Is self-care possible for college students?

Whenever I see a cartoon about college students, the character is normally clutching coffee, sleep deprived, or holding a ridiculous stack of books. Sometimes all 3 at once. While this is a little dramatic, everyone probably feels like that at some point in their life. I was inspired to write this blog by something my freshman brother said to me. We were getting lunch and he said “Everyone got sick at once, the first month of not taking care of themselves really caught up with people.” and I thought about how this happens every semester.

After a few weeks of school, some sort of illness sweeps the campus. In school, it can feel like a million things are going on at once. I completely understand how taking time for self-care can feel like the lowest thing on your to-do list. However, I will say, learning to listen to your body and practicing little ways to maintain self-care can boost your energy levels, prevent burnout, and help you avoid getting sick.

4 Key Points on Self Care For College Students

  1. Make Sure You’re Giving Your Body Enough Energy

    self care for college students

This is not saying eat incredibly nutritious, balanced meals 3 times a day, every single day. Days get busy, classes meet at inconvenient times, plans come up. However, I am saying recognizing your body’s needs can have a huge impact on your health and energy. If you have a class that meets during dinner, eat a snack before and dinner after so you aren’t super hungry with during lecture. Do you have class through lunch? Eat a snack with protein to tide you over until you have time to sit down for a full meal. Make sure to bring snacks (and not just coffee) when studying!

This tip is SO relevant, just coffee = jittery and icky feeling, coffee and a snack= good study energy. To fuel regularly, make sure you always have a few of your favorite snack bars or dried fruit in your backpack is really helpful. I’m also a big fan of having lots of quick breakfast options available. Even if you’re not a “breakfast person,” try to eat something small. It can have a HUGE impact on your focus in your first class of the day and your energy levels throughout the entire day.

  1. Being Aware of Dietary Variety Can Really Impact Your Health

    self care for college students

Making sure you eat a variety of nutrient dense meals each day in college is unrealistic in my opinion. Drawing off personal experience, last week I had 5 tests and I had cheesy eggs on toast SO many times. That’s all I had time for. Although delicious and nutritious, I did not get in enough variety. This week I had no tests, and all the time in the world to make fun recipes. In other words, meals as a busy student can be inconsistent because free time in college is inconsistent.

However, generally making sure you’re eating enough protein, carbs, and fat and a good mix of fruits and veggies can play a huge role in your immune system strength, energy levels, and overall health. At meals, I strategy I have is to try eating a fruit or veggie, some sort of carb, and protein. For example:

Easy meals for college students:

  • Sandwich with apple and yogurt
  • Eggs with toast, tomatoes and avocado
  • Grilled cheese with tomato soup and crackers
  • Pasta with chicken, pesto and broccoli

If I do it, great, if I can’t ,I’ll try and do it the next meal.

Trying out all the places to eat on campus can be a great way to get variety and not get stuck in a rut of eating the same thing every day. Learning a few dorm/microwave recipes (eggs in a mug!) you like can also be a great and really easy way to work in some more variety.

  1. Sleep is So, So Important

    self care for college students

I recognize planning ahead can only work so well and in so many situations as a student. If you have 3 exams in a week or if you want to see your favorite band on a weeknight, you’ll probably miss a little sleep and be tired for a few days. However, if you consistently get 6 hours of sleep or less or feel tired all the time, you should think about strategies to get a few more hours per night.

Sleep deprivation can have huge impacts on your memory, mood, metabolism, immune system, and more. Establishing a semi-regular sleep schedule can have SUCH a good impact on your energy. A tip of mine is try and arrange your schedule so your classes start at roughly the same time a day. Waking up at the same time can help with energy and decrease the “groggy” feeling.

A second point to this is if you’re super tired, take a minute to prioritize what you need. If you absolutely have to study late one night, try to go to bed early the next few nights. This will prevent feeling run down.. If you’re really tired, but you have an intramural basketball game at 11 pm, evaluate if you REALLY need to go. Making sleep a priority can help you do better on tests and avoid getting a cold, which honestly sounds like a win-win to me.

  1. Learn How To Say No ( To Yourself and Others)

    self care for college students

This tip is specifically about mental health, which is so important. Stress and burnout can impact you physically. For example, your immune system weakens, energy drops, and mentally exhaustion is a real thing. I completely understand how it seems like so many things in college seem worth your time. And sure, it’s important to want to get the most out of your experience. But saying “no” is a skill worth developing.

I asked my best friend if I could share her example. Last semester a professor asked her for help with research that sounded cool so she said yes. Then her sorority wanted help with recruitment and that sounded cool so she said yes. Her roommates wanted to do weekly house dinners, and that sounded cool and so she said yes. Within 3 weeks, she was so burnt out it and impacted her focus and energy dramatically. Learning to say “no” when needed and ignoring the fear of missing out (FOMO) is something that can increase your quality of life so much in the long run.

What you spend your time doing should feel worthwhile, and is it really worth it if you’re stressed by just being there? A second and very key part to this is that you should never feel guilty about saying no to plans with someone. Especially if you need time to chill. If you need to say no to breakfast plans because you need an extra hour of sleep, don’t feel guilty. Leaving a sports practice because you have to study, is okay! If you have to cancel going out on a Friday, because you need a chill movie night after a busy week, allow yourself to do that!

Take aways for college students

My two little summary points on this and on self- care in general are that

  1. College should be enjoyable, find something you love
  2. You can’t pour from an empty cup, putting self-care first is never selfish.

Do you want help incorporating self-care into your day, make an appointment with on of our dietitians by calling 301-474-2499 or clicking here

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Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients.  Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and  Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.

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