College is a unique time of life. On the one hand, kids are often branching out for the first time in their lives, living independently from home. Securing their own food. Deciding what to do without parental supervision.

On the other hand, they are also encountering adult stress for the first time in their lives. From busy schedules to high-pressure assignments, it can be difficult for some students to cope with the pressures of school.

For this reason, many people have their first significant experiences with mental health struggles in college.

Excessive stress can have a significantly negative impact on the college student’s quality of life. In extreme circumstances, it can even prevent them from completing their studies. In this article, we take a look at the importance of consistent self-care, and the benefits of establishing a work-life balance early on.

What is Self-care?

Candles? Baths, booze, overly indulgent purchases? These are the things that many people imagine when they think of self-care, but the reality of the concept is much more restrained and efficiency-oriented than that.

Self-care is quite literally just taking care of yourself. Making sure your needs are being consistently met so that you can function at the highest possible level. Below, we take a look at what those needs might look like for a college student, and how they can meet them.

Sleep

College isn’t always conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. It’s well known that many students’ favourite aspect of their undergraduate career is the nightlife scene, and that, coupled with mountains of homework, can make it challenging for college-aged kids to get the right amount of sleep.

College students are supposed to get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. When they consistently fall short of that range, it can eventually result in significant stress and anxiety. It’s ok to be social. Certainly, it’s ok to work hard. However, college students should make sure that they prioritise sleep when they make their schedules.

Exercise

Exercise also contributes to a person’s overall mental and emotional well-being. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week— though some suggest even more than that. Staying active not only helps an individual maintain a healthy weight, but it can also reduce stress and inflammation.

College life is naturally conducive to some forms of physical activity. Many students walk or bike ride around campus to make up for their lack of a car.

Most campuses also have robust physical health centres on hand that make it easy to work out regularly.

Diet

The “freshmen fifteen,” is harmful to more than just your waistline. It’s a cliché that college students thrive off of junk food— perhaps because they are solely in charge of nutritional decisions for the first time in their lives.

While the occasional greasy meal isn’t the end of the world, students should make sure that the majority of their meals are nutrient-rich and food pyramid diverse. Healthy foods provide more energy and generally help your body to function at a higher level.

While high-quality fresh produce may be hard to come by on campus, the cafeterias should at least have healthy options.

Some college students also forgo a meal plan entirely and opt instead to prepare food for themselves. The plausibility of this strategy will vary based on accessibility. Some dorms have student-accessible kitchens. Others do not.

Regardless, the goal of every college student should be to eat a nutritionally balanced diet that will help them succeed academically and emotionally.

Alcohol

The strong association between college students and excessive alcohol consumption is truly unfortunate. Of course, drinking too much isn’t a good idea for anyone. However, it is particularly bad for developing minds.

It’s important to understand that the human brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25. Partaking in activities that damage brain cells can harm that development in irreversible ways. It can also lead to higher amounts of stress and anxiety.

College students can most likely enjoy a drink or two with their friends at the end of a tough day. However, binge drinking is never medically advisable and can have significant consequences on the partaker’s physical and mental well-being.

So much of life is about moderation. College kids who want to drink socially should think carefully about their limits and avoid deliberate inebriation.

While this probably won’t be popular advice, it is important to understand that alcohol and drug abuse have a very strong correlation with a wide range of mental health issues.

Regularly Assess Your Well-being

It’s also a good idea to keep close tabs on yourself. It’s easy to drift through life on autopilot. This is particularly true during times when you find yourself very busy. However, taking this approach to stress management can lead to an avalanche effect. What starts as a small source of anxiety can quickly accumulate into something more significant if you don’t address the source of your concern.

Make a point of assessing your well-being as often as possible. Think about the choices you have made over the last few days. Are you getting enough sleep? Eating right? If you aren’t, why is that?

Unfortunately, stress and anxiety often lead to people making choices that are conducive to more stress and anxiety. Regular self-assessments will allow you to course correct before issues become too significant.

Seeking Help

Sometimes “self-care” isn’t enough to manage a person’s needs. When stress, anxiety, or any other mental health issues becomes too much to handle alone, it is important to seek professional support right away.

Many colleges will have psychiatric professionals on hand to assist students who are struggling. Others may be able to connect the student with outside resources or support.

There is no reason to suffer in silence. If you or someone you care about is suffering from mental health challenges in college, reach out for support. Help is available.