Prioritizing Self-Care: College Edition

Happy college girl ready for class.
With everything new college students have on their plates, it’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. Keep in mind that being mindful of self-care doesn’t mean you’re being selfish. It means you’re taking action to be the best version of yourself.  Learn why taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health is so important. 

Physical Self-Care

Get Your Annual Exams

When you’re living away from home, regular health-care appointments may not be top of mind. But even if you feel healthy or think your hygiene habits are on-point, preventive maintenance helps ensure you stay on track for good health. Consider scheduling an annual exam with:  

  • Your primary care physician for an annual physical  
  • Your women’s health provider for an annual exam (and a pap smear every 3 years unless instructed otherwise by your provider) 
  • Your dentist for routine cleanings and examinations 
  • Your eye doctor if you wear glasses or contacts 
  • Any other specialist you typically see on a yearly schedule 

Take Control of Your Nutrition 

Nutrition is one of the most important pieces of the self-care puzzle. In fact, a balanced diet is linked to better emotional, physical and mental health. Do your best to follow the recommended guidelines for a balanced diet, choosing from a variety of food groups to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.  

And don’t forget hydration. Carry a water bottle with you to sip on throughout the day. Try not to reach for too many beverages that contain a lot of sugar or caffeine. Staying hydrated is crucial for many important bodily functions like maintaining energy levels and flushing out toxins.  

Move Your Body 

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for self-care. It improves your mental and emotional health by stimulating brain chemicals that help you feel happy and relaxed, and also promotes better sleep. Exercise boosts your energy, delivering oxygen throughout your body, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Find the type of exercise you enjoy and consider a work-out buddy. Check into activities or intramural sports your college offers.  

Mental and Emotional Self-Care

Prioritize Sleep

Your mind and body alike need consistent, quality sleep to keep you at your best. Just one or two nights of bad sleep can lead to irritability, fatigue, and decreased motivation — three things that aren’t conducive to your academic or social life.  

To prepare your body for a great night’s sleep: 

  • Avoid caffeine within a few hours of bedtime 
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine 
  • Put down your phone or laptop (the blue light emitted from your devices can actually reduce the amount of melatonin your body releases, impacting your sleep)  

Have a roommate who is a night owl? Consider using a sleep mask, noise machine or earplugs until they go to bed. Aim for a consistent bedtime, and between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.  

Take Some Time to Yourself

Some students find it overwhelming to constantly be surrounded by people, and alone time might feel hard to come by. Even if you enjoy being social, everyone needs the opportunity to recharge with some solo time.  

While there are normally activities or social events occurring on college campuses, don’t feel pressured to always say “yes.” It’s ok to prioritize your own needs and say “no” when you need a break. 

Can’t find a place in your dorm or on campus to get away from it all? Throw in your earbuds and head out on a solo adventure: find a new cafe to check out, spend time at a park, or go see a movie. Sometimes enjoying a change of scenery can help you achieve a mental reset.  

Manage Stress

College can be a stressful time for many students. While stress is normal, too much can impact your wellness. When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol to help your body try to get back to its natural balance. But too much cortisol can also have negative effects, impacting your concentration, sleep, and even leading to feelings of depression or anxiety.  

To combat stress, give one of the following a try: 

  • Use relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, a guided meditation, or even guided imagery.  
  • Set goals to help with time management and procrastination. If you are sticking to your own schedule