Managing Stress and Staying Healthy: Advice For College Students (page 5)
A happy and successful life in college depends on achieving balance - balance in the types of courses you take each semester, balance between academics and extracurricular activities, and, of course, balance between work and play. Managing stress, health, and your psychological and emotional well-being in college is also about finding balance.
Keeping Stress At Bay And Staying Healthy
As you no doubt learned a long time ago, having a little bit of stress in your life is a good thing. It keeps you getting up in the morning and moving forward in the direction of your goals and aspirations. Too much stress, though, can wear down your health and cripple your ability to make progress.
Keeping stress at bay in college depends on five primary factors. We discuss each of them here, in no particular order.
Get Organized and Stay Organized
Nothing will get you stressed out faster than being disorganized. Disorganization can lead to missed problem sets and other assignments, forgotten meetings, timing conflicts, and any number of other problems that will send your stress level (and perhaps your blood pressure) shooting skyward. As soon as you have decided on what courses you'll be taking, transfer the due dates for all assignments, problem sets, and papers, and the dates of all quizzes, tests, exams, midterms, and finals to a single calendar. Every organizational meeting, game, intramural event, party, date, or time you agree to meet someone to study should also immediately make it onto this calendar.
We don't care whether you keep your calendar in a PDA, on your laptop, on your cell phone, or on a good old-fashioned paper calendar. All we care about is that you pick one place to keep track of everything and that you do it religiously. Once this becomes a habit, it will be second nature to you to record any commitment that you make. But the confidence you'll have in knowing that you haven't forgotten something or somebody will help you sleep better at night and keep your stress level under control.
Get Some Exercise Every Day
A second component of keeping stress at bay, which you probably also already know, is to get some exercise every day. Exercise triggers a series of chemical reactions in your body that helps you feel relaxed and refreshed and thus makes you better equipped to handle the everyday challenges of college. Whether your exercise comes in the form of grueling two-a-days for the varsity, a simple forty-five-minute walk after class, or anything in between, exercise will serve you well.
If you're pressed for time and you find yourself faced with the question of skipping your daily exercise or cutting something else out of your schedule - keep the exercise. Your daily dose of exercise will make you more focused and more alert, and will give you more stamina to meet the demands of your day.
"All through high school, I danced and played field hockey, so I didn't have to think about staying in shape and exercising. Once I got to college, I was so overwhelmed with everything that exercise was put on the back burner," Lyndsee explained. "I made it a goal to go to the gym three times a week, which I thought was reasonable and manageable. Something that really helps is to go with a friend. That way, it is harder for you to skip it. My friends and I went to the gym together all the time and after we would go get dinner together. Going with them made it something to look forward to."
"I was training for baseball in the fall and winter about three or four times a week," Dave noted. "Our workouts were split among weight training, swimming, and running, and I definitely felt better when I got the chance to go work out."
"I sucked at managing stress and staying healthy," Dan admitted. "In the end, I spent more time than I should have stressing about school work and not enough time exercising. Get in the habit of going to the gym, getting outside with friends, and uncovering new and healthy interests that you can pursue for the long haul. Most colleges and universities have astoundingly good fitness centers that are free and open almost twenty-four hours a day. With the varied schedule of the college day, you should have no excuse for not eating right and getting in shape. Plus, if you make this a consistent part of your daily life now, you will reap the benefits of becoming addicted to health for the rest of your life."
"Exercise and laying off the party scene were helpful to me," Jim added. "I also ate healthy and got a lot of sleep."
Maintain a Healthy Diet
On our busiest days in college, it was almost always easier to grab and nuke a frozen burrito from the quick-mart than it was to walk to the dining hall to get a salad or something out of the pasta bar. Yet these daily choices add up, and a clogging diet of pizza, fast food, and beer, coupled with the rigors of your schedule, inadequate sleep, and exposure to all the germs on campus, will eventually take you down.
We know you're not going to forgo beer or pizza, and we know you're going to keep buying and eating processed crap from the quick-mart. We all did - it is practically a rite of passage in college. But make no mistake - it is also where the Freshman 15 comes from.
Try to impose some healthy eating habits on yourself right at the beginning of your college career. If you get in the habit of having a salad at lunch and dinner and trying to eat a balanced diet, eventually these will become second nature to you. Unfortunately, the same holds true if you get in the habit of going back for thirds on dessert every night.
For most of us, college is also where our addiction to caffeine began. Perhaps it was because we really liked coffee. More often, though, it was about staying awake and alert.
Don't panic - I'm not about to tell you to stop drinking coffee or to forget about stopping at Starbucks on your way to class in the morning. I myself have consumed hundreds and hundreds of caffeinated beverages in the process of writing this book. But I want to introduce you to another little secret weapon in the battle to stay awake and alert in college.
No, no - not that little secret. Stay away from the drugs. They're all bad news.
I'm talking about water.
Your body is something like 80 percent water. You can go weeks without food, but without water you'd be dead in only a few days. Water is one of the primary ways your body cleanses itself - and this cleansing process refreshes you and makes you more awake and alert.
