The Healthy College Student: It’s All About Balance (page 2)
When your teen was living at home, you could help him stay organized, and monitor his eating and sleeping patterns. Now that he’s off to college that gets a little tricky. He’ll need some gentle prodding, helpful advice, and a sympathetic ear to get him on his way to being a healthy college student. Having healthy habits in college will help your teen boost his immune system and avoid getting sick. Living in a dorm, and sitting in lecture halls with dozens (or even hundreds) of other students, puts college kids at risk for catching all kinds of viruses.
So, before you bid your teen farewell at the dorm -- and as you stay in touch during the school year -- share with him these words of wisdom:
Living a balanced life will keep you healthy, strong, and less stressed. Encourage your teen to balance academics with extracurricular activities. He’ll want to spend enough time to focus on his studies, but college life is also about making friends, going to concerts and other campus events, too.
When you’re organized, you’re less likely to be stressed. Ever have that feeling of panic when you misplace an important piece of paper on your messy desk? The key to avoiding these panic moments is to be organized. Try these tips:
- Don’t let important things get buried under piles of dirty laundry!
- Keep your dorm room clean and organized, and know where your textbooks, laptop, and notebooks are.
- Know when your assignments are due.
- Put important dates on a calendar, whether it’s your cell phone, pocket paper calendar, PDA, or academic organizer.
Exercise Helps You Feel and Perform Better
Besides giving you a welcome break from studying, exercise triggers chemical reactions in your body that help you feel relaxed and refreshed and makes you better equipped to handle the everyday challenges of college.
Exercise also makes you more focused and more alert. There will be days when you’re tired or tempted to go have coffee with your friends and skip your daily jog, but you’ll regret it later. When you’re in a time crunch and you have to give up something, tell yourself that skipping exercise isn’t an option. Make a pact with an exercise buddy and decide to do something active together -- like jogging, walking, biking, or throwing a Frisbee -- several times a week. And take advantage of the campus fitness center, swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, and playing fields. You’ll feel better for it!
Eat a healthy diet and avoid fast food. Everyone’s heard of the “freshman 15,” the common tendency to gain weight that first year away from home. It’s easy to do when there’s food all around you, and a lot of it isn’t healthy. When you’re hungry and in a hurry, it’s easy to hit the vending machines, local quick mart or fast-food joint, but that habit too often leads to weight gain. Try to establish healthy eating habits right from the start of freshman year. Eat salads, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grain foods. Skip second helpings on desserts, and drink lots of water. Avoid keeping too many snacks in your dorm room, too.
Get your zzzzzs. Try to get eight hours of sleep every night. If that’s not possible, take a nap in the afternoon (or when you have time and the dorm is quiet). Avoid pulling “all-nighters” and don’t wait until the weekend to catch up on sleep. It’s better for your body to have a regular sleep schedule than an erratic one.
When Stress Leads to Anxiety Disorders
Being organized, getting enough exercise and sleep, and eating a healthy diet will all help to lessen stress. Keeping stress at bay is important because too much stress can trigger an anxiety disorder, particularly in students who are predisposed to this condition. An anxiety order is defined as “persistent, excessive and unreasonable anxiety, worry and fear.” If left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to depression, substance abuse, and in extreme cases, suicide.
In fact, according to a new study from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), colleges and universities across the country are seeing a major increase in students requiring mental health services for anxiety disorders. And the college years are often when symptoms of mental health problems such as anxiety disorders become apparent.
Campus health resources are there for a reason. As a parent, you can usually detect signs of illness, burnout, and anxiety in your teen – even from a distance. Be a source of comfort and help for your child. Get informed about the health resources on campus and in the surrounding community. Encourage your teen to seek medical care sooner rather than later. Many colleges provide mental health services, including group and individual counseling, through the student health center.
You may want to find out if they also make referrals to local mental health professionals off campus.
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