that works for you. Even if you don’t have access to a gym, you can still walk, run, or go to yoga classes — just make sure you’re moving your body on a regular basis. Our physical health is irrevocably tied to our mental health, and even a quick jog around the block can help us feel less stressed.
Get enough sleep
While you’re in college, it’s tempting to make use of every single hour of the day to study. Getting ahead in your coursework is great, but not if it comes at the expense of your sleep schedule. A study published in 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports, found that students who had a regular sleep schedule were more likely to have higher grades than their peers who had inconsistent sleep schedules. Studying, meeting new people, and learning how to live on your own are all hard tasks — don’t complicate them further by doing it all while you’re completely exhausted.
Learn to study and stay alert without sugary, caffeine-heavy drinks
About 90 percent of Americans consume coffee every day, and many of them picked up this habit in college. It’s easy to see why caffeine can be a godsend when you’re studying or partying late into the night, and have to wake up early for class. Studies have even shown that caffeine contains memory-enhancing properties, which can help us retain information. However, these benefits only apply when caffeine is consumed in moderation — around 200 milligrams at a time. The average 12-ounce cup of coffee contains between 50 and 235 milligrams of caffeine, but some energy drinks can contain up to 357 milligrams of caffeine.
Figure out a study style that works for you
As you walk across campus, you’ll start to notice how many different styles of studying there are. There are the people who can pull open a book and cram for an exam while sitting with a beer on the grass, then there are other people who spend the majority of their time at the library adorned with noise-cancelling headphones and a stack of books blocking their view. In your first weeks at school, experiment with different techniques — some people find it helpful to study in groups, while others can only work in total silence and isolation. There’s no right way to study; you just need to make sure that the way that you’re doing it works for you.
Avoid overdoing it with alcohol
As young people leave home, it can be tempting to experiment with drugs and alcohol away from the prying eyes of parents. While it’s healthy to explore these options when it’s legally permissible to do so, it’s important to know that you don’t need to be drunk or high in order to have a good time at parties. Developing confidence and self-esteem, and learning how to talk to new people may feel easier when you’re drunk and full of alcohol-induced bravado, but it won’t help you in the long run. Learn your limits, and stay within them — unless you want to be brought home by campus police.
Don’t get caught up in new attitudes towards sex
Another trope that many people take too literally is the idea that college campuses are teeming with students who do nothing except drink and have sex. A recent survey by New York Magazine of 784 college students actually found that although many people think of college students as promiscuous and sexually adventurous, 41 percent of women and 49 percent of men surveyed were not sexually active at all. If sexual intimacy is a new adventure for you, make sure you’re educated on all the latest methods of STI and pregnancy prevention, and don’t rush into a sexual encounter without first making sure you’re mentally and physically ready to share such an intimate act with another person.
Take part in on-campus activities
For many people, college is the first time that they’re exposed to people who share their interests. Most campuses are home to tons of societies, clubs, and other group activities designed to connect like-minded students, and encourage involvement in campus life beyond class work. Before you even get to school, you can look up a list of current clubs, and see whether there are any that interest you. Many schools have club fairs, where existing organizations set up booths and field questions from interested students. Activities like volunteer groups, debate club, and business societies make fantastic additions to your resume when the time comes to look for a job.
Make new friends
One of the most challenging aspects of college is making new friends. You’re exposed to a huge group of new people, and picking out like-minded individuals from the crowd can be difficult. If you don’t meet people in your residence, clubs and activities are a great place to find new friends — after all, you already know you have similar interests. Even if you’re attending the same college as friends from high school, make sure you’re branching out, and actively meeting new people.
Seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed
Entering college can be extremely daunting for young people — the sudden lifestyle change, plus the added responsibility and pressure from parents and professors to achieve good grades can feel overwhelming. If you’re struggling to stay afloat, don’t be afraid of reaching out to friends, family, or a professional for help. If your problems are academic, a course advisor can help you manage your time more effectively, or suggest study groups or a tutor. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, many colleges offer free or extremely reasonable therapists for students to consult. There’s no need to suffer alone.