The next time you need to push yourself hard but feel really tired or lethargic, pound some water. Go to your sink or run down to the quick-mart and shotgun a pint of water. Then wait about twenty minutes and notice how you feel.
Get Enough Sleep
You know the drill - you're supposed to be getting your eight hours per night.
We know that's not going to happen on a regular basis. It's more likely to be something like five hours a night from Sunday to Thursday, and then nine or ten hours on Friday and Saturday nights when you go to sleep at 3 a.m. and sleep until noon.
You know that not getting enough sleep will make you less focused and less attentive, and will impede your ability to concentrate. So when you feel yourself getting run down, make sure to get your exercise; have an early, healthy dinner; and then turn off your cell phone and crash early for a couple of nights in a row. Or, as an alternative, if your schedule allows you to do it, grab a two-hour nap for a couple of afternoons.
You'll be amazed at how reinvigorated you'll feel.
"Take one full day off to rest when you are actually sick to try and nip it in the bud, rather than letting a cold drag on for days and weeks," Amanda advised.
Maintain a Proper Work-Life Balance
Finally, we come around to the whole balance issue again. If you don't have a pending exam or paper due, knock off at a reasonable hour every night and take some time to hang out with your roommates, go out for a study break, or talk to a friend on the phone. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, make sure you are taking some time away from your studies to spend time with friends; see a movie, play, or concert on or off campus; and otherwise "unplug" from the grind.
Making yourself available to these kinds of experiences is one of the most important things you can do for yourself in college. Bonding with friends and roommates is one of the best ways to feel "connected" to your college experience - and feeling bonded and connected is a great way to keep stress at bay.
If you play a musical instrument, lock yourself in a soundproof practice room and have at it. In my college days, I played piano in bars and clubs. When I got stressed, I would often spend some time locked in one of Yale's performance rooms with a Steinway grand piano, belting out favorite songs. Other friends would take their acoustic guitars outside under a tree and play or compose songs.
"I developed a 'work hard, play hard' philosophy, which basically meant that I was involved 100 percent in whatever I was doing, whether it was work or play," Amanda explained. "You need to know how to relax during down time and not continue stressing over what you're not doing. I maintain this philosophy and feel that it keeps me balanced."
"I spent a lot of time with my friends," Zoe added. "In college, especially if you live on campus, it is possible to spend virtually twenty-four hours a day with your friends, eating, studying, working, partying, and sleeping. Even in the shower, there is usually someone you know a couple of feet away in the next stall. Unless you go into the military or join a convent, there really will not be another time in your life quite like this.
"If you're a social person, these intense friendships can be the highlight of your four years. I found that being with friends helped with stress management and staying sane. There was always someone around to laugh with, to keep me company on an all-nighter, to go for a walk, or even to have a good cry. Your true friends will come to know and love you when you're having a beautiful, brilliant day as well as when you're cranky, hung over, unshowered, sleep deprived, and feeling pathetic. Few people in your life outside of your immediate family will ever have the chance to know you so well."
Campus Confidential Mentors and Uber-Mentors:
Campus Confidential contains the collective advice of a a diverse group of people who have traveled the road to college. Some are recent college graduates who can counsel you on the college experience as it is today. Other are a few years removed from their college days and can provide a longer view of the decisions you will need to make before, during, and after college. Here is a little bit about the mentors and uber-mentors in these articles.
Dan Bissell – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College cum laude, 1993. Major: Geology
M. D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Adler Scholar, 2002
Tom Teh Chiu – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Brooklyn, New York
B. A. Yale University, 1993. Major: double major in Chemistry and Music
M. M. Juilliard School, 1995
M Juilliard School, 2001
Jim Bright – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
B. A. Duke University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: History
Amanda Cramer – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Paso Robles, California
B.A. Cornell University Phi Beta Kappa, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Graduate study in food science – Enology, University of California at Davis 1997-2000
Zoe Robbins – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. (1) Wellesley College magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: Economics
B.A. (2) University of Pennsylvania, 2001. Major: Nursing
Carolyn Koegler – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Hopkinton, New Hampshire
B. A. Tufts University, cum laude, 1993. Double major: History and Spanish
Erik Norton – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B. A. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Lyndsee Dickson – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.A. New York University, cum laude, 2004. Major: East Asian studies
Kevin Donovan – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Boston College, honors in the major, 1993. Major: English, Minor: Creative Writing
Tiffany Chan – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.S. New York University, 2005. Major: Communication Science
Erica Eubanks – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Tennessee State University, National Deans List, 2003. Major: Criminal Justice
Dave Irwin – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College departmental honors, 2004. Major: American Civilization, Minor: Education
Chase Johnson – Campus Confidential Mentor
B. A. Duke University, with Phi Alpha Theta distinction in history, 2005. Major: History
Aaron Paskalis – Campus Confidential Mentor
West Point Military Academy, then transferred to UMass Amherst
B. A. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2005. Major: Legal studies
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