College is a wild time for personal development. You're most likely somewhere far from your normal comfort zone, meeting new people, and have more independence then ever before. You are making decisions that you may have not faced in the past, feeling pressured by social media to be a certain way, and you have to navigate a new social scene. There is so much going on, but what is negatively affected during this time?
Unfortenelty, often health is neglected during one of the most developmental fruitful times of life. College is meant to be enriching, yet if we aren't giving our body's and minds the opportunity to function well, how much are will really gaining from all of our hard work?
Actual Health Truths
It is seen through The American College Health Association
that college students routinely have health issues that impact well-being and ability, many of which can contribute to chronic illness later in life. Two of the biggest problems that plague college students are substance use disorders and mental health concerns, not to mention that college students routinely miss benchmarks in regards to nutrition, physical activity, and sleep.
The Fall 2021 American College Health Associations National College Health Assessment assesses various health aptitudes of people enrolled in college. Some of the notable health aptitude reports are as follows
74.8% of males and females assessed reported moderate to serious phycological distress
40.2% of all those assessed met guidelines for active adults
44.6% of those assessed felt that their university prioritized student health and well-being
16.5% of those assessed reported eating 3 servings of fruit a day
28.3% of those assessed reported eating 3 servings of vegetables a day
26.4% of those assed reported having received treatment or diagnoses for chronic illness
As we can see, college students don't have the firmest grasp on their health. This is worrisome for several reasons. The biggest one is that health impacts the ability to preform your best academically. It is well known that a lack of sleep or low blood sugar can make it impossible to to pay attention and academically preform. Alongside of that, young adults (the typical college age student) are still neurologically developing, with this development only ending in the late 20's and sometimes 30's. Bad health can negatively impact this development.
There are two sides to the health expectations of college. On revolves around the party hard, no sleep, surviving-on-ramen view point. This is often perpetuated by adults offering advice for college, movies, and T.V shows. Even without the idea being put in to someone's mind, many young adults have never had to manage their own health and habits directly, and many can fall in to self-damaging habits. If you've ever heard of the freshman 15 happening due to dining halls (and not the natural weight gain that happens between teenage years and adult years) then you have witnesses this health expectation.
This one is more physically draining, with the lack of sleep and good nutrition putting strain on the body. This expectation can also be forced, if a college student is facing food/money insecurity, in a rigorous academic program, or are pre-disposed to addiction. Even so, these behaviors can still be encouraged further or normalized to an unhealthy extent.
The next is almost the opposite. There can also be an expectation to be "effortlessly healthy", in where unrealistic health goals are promoted. This happens mostly in our minds and on social media, where we can't see the full picture of someone's health habits, yet we compare ourselves against them. While some may see this as motivation to be healthy, it can also lead to obsession. Eating disorders, anxiety, and feelings of not being good enough can plague college students, leading to other forms of negative health.
If you've been a witness to the "That Girl" Trend, you've witnessed this health expectation. This can be more mentally and spiritually draining, as constant comparisons to others can leave us with a broken sense of self, lack of confidence, and feelings of guilt. Even if this expectation is technically perpetuating 'good' health, it can do more harm then intended (and it a whole other multifaceted topic).
How to promote healthy college habits for yourself
First off, remember that no one is perfect.
Everyone will have unhealthy times, feel overwhelmed, and maybe even have a weekend bender every once and a while. There is no expectation you have to meet other then the ones you set to value your health. You don't have to change anything about your appearance to gain health, and no one will ever know your full health story. So with general health guidelines being used as a flexible guideline, here are some ways you can focus on maintaining or improving your health in college.
Set a specific time where you drink a substantial amount of water.
This may seem silly, but most of us are chronically dehydrated to the point where we don't feel thirst regularly. If this resonates with you, consider literally adding "drinking water time" to your routine. Yes, drinking water throughout the day is important, but if you can't remember that step, it can be super beneficial to have at least one time a day to just sit and drink water. This is often recommended to do right in the morning, as it can help wake you up and ease overnight dehydration. I personally started by filling up a giant mason jar of water after my afternoon class, and I would sit and drink it as my main activity. Not only was I ensuring that I got some amount of water in me during the day, it gave me 15-30 minutes where I could chill out and not worry about anything else.
How much water you should drink depends on a variety of factors, but a guideline can be 1/2-2/3 of your body weight in ounces, varying depending on temperature and activity level.
Walk around campus whenever possible
Find a Mental Health Practice that works for you
Even if you don't have a diagnosable mental illness, everyone needs to do work to maintain their mental health, just like their physical health. For some, therapy with a professional is the best way to do this, particularly if you are facing or recovering from trauma, have a mental illness, or are feeling like you can not manage your mental health alone. Many college campuses have counseling services that are free to students, and you can also check out the Mental Health Resources post to see additional resources if traditional therapy is not accessible to you.
If you don't feel like you need therapeutic help, it is still important to find something to help you routinely work on and evaluate your mental status. Meditation can be fantastic for those who feel like they need some quiet time to reset, and can be done anywhere with no materials. Journaling is a great option for those who want to delve into specific parts of their mind or history with journal prompts, or can just be used to get all those trapped thoughts out. Words of affirmation, mindfulness, yoga, or campus affinity groups can also be great ways to express yourself and keep you mental health in check. There is no shame in trying several and picking which one works best for your current life style.
At minimum, make sure you are eating ENOUGH
*TW Eating Disorders/unhealthy eating habits*
While having a balanced diet filled with nutrients and vitamins is the best thing for you, it simply is not accessible or attainable for everyone. The biggest thing is making sure you are eating enough food-based calories every day. Our brains requires at minimum 500 calories to function properly, and most peoples bodies will burn around 1000 calories just at rest. If you don't eat enough to maintain these functions (and the additional calories you'll burn from going throughout your day or working out) you will start feeling negative affects. Some of these side affects are fatigue, muscle and joint weakness, reduced cardiovascular function, and more.
Malnutrition will affect your ability to preform on all aspects. Some of the easiest ways to eat enough are to focus on foods that contain high amounts of calories and the potential to also have other nutrients. Smoothies, granola bars, sandwiches, and oatmeal bowls are some of the easiest foods to make with substantial calories. My personal favorite is smoothies, as you can have servings of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins in one drink that you can take with you. If you struggle to eat enough and balanced, consider adding a reputable
multivitamin to your routine while you focus on upping you caloric intake.
As a side note, make sure to always eating SOMETHING before drinking or partying. Some people will 'budget' the amount of food they eat before going out in order to get drunker quicker, as alcohol can move straight to the lower intestine and get directly absorbed in to the blood stream. Or, others will be afraid of consuming to many calories through drinking, so they chose to not eat in order to 'make up' for the drink calories. Both of these habits makes you highly susceptible to alcohol poisoning, black out, or becoming ill. This is considered disordered eating and should be explored by yourself and a professional further.
Journal Prompts to Explore your Relationship with your Health
What steps do I take to consciously improve/maintain my health?
What (if any) are the barriers for me in regards to my health?
Do I feel like I have a firm grasp on my health? If not, what areas do I struggle with?
How does my current mental health status affect my life?
How does my current physical health statues affect my life?
Does my current social environment aid my health or is it detrimental to my health?
How does my current college/family/work situation impact my health?