The typical college experience of all-nighters and ramen diets get old fast, even if they are a comfortable reality for many. Between all your exams, homework, studying and trying to maintain a social life, it can be tough to prioritize exercise, nutrition and good self-care. As a result, depression, anxiety, insomnia and burnout are all common among college-age adults. What’s worse is that the habits that contribute to these conditions also perpetuate them, so you get stuck in an endless cycle of feeling bad and doing things that, although may help temporarily, leave you only feeling worse.
You’ve likely heard that the habits you build now will last a lifetime. College is a period of transformation and growth, but it also gives you greater flexibility to change. When you work full-time, it can be more challenging to completely reframe your lifestyle to suit your health goals. As a student, you can start actively changing the way you live now to shape your future. Follow these seven easy tips that will help you improve your mental health and physical wellness in college and beyond.
Pack a Lunch on Long Days
When you will not make it back home in time to cook a healthy lunch, do not settle for high calorie, low nutrition meals from the dining hall or local fast-food restaurant. Postmates and Uber Eats may seem like a college student’s dream, but they’re just an easy way to make eating poorly more convenient. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a nice meal out once and a while, but you can take better care of your body by making simple, healthy lunches and bringing them with you when you expect to be gone all day.
Creating healthy eating habits from the start is going to set you up for a sustainable, healthy relationship with food during the ebbs and flows, and high stress moments of your tenure as a student. Are you a heavy snacker? Swap vending machine potato chips for crunchy carrot sticks or pepper-seasoned cucumber slices. They’re far healthier, and you can eat more to feel more satisfied.
Start Walking or Biking
Do you drive from point A to point B even when you could walk there in 30 minutes or less? Cars might be comfortable, but they fuel a sedentary lifestyle that could be making you feel down and struggling to maintain a healthy weight. Biking is an easy and fun form of transportation, especially on college campuses and their surrounding neighborhoods.
If you decide to become an avid walker, make sure you practice good safety. Don’t walk around at night alone, and always tell people where you’re headed. For maximum comfort, you’ll need a good pair of running shoes or a durable bike. If you can’t pay for these out of pocket, you may want to consider using your student loans as your student loan money isn’t just designed to pay for classes, it also helps cover your general living expenses and necessities while you’re in school. If you don’t feel like your federal aid is cutting it, a private lender can offer you a higher principal with lower interest rates. This could be the added cash you need to invest in equipment that makes healthy living more sustainable for you.
Leave Temptation at the Door
It is not just about willpower, as eating well is also about making nutrition accessible and easy. Instead of buying frozen meals or loading your fridge with junk food, opt for healthy ingredients instead. If you live in the dorm and can’t keep fresh produce in your area, make sure that you prioritize veggies and fruits whenever you’re eating out. Think about what snacks you reach for whenever you’re craving something in your room. If it’s not healthy, swap it out with a more nutritious alternative. You may miss your typical snacks at first, but like all habits, eating right just takes a bit of practice and patience before it becomes second-nature.
Get Help for Your Mental Health
Whether you just cannot shake a low mood, struggle with insecurity or are wrestling with body image issues, therapy is there for a reason. A lot of people are scared to admit they have a problem, and even if they’re open about it, getting therapy is a confirmation that can make them feel broken. You are not damaged because you have human problems. Everyone has their own issues to deal with, and it takes courage to admit you need help. Reach out and explore support services your school offers. If they aren’t what you need, you can also connect with therapists online using apps like Talkspace or BetterHelp.
Go On Outdoor Adventures with Your Friends
Instead of going out drinking or sitting in your dorm room, invite your friends out for a hike, bike ride or soccer game. There is so much fresh air and open space on college campuses to take advantage of. If your friends aren’t the exercising type, don’t let that stop you from going out. Consider joining a sports team, or look for upcoming outdoors events. Bringing a friend along is great, but there will also be opportunity to meet more people when you go out, too. Who knows, you might meet your new workout buddy.
Naps can be amazing for your body and mind. They don’t necessarily make you lazy, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for giving yourself rest when you need it. Make sure that you nap in a safe area, ideally in your own room. Schedule a nap for no more than 30 minutes. This could prevent you from waking up groggy and give you a nice energy boost for the rest of the day.
Don’t have time for sleep? That’s okay, but steer clear of caffeine loading. No matter what you do, don’t reach for energy drinks. They’re loaded with sugar and unhealthy chemicals that do far more harm than good for your body. Opt for a simple black coffee if you really need one, or a caffeinated tea. If you have the time and space, do some jumping jacks or run in place. Exercise is a natural energy booster.