The Freshman 15: Staying Healthy Isn't Just about the Number on the Scale

By Megan Ledbetter on Wednesday, September 13, 2017

College is a unique time of life. For many, it will be your first taste of living on your own and caring for yourself. Your mental and physical well-being are crucial for success. Here are 15 things you need to focus on to remain happy, healthy and safe at college.

1. Eat Right

For many college students, forming healthy eating habits can be difficult because you are often limited to whatever food is available. Although it is easy to eat what you’re craving, eating healthy and on schedule is crucial to maintaining proper health and energy. 

• Learn portion control. Stress eating is a problem for many students.

• Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. It jumpstarts your metabolism and improves concentration.

• Drink lots of water and limit sugary, caffeinated drinks.

2. Stay Active

There are countless ways to stay active on campus including gym and recreation facilities, fitness courses, sports and intramurals, and sometimes even bicycles, camping gear, canoes and kayaks are available for rent. If nothing else, just walking to class can be great exercise and a way to discover more about your campus.

• Establish realistic goals. Expecting too much of yourself can lead to discouragement and self-sabotage. Be consistent.

• Make it fun and bring a friend! 

• Use exercise as stress relief. 

3. Sleep More!

The No. 1 way to stay healthy is to get enough sleep, says UCA RN Rochelle McFerguson. A lack of sleep can impact energy level, appetite and stress. College demands and social pursuits will interfere, but sleep is essential.

• Taking frequent naps to “catch up” is NOT good enough.

• Follow a routine and get six to eight hours of sleep each night. 

• Don’t pull “all-nighters.” 

• Separate your workspace from your sleep space. Don’t study in bed. 

4. Go to the Nurse.

Sometimes you just get sick. Nearly all college campuses have health facilities available that are free to students. These clinics have connections with off-campus doctors when needed, but offer nurses and other specialized staff for treatment of minor illnesses and injuries, allergies, physical examinations, women’s health exams, immunizations, health education, health promotion, health maintenance and much more.

5. Control Your Stress

Stress is something all college students deal with at one time or another, if not constantly. Too much stress can lead to weight gain, so manage it by taking time to relax, sleep and have fun with friends. 

• Don’t fight stress by eating. 

• Master time management skills. 

• Be realistic and understand you cannot do everything. 

• Know that you don’t have to please/impress everyone. 

6. Don’t Ignore Anxiety

Social anxiety is another thing a lot of students deal with. Being thrown into a new environment is intimidating, but once you get involved, that social anxiety and shyness will slowly melt away. Remember that these feelings are normal. Just because your friends appear to have already adjusted doesn’t mean you have to. Take the time you need to adjust.

7. Get Involved

One of the biggest concerns students have when entering college is getting involved and making friends. “Making key connections in the first year of college is critical to student success,” says Shelby Dias, director of news services at Harding University. A lack of good friends and support can create social anxiety and shyness, and that’s completely normal! The trick is putting yourself out there. 

Every school has new student programs and events to get students together. Go to as many as possible. Greek life is another way to get involved on campus.

8. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help!

Bad psychological health refers to the inability to think, express emotions and behave appropriately in social settings. Many college students encounter temporary problems with psychological health and do not seek help. These issues can stem from peer pressure, low self-esteem, lack of sleep and other sources and can show themselves in many ways. 

9. Be Aware of Toxic Relationships

Unhealthy relationships and breakups can isolate you from your support group. It’s important to be aware and confident; don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with. Seek help from campus counselors if you ever feel like things are getting out of hand with a boyfriend or girlfriend. 

10. Stick to a Budget

Many students struggle with the stress of paying for tuition, books, housing, meal plans and daily costs like coffee, groceries and going out with friends. Don’t let money anxiety overtake you. Get help from campus resources, budget your loose change and focus on academics. 

11. Talk to Someone

For those living on campus, resident directors and RAs can be a great support when you’re feeling emotional, anxious, lost or overwhelmed. Talk to someone before you hit a wall or if you feel depressed. Most campuses have multiple counselors on staff to help students through mental struggles, and there’s often an emergency on-call counselor available 24/7. 

Remember, always report suicidal or troubling comments made by peers to school counselors or campus police.

12. Keep in Touch

Many college students are excited to begin this new phase of life, but after settling in, they realize how much they miss their home, family and friends. Whether you are 50 miles or 200 miles from home, make sure you keep in touch with loved ones to stay encouraged and grounded.

13. Leave Time for You

Even if you’re juggling a packed class schedule and long list of homework, dedicate some time just for yourself. You will be reenergized and perform better. “Have a good self-care plan … make time for quiet and fun,” says Susan Sobel, director of the Counseling Center at UCA.

14. Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol is prohibited on most college campuses, and the rules are enforced by campus police and safety officers. There are strict consequences. Not only does high-risk drinking negatively impact class attendance, it cuts into study time and hurts your GPA. 

15. Don’t Take Drugs

Drugs are prohibited on all college campuses, and the guidelines are enforced by on-campus police and safety officers. Consequences include probation or expulsion, drug education programs and sometimes more drastic measures, depending on the university guidelines.

Even if you are not directly taking part, remember to be aware of those around you in order to stay safe. Keep an eye on your drinks and food. You never know what can happen in unfamiliar surroundings.