Health and wellness New Year’s resolutions are consistently the most popular among Americans. Up there in the top three slots you’ll usually find:
- Improve fitness
- Eat better
- Lose weight
It should come as no surprise we feel the need to do better in this area. We often neglect to take care of ourselves when life gets hectic with the demands of family, work, and school. These stresses take their toll on our mental well-being first and then spread to damage our physical health.
Gallup reports that eight in 10 Americans are afflicted by stress at some time in their day, and 44 percent of these people report feeling frequently stressed. Some of the adverse health effects of stress include weight gain, headaches, high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Attending college is not easy. Studying for exams, participating in extracurriculars, working at your job, and taking care of your family can all add to your stress. While some of these pressures can’t be avoided, they can be counteracted with the following nine easy-to-implement strategies.
1) Walk don’t drive
A sprawling campus offers numerous opportunities to walk (or bike), so take full advantage of this when you can. Walk to and from classes, to the library, and to sporting events. In a piece for mindbodygreen titled “If You Do Nothing Else For Exercise, Walk 10 Minutes A Day,” personal fitness coach Kris Goldman asks her clients to release stress this way. “I am not asking for a fast walk, a run, a long distance, or anything too strenuous. All I ask is for at least 10 minutes of unwinding and relaxing at the end of the day.”
2) Schedule frequent breaks
You have a test on Tuesday, a paper due on Thursday, and a presentation to give on Friday. You may feel like you need to devote every second of your week to your assignments. But a study from DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees’ computer use, found the highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Use yours to go for that walk, message a friend, or watch silly videos of cats playing the keyboard.
3) Practice yoga and meditation
Studies have found yoga and meditation not only decrease stress levels and physiological arousal (e.g., reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure) but also help us regulate our pain responses, boost our mood, and alleviate depression. Important for college students, yoga also increases your concentration power as well as the sharpness of your brain.
You don’t even need to go to a gym or yoga studio to get the benefits. There are plenty of free or low-cost online resources to help you practice right in your dorm room. Additionally, the Drubner Fitness Center is a good way to release stress.
4) Get more sleep
Sleep is vital to our well-being. Insufficient sleep impairs your information processing, short-term memory, performance, and motivation. Fatigued people also experience more moodiness, aggressive behaviors, burnout, and stress. The key to getting more sleep is to create healthy habits. To practice good sleep hygiene:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends).
- Avoid stimulating beverages and fatty, fried, and rich foods right before bed.
- Keep your room dark, cool, and quiet.
- Avoid the blue light from phone and computer screens for the three hours before bed.
5) Power nap
While it’s usually recommended that you avoid naps if you can’t sleep at night, if your problem is too few hours for sleeping at night, by all means power nap. Studies show that 20 minutes of sleep in the afternoon provides more rest than 20 minutes more sleep in the morning. The benefits of napping for college students include:
- Enhances concentration
- Improves short-term memory
- Boosts immune system
- Lowers physical and mental tension
- Enhances creativity
6) Laugh more
Having a good chuckle, even if you have to force it at times, leaves you feeling more relaxed and uplifted. And the Mayo Clinic reports that laughter’s short- and long-term benefits are plentiful. Short-term benefits include:
- Enhancing your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that your brain releases
- Firing up and then cooling down your stress response for a relaxed feeling
- Stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation to help soothe the physical symptoms of stress
Over the long-term, getting your MDR of laughter can offer the following perks:
- An improved immune system
- Pain relief by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers
- Less depression and anxiety and an improved mood
7) Find a creative outlet
Without adding to your list of responsibilities, make time for your hobbies or interests. Be sure these are activities that don’t require deadlines or even outcomes. Try painting, journaling, playing a musical instrument, or birdwatching — really, anything you enjoy doing. You deserve to have some fun, and your mind and body will thank you for it.
8) Pay it forward
Volunteering not only helps those to whom you give, it provides many benefits to both your mental and physical health. It’s a great way to counteract the effects of stress and anxiety. “Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person,” states Helpguide.org. Love pets? Volunteer to walk the dogs or socialize the cats at your local animal shelter. Working with pets and other animals has also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
9) Spend time in nature
“Go hug a tree” means different things to different people, but there’s no debate on the stress-healing powers of nature. Spending quiet, relaxed time in nature — preferably in silence and somewhere very green — can:
- Help relieve stress and anxiety
- Reduce ruminating and obsessing
- Improve your mood
- Boost feelings of happiness and well-being
The American Heart Association notes that the constant stimulation of contemporary city life “puts stress on brains that evolved in more tranquil environments. Nature presents scenes that gently capture your attention instead of suddenly snatching it, calming your nerves instead of frazzling them.”
Sounds like the perfect prescription for a calmer college experience.