College is usually a stressful time in any person’s life; throw a chronic illness into the mix, and it can become unmanageable. It can be tough to balance your mental and physical health on top of loads of schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and jobs. As someone who suffers from chronic headaches, I know what it’s like to be suffocating under a mountain of responsibilities but feel helpless and incapable of doing anything because you’re struggling with your illness. It took me a long time to realize that I have to put my health before anything else because, without my health, I truly can’t give 100%. Here are four tips on how to manage your mental and physical health as a college student.
1. Plan out deadlines and events in a calendar.
Keeping track of dates in a calendar can help you manage your anxiety and lets you be creative!
One of the most stressful aspects of having a chronic illness is feeling unprepared. There are so many times I’ve stressed out about events because I don’t know exactly when and where they’re happening, or how long I’ll be there, and the anxiety I get from this feeling of not knowing often makes my physical symptoms flare up.
One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with this is to write down my schedule in a planner. I keep track of deadlines, events, and meetings ahead of time so I know exactly where I need to be and when – that way, I can make sure I’m prepared in case I’m struck with a headache out of the blue. This can also be a relaxing activity, as you can let your creativity run wild by personalizing your calendar with colorful pens, patterned washi tape, and fun stickers!
2. Track your mental and physical health with a health log or app.
Using an app like Boost Thyroid to track your mental and physical health, exercise, and medication is a great way to become more mindful about your overall health.
It can be difficult to balance health with school: too often we put our therapy appointments, exercise, and relaxation time on the backburner to focus on grades, extracurricular activities, and jobs. But it’s so important that we’re in touch with how we’re feeling, mentally and physically. I’m a firm believer that your health should come above all those other things because I know what it’s like to be so run down with school and job-related stress that you have no choice but to finally address your health–or else you’ll stop functioning.
One way to try to achieve this balance is to keep a log of your mental and physical health. You can do this in a normal journal or with a health-tracking app, of which there are a plethora on the App Store. I use the Boost Thyroid app, which lets me track my weight, appetite, medication, exercise, mental health, and physical symptoms, among other things, on a daily basis. I’ve been keeping a health log of some sort for years since I was a teen, and I find that it’s a super helpful way to keep track of trends in my symptoms and practice mindfulness about my health.
3. Make your dorm your home away from home.
Make your dorm a cozy place where you can unwind and feel at home after a long day of classes.
Living hundreds of miles away from home is stressful enough without a chronic illness, but dealing with chronic pain can make it even more so. When you don’t feel at ease in an unfamiliar place that doesn’t have all the comforts that you’re used to at home, it can difficult to feel at ease. That’s why it’s even more important to make your living space feel like your home away from home.
Make your dorm or apartment a cozy place where you can seek solace and wind down after a long day. I’ve decorated my own apartment with posters, string lights, and lots of pillows so that after a particularly stressful day of hours-long lectures and meetings, I can come home, crash, and give my body the rest it needs and deserves.
4. Know your limits and make time for yourself to just relax.
One way I like to make time for myself to unwind is by coloring in “adult” coloring books, which I find both therapeutic and a creative release.
As I mentioned before, sometimes we get so caught up with everything else going on in our lives that we neglect our health. Part of learning to be more mindful about your health is knowing your limits and giving yourself a break when you need one. Make time to do things you love that make you feel happy and allow you to de-stress. For me, this means treating myself to a movie, taking a long bubble bath, coloring in “adult” coloring books, or curling up with a good book. Never feel guilty about putting your happiness and your health first.
Keeping these tips in mind, practicing being more mindful about your health, and caring more about your body will make being a college student with a chronic illness a breeze!