By: Julia Yeadon, Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Well-Being Leader
Whether you are an incoming freshman being introduced to a new environment, or a senior returning for your fourth year on campus after a long summer break, the beginning of the Fall semester can be one of the most difficult times. Adjusting to a new schedule at the beginning of each semester can be one of the most challenging things to navigate as a student. Oftentimes, it can be easy to let the craziness consume you, so much so that you forget the importance of self-care.
It’s important to remember that your mental and physical health are a top priority during these overwhelming and stressful times. How are you expected to thrive in classes when you are not feeling your best? While being a college student comes with many responsibilities, you must remind yourself that you are a person first.
I personally experienced this challenge recently as I began my senior year. After being accepted into a bachelor’s to master’s program here at UMass Lowell, I started taking my first few graduate-level courses while completing my final two semesters of my bachelor’s program. It has been an overwhelming first couple of weeks to say the least. Adjusting to the intensity and time commitment of graduate classes has been very stressful, and I can admit that I had forgotten the importance of putting aside time to care for my mental and physical health.
For those who find themselves in a similar position, I have constructed a list of 7 tips that will contribute to keeping your mind and body both happy and healthy throughout this semester. This highlights a few of the many ways you can improve your well-being. Keep in mind, some of these suggestions may not interest you upon reading. However, trying something new may lead you to discovering a new habit that positively impacts your daily life.
- Write it all down.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a college student is time management. Life pulls us in many directions. We have to balance being a student with maintaining friendships and relationships, family, extracurriculars, and work. With so many commitments, it can be difficult to remember when every assignment is due, when an exam is coming up, and when you have a family event to attend. To ease stress of deadlines and important dates, write it down. Hang a calendar in your room, use a digital calendar, a checklist, or a weekly calendar whiteboard. Managing your time is the most essential advice I can offer you, and it is the foundation for having the time to engage in the other tips that are listed below.
- Let yourself rest. You need it.
I am sure you have heard this a million times, but it is true. We need energy in order to be fully present in all of our time commitments. No, this does not mean filling your body with caffeine from a 24-hour energy drink to get you through studying for an exam the next day. While this may not always be possible to fit into our crazy schedules, try your best to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep leads to less productivity, which leads to procrastination, which then leads to more stress. In fact, sufficient sleep has been linked to higher levels of memory retention in several studies. So, pulling an all-nighter may not be the most beneficial way to pass that exam after all.
- Make time to exercise.
Exercising is one of the most efficient ways to reduce high cortisol (stress) levels. When people hear the word “exercise,” their minds often go to the idea of lifting weights in a gym or running on a treadmill, but this may not be for everyone. Exercising comes in many different forms: going for walks, playing basketball at the Campus Recreation Center, joining an Intramural or Club Team, riding a bike, going hiking, dancing, or doing yoga. The list goes on and on. Keeping your body healthy physically is fundamental to keeping your mind healthy.
- Make time to see friends.
It can be hard finding time to see friends during the week between classes, homework, studying, working, and attending to other responsibilities. Friends are another great source to relieving stress, increasing a sense of belonging and contributing to our happiness. Make it a tradition to meet up with friends at the dining hall for dinner, go to the library together to do homework, form an intramural team with a group of friends, or make some fun plans for the weekend to look forward to, such as going to a UMass Lowell hockey game or visiting Mill No. 5 in Lowell.
- Take a break from social media.
You hear your phone buzz from across your desk as you study and naturally find yourself reaching for it. It’s a Tik Tok notification. One thing leads to another, and you find two hours have passed scrolling through videos. We have all done it. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, Twitter – it all consumes us. Logging off for a couple of days will not only conserve a large portion of our time and allow us to focus but can also give us the opportunity to enjoy interacting with others in person. In addition, social media can contribute to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Try logging off for a couple of days and see how it improves your well-being.
- Try meditation and journaling.
Mental health challenges affect college-aged people more than any other age population. Managing your mental health and finding what methods work best for managing and preventing these challenges from impacting your daily life is critical. I have found short meditation videos on YouTube to be exceptionally effective in reducing stress and anxiety (Daily Calm videos are great!). You can even find a meditation playlist on Spotify to help yourself relax as you fall asleep. Another healthy way to maintain mental health is to journal. Write about your day, good and bad, or something you’ve been struggling with and how you plan to overcome it. Write one thing that you are proud of yourself for accomplishing or goals you hope to achieve in the future. If meditation or journaling does not appeal to you, there are countless other ways you can care for your mental health
- Do something every day that makes you happy.
Happiness is something we all need in our lives. Watch your favorite television show or a movie you’ve been wanting to see, go outside (if the New England weather allows), bake cookies, facetime your friend from home, join that club you’ve been interested in. Life is too short not to do what makes you happy. Managing your priorities to make time for doing things that make you happy will increase your motivation, reduce stress, and contribute to living a happy and healthy life.
I hope that at least one of these tips has caught your eye. If you find yourself struggling to attempt any of these suggestions, reach out to a Well-Being Leader on campus at www.uml.edu/wellbeing/well-being-leaders. We are eager to help students find ways to stay healthy along these eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, financial, spiritual, occupational, physical, environmental, social, and intellectual health. We are here for you!
If there is one thing you take from reading this, remember that you are a person before you are a student. Your mental and physical health take priority over anything else. Staying healthy throughout this semester will not only allow you to apply yourself to your fullest potential but will help you lead a healthy life.