College is a big adjustment and many college students fall into unhealthy habits as the months roll by. That doesn’t have to be you. Health-conscious choices are possible if you know where you’re aiming.
Focus on basic activities that take good care of your mind, body and spirit. Here are 15 steps for a healthy start to college life.
1. Get Enough Sleep
College life can get pretty busy and many students need to adjust their sleeping habits. Some evenings you may feel tempted to stay up late studying, but good sleep will protect your mental health. Have a conversation with your roommate about sleep schedules to get on the same page. Try to establish a good bedtime to allow for both study time and rest. Do your best to stick to it no matter what.
2. Don’t Skip Breakfast
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. According to a 2017 study in Healthcare, eating breakfast has long been connected with better academic performance. If you know you tend to run late in the morning, keep portable nutrient-dense breakfast foods in your dorm room. Fresh fruit, yogurt and instant whole grain cereal are good choices.
3. Avoid Caffeine
Coffee, energy drinks and soda are readily available on many college campuses. Caffeine can seem like a quick solution when you need to stay awake for a long night of studying. However, you’ll likely pay for it the next day. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep patterns and make it tough to feel rested. You may get a short-term payoff, but in the long run, you’ll feel more worn down. Caffeine in small doses may do little harm, but avoid it as a habitual solution.
4. Stay Active
Endorphins are released into your body when you’re active enough to raise your heart rate. This chemical release improves your sense of mental wellbeing. Exercise can also help you prevent unintended weight gain. Combining your social time with exercise can be fun, especially on a college campus. Campus recreation centers often have amateur sports teams, workout equipment, pools and fitness classes. Or, make the most of your campus commute by walking, riding your bike or using a skateboard.
5. Set Goals
College is a big adjustment for even the most prepared students. Make academic goals for yourself, but keep them achievable by setting them around activities you can control. For example, commit to doing all of your assigned reading and get to the study review session each week. Also, make goals for other areas of your life like trying new things, joining a club or signing up for an intramural sports team.
6. Give Yourself a Break
Sometimes the best way to make progress with an activity is to stop doing it. That may sound like a contradiction, but taking breaks will make you more productive. Get your eyes away from your books and computer screens for a little while by setting up shorter study sessions with planned breaks. Take bigger breaks too, like going back home for the weekend or spending a day out with a friend.
7. Go Outside
The mental health benefits of going outdoors can’t be understated. There’s something about fresh air and sunshine that can feel so refreshing. Even the smell and feel of a rainstorm or snow on your cheek can create a wonderful moment. College students spend plenty of time closed off in classrooms and library spaces. Allow yourself to go on a mental mini-vacation, even if it’s just between classes.
8. Spend Time With Friends
The main goal of college is to graduate with a degree in a field that will help you find employment. However, you also need social time to help you blow off steam and prevent feelings of isolation. Try out the rock climbing wall at the rec center with an old friend. Go to the weekly study group with some new friends in your major. Make a regular mid-week lunch date with your roommate.
9. Stick to a Schedule
Your brain loves routines because they are efficient and take less effort. Make sure you’re prioritizing your time to create a well-rounded schedule that includes studying, eating, getting sleep and connecting with friends. Developing these time management skills are important to ensure you’re taking care of you, but they’re also valuable skills that employers need. College schedules are often very different from a typical high school schedule, so keep trying until you find what works for you.
10. Stay Organized
Staying even somewhat organized can do wonders for your stress levels. Dorm rooms are typically small, so leaving even a few piles on the floor can make your space feel cluttered and crowded. Make plans each week to keep up with your laundry, pick up your floor and tidy your desk. When you stay on top of these daily tasks, you’ll breeze through the day and have more energy for classes or social plans.
11. Keep in Touch with Family
You may be excited about finally being more independent from your family. However, family support is important during college, especially the first year. When you keep in touch with people that care about you, the adjustment can be easier to handle. You’ll be more likely to make healthy food choices, sleep well and manage your stress if you keep those connections strong. Make time for phone calls, video chats and quick texts to boost your mindset during the week.
12. Eat a Balanced Diet
Food choices can be a huge challenge during the first year of college. Junk food can be convenient, but it won’t provide the nutrients you need. A healthy diet promotes good mental and physical health. Campus cafeterias make it easy to keep a balanced diet by offering fresh fruit, salads and lean proteins. Also, keep a stock of nutritious snacks in your room for late-night study sessions and snacks.
13. Drink Plenty of Water
A 2016 study on the hydration status of healthy students found that nearly 25% of participants were dehydrated and another 37% showed signs of dehydration. Keep a filled water bottle with you and make an effort to drink a little through the day. There are many apps that allow you to track the amount of water you’re drinking. You can also set timers on your phone to make sure you drink often enough.
14. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol can be a major distraction for a new college student. Substance use among college students may lead to legal trouble, physical health problems, academic issues and other high-risk choices. Excessive drinking can lead to weight gain while some drug use could lead to unintended weight loss. Drug and alcohol use can also change the way you eat and sleep, which can be counterproductive for your overall health and wellbeing.
15. Find Support Groups on Campus
Peer support groups can help normalize the ups and downs of college life. It’s easy to feel alone, even with hundreds of students around you. Peer support groups can help you feel connected and understood by others experiencing the same struggles. You can share ideas, give each other support and make friends. Some college support groups may be peer-organized while others may be sponsored by the campus counseling department or health center.
Your freshman year is an exciting time of transition, new challenges and opportunities. If you would like to start this new experience sober but need help, contact The Recovery Village. One of our caring representatives will talk to you about your specific situation and the treatment options that could work for you.
FASEBJ.org. “Hydration Status of Healthy college Students in a Large Southwestern University.” April 1, 2016. Accessed July 8, 2019.
NCBI.nlm.nih.gov “Associations between Dietary Intake and Academic Achievement in College Students: A Systematic Review” December 2017. Accessed July 8, 2019.