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Self Care For The College Student

October 05, 2017

College Student Wellness

By: Sarah McCarren RN, MSN, CPNP

There are more than 20 million college and university students in the U.S., many of whom are transitioning to adult life. Often, college students focus so intensely on their academic and social success that they forego acts of self-care. The health of your body, mind, and soul demands a thoughtful plan. Stop for a moment and consider how the following self-care tips will fit with your college life and aid in a graceful advancement into adulthood.

7 Self-Care Tips for the College Student

  1. Sleep - Do not dismiss the need for sleep throughout exam time. Neurologically, memory consolidation occurs when the brain rests. The lack of sleep also impairs your ability to focus and learn. Try keeping a regular sleep schedule and routine. Consider napping but not after about 3 in the afternoon. The 20-minute nap is ideal for alertness whereas the 30-60 minute nap is best for memory.  Caffeine can actually decrease memory performance and takes 8 hours for the stimulant effects to ware off. 
  2. Nutrition - College life is full of choices. Food is everywhere and often available twenty-four hours a day. Make thoughtful choices and don't consume late night calories. Obesity, anorexia, and bulimia can present during college years. These eating disorders are serious and often require assistance from healthcare providers.
  3. Exercise - Try to schedule at least 2 1/2 hours of exercise per week. Find something that you enjoy and stick to it. Most colleges and universities offer a variety of classes, clubs, and exercise facilities. This is a great time to try different exercise methods and meet new people.
  4. Disease Prevention and Sexual Health - Wash your hands, avoiding touching your face, take medication as prescribed, and see your healthcare provider for preventative care (including flu shots!). Your sexual health has both physical and emotional implications that require serious consideration. Immunizations, use of condoms, birth control, and safety should be discussed with both your partner and healthcare provider.
  5. Avoid Alcohol and Drugs - Having a college experience should not include altering your mind and judgment through the use of drugs and alcohol. You have worked hard to get this far, don't mess it up with drugs and heavy drinking. Binge drinking is dangerous, irresponsible, and a precursor to alcoholism. Both alcohol and drugs contribute significantly to depression. Depression and/or suicidal thoughts require action. Be proactive about your mental health and see a school psychologist or call the National Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-TALK
  6. Stress and Anxiety Control - Most colleges are offering mindfulness or stress reduction classes. Learning these essential tools will contribute to your success in college and life. Stay organized by taking some time to plan monthly, weekly, and daily responsibilities. Reduce your stressors if they are causing you anxiety (some stress can be motivating!). Consider 3 or 4 healthy coping mechanisms such as exercising, meditating, watching a comedy show, or engaging in a hobby.
  7. Positive Psychology - Having a positive attitude toward life and daily responsibilities make you an enjoyable person and a more effective leader. Wake up and go to sleep with grateful thoughts. Alert yourself to opportunities to be kind and show compassion. Stay quiet when tempted to speak negatively and speak out when things are not right. Practice mindfulness (purposely paying attention to the present moment without judgment), and of course - smile!
Prioritizing your self-care throughout the college years will maximize your experience and set you on a healthy track through life. Try setting aside Friday afternoon to organize and examine your progress. Independent living can be hard at times but also wonderfully satisfying. Make a plan, employ some strategies, and give yourself plenty of grace.

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