Stress and College Students: Staying Healthy
Good Health and College Students
Stress and college students sometimes seem to go hand-in-hand, but they don’t have to. There are simple ways to effectively manage stress, and one of the best is to focus on your physical health. With your body in good condition your mind will be alert and well prepared to handle any challenge, and you’ll have more energy to devote to your many responsibilities (class, work, internships, clubs, family, etc).
So while the previous article in this series deals with general tips for handling stress, this one focuses on suggestions to keep you at peak performance. Many may seem like common sense, but they are easier to read about than to implement. Following these guidelines is the key to remaining healthy throughout the often stressful college years.
Create a Social Network
While sometimes friends and family can stress you out, most of the time other people are a great resource for helping you cope with life. It’s been shown in study after study that people who have a lot of friends and close ties with family are happier and more emotionally stable. Friends provide a support system you can rely on for help when you need it, an outlet when you need to talk, and companions who can take your mind off school and work when you have to relax. Also, social ties actually keep you healthier, and people with a lot of friends tend to live longer.
So stay in touch with old friends from high school, but also look for new friends and social communities at college. It’s great to have people close by who you can depend on and hang out with, and a strong network of friends makes the challenges of college life that much easier to face. And believe it or not, it’s good for your health.
Exercise and Eat Healthy
Working out isn’t only healthy, but it actually releases chemicals in your brain that relax you, give you more energy, and makes it easier to think. You might feel too stressed out to exercise, but the truth is working out will reduce your stress in the long run because it will help you stay energetic and alert. That way, you can work harder and more quickly on all those items on your to-do list. Exercising can also be a great way to release pent-up frustration and stress.
Eating healthy, as hard as it can be in a dorm, is important for the same reasons. It keeps your mind active and alert and increases your energy level—powerful stress-relieving tools. And gaining weight (the dreaded freshman 15) is pretty stressful to most people. Plus, forming good eating and exercising habits now puts you on the path to maintaining those habits once you leave college.
Get Enough Sleep
Most college students (and teenagers and adults, for that matter) don’t get enough sleep. Eight hours is the rule-of-thumb, but some people need more or less than that to function well. If you go to bed and get up at about the same times every day, you’ll get better quality sleep and need less of it. Figure out what works for you, what amount of sleep makes you feel rested and alert, and make sure to get that amount of sleep most nights.
It’s tempting to stay up late all the time, but if you get enough sleep you will be better able to learn in classes and function well on tests and at work. This is where planning out your days and weeks comes in very handy—it’s hard to get the right amount of sleep if you’re consistently pulling all-nighters to cram for tests you didn’t study for or do homework you could have finished earlier. Make time for sleep, and you’ll find yourself better able to handle what comes your way without stressing out.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine Intake
If you want to avoid a stressful college experience, avoid the party scene as much as you can. People might say alcohol helps them relax, and it may do that temporarily. But alcohol is a depressant, and so too much drinking is likely to leave you hung over, worn out, and unable to concentrate. Too much caffeine can have many of the same effects. It may seem to keep you alert, at least for a while. But it’s draining on your body, and the inevitable crash will leave you worse off than you were before you had all those cups of coffee.
Too much of either of these substances can add to your stress level considerably (not to mention the stress of the bad decisions that can result from alcohol-induced poor judgment). And avoid smoking and illegal drugs. Anything that alters your body’s chemicals is going to make it more difficult to achieve the level of alertness and concentration you’ll need to succeed in college.
No matter how many responsibilities you have and how many places you need to be every day, don’t forget to find time to relax. Don’t feel lazy or guilty if you need to take some me-time to recharge. A little downtime goes a long way towards improving your level of alertness and concentration when it’s time to get back to work. So make time to rest and hang out with friends and watch your favorite TV shows. Don’t overestimate how much you can do in one day, and leave time in your schedule for plenty of breaks. After all, college is about meeting new people and having fun new experiences as much as it’s about working hard and preparing for a career.
Take the time to keep yourself in good physical condition, and the stress of college life becomes all that much easier to manage.