Chapter 7: Remembering to Prioritize Mental and Physical Health in College

One of the most important keys to your success in college is the ability to maintain personal mental and physical health while away at university – especially as you become submerged in your new classes, adjust to your new schedule, and adapt to your new eating options. During my first semester as a college student, I distinctly remember my stuggle to adapt to the dining hall choices at my school, and jumped through hoops to avoid stomach issues/aches after eating a meal on campus. Transitioning into your new life and routine in college can be nerve-racking, and sometimes it can be easy to turn to stress eating and binge eating unhealthy foods to deal with your emotions. It is very common for new college students to experience these troubles while transitioning into their new way of life.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in college can be especially challenging for several reasons. Students are dealing with a semi-overwhelming schedule, a tight budget, and increased stress caused by school work. Whenever I felt myself becoming overwhelmed by everything going on around me in school, I took a deep breath and decided to step outside and get some fresh air for a bit. Whether that looks like going on a 20-minute run around the neighborhood or a half hour walk to the local grocery store for a snack, any type of physical exercise always helps me to reset my body and mind. A change of scenery and especially a trip outdoors can work wonders to restore one’s mental battery and improve productivity levels. If possible, in your situation try to set weekly goals outlining how much physical and mental health related exercise you would like to complete in the given time. For example, a college student with healthy habitats may prioritize physical exercise 2-3 times each week, while also doing activities that promote mental well-being, such as journaling, listening to music, meditation, spending time in nature, and being with friends.

There is always a plethora of creative ways to squeeze physical health and wellness into a busy schedule. At my college, the student body had complete access to a fully equipped gym on campus that even offered weekly exercise classes such as yoga and kickboxing. If exercise classes are the jumpstart you need to begin adding fitness into your weekly routine, I suggest researching your campus gym calendar and signing up for a class that works for you. Many universities also offer intramural sports teams as an option for students to get involved in weekly group athletic activities with friends. However, though there may be many options for college students regarding athletics and physical exercise, oftentimes students still struggle maintaining their fitness and overall well-being throughout the school year. In part, much of this is due to a lack of nutritional food intake and an inability to prioritize mental health over other responsibilities.

It is no secret, many college students lack the time and steady financial incomes necessary to eat healthy foods for three meals a day, every day of the week. The cost of meal plans can be strikingly expensive, with the priciest plans averaging well over a couple thousand dollars a year. For students living on campus, the meal plan option is usually the go-to, as it provides easy and usually reliable access to three meals a day. However, it can be extremely frustrating when the dietary restrictions and nutritional needs of the student body are not represented by the university’s dining options, leaving students with the feeling that their money has been wasted on the meal plan. This is definitely a decision to weigh carefully when choosing which type of meal plan, if any, would be the best option for you. If you do choose to go with one of your university’s meal plan options, I encourage you to put effort towards consuming more meals with higher nutritional values than eating options with high fat and sugar contents. Additionally, many colleges host on-campus food pantries supported by local nonprofits that offer grocery items such as fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and breads to all students, staff, and community members. My colleagues and I attended the majority of food pantries that were hosted by my college, and these monthly food distributions were usually our main supply of fresh vegetables each month.  If you are interested in trying your local food pantry, I suggest researching the event prior to the day of, and signing up for a spot if possible. In short, prioritize regularly consuming healthy meals three times a day (yes, this includes breakfast), exercising a few days out of the week, and be honest with yourself about your state of mental wellbeing, and you will be more prepared for a successful semester ahead.

Lastly, as a college student (and still to this day) I’ve found journaling my thoughts to be an extremely beneficial tool whenever I’m feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, because the action of pouring out my words onto paper simply allows me to better understand my emotions and actions. If journaling may not be for you, many of my colleagues and I also find time to read joyful and entertaining books in our pastime, simply just for pleasure, to take our minds off of what may be causing us stress. If you’re lucky enough to attend a school located near county, state, or even national parks, take advantage of these glowing opportunities! It’s time to get out into nature and quite literally take a hike. The positive impact that these actions can have on one’s state of mental wellness are unmatched. It is absolutely never selfish for an individual to prioritize their own mental health, and I encourage every student to take the necessary steps to maintain their own physical and mental wellness. College is a time to for people to learn, try new things, fail, and grow into the best versions of themselves, and students may only reach their maximum potential by remembering to take care of themselves along the way. 

Meet the Author
Chloe Mayhew is a 2022 first-generation college graduate, recipient of a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Professional Studies with a concentration in Political Science from Pace University. She is currently preparing for an exciting gap year as a volunteer with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program for 10 months in the Southwest Region of the United States, based in Aurora, CO. Volunteer, global citizen, human rights activist, world traveler, lifelong student. Read more about Chloe >