More than 80 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by their workload in 2016. Chronic stress can be a catalyst for depression, anxiety and mood disorders—serious problems that together are ranked number one among the top five national health conditions contributing to poor health in nearly every county of every state in the U.S. By prioritizing physical and mental health throughout the school year, students are better able to manage stress and enjoy their time in college.
• Eat a balanced diet: With such demanding schedules, it’s easy for college students to skip meals or resort to unhealthy convenience foods. Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and lean proteins contributes to overall good health. By prioritizing a balanced diet, students can help their body fight off disease, depression/anxiety, infection and fatigue. Pre-making meals or packing healthy, on-the-go snacks is a great way to save time, money and stress.
• Clear the head: Meditation, spiritual routines and deep breathing are great strategies in calming the mind and body. These practices can activate the body’s relaxation response, which aids in starting the day feeling alert and stress-free. Deep breathing has also been linked to positive thinking, increased awareness, enhanced creativity and better brain function.
• Get active: Whether it’s joining a sports team, taking an exercise class or walking around campus, college students should get at least 2.5 hours of physical activity in each week. Being sedentary for long periods of time has been linked to higher levels of anxiety and increases the risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
• Rest: Most adults need an average of eight hours of restful sleep per night. Sleep deprivation in students has been linked to lower GPAs, higher levels of stress and its negative effects on concentration and memory. To create a better sleep schedule, limit caffeine intake, avoid late-night screen time and create a sleep routine that ensures some much-needed shut eye.
• Check-in: Knowing that stress can take a toll on health, college students should establish a relationship with a doctor or nearby health care provider. Regular check-ups are an opportunity to evaluate physical and mental well-being and receive wellness guidance. Students should make a point to become familiar with local health care sites as well in case of minor injuries, sickness or emergencies to ensure they receive the proper care when they need it.
• Manage time: Managing commitments, avoiding procrastination and categorizing tasks effectively reduces stress. Try the following tactics:
– Time log: For a week or two, record how much time is spent on each activity on a daily basis. Then, list how much time would be spent on each in an ideal situation.
– Prioritize: Categorize a to-do list and set quantifiable goals to achieve each task in an order that makes sense. Set realistic deadlines and get started.
• Take a break, have fun: Busy college students should create a healthy balance between their workload and social life. Make time to go out with friends, try new experiences on- and off- campus, and find opportunities to explore interests. Periodically stepping away from everyday responsibilities has been shown to promote positive thinking and helps to curb exhaustion.
-Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is a physician consultant and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider. For more health tips and information on member tools, visit www. Mibluesperspectives.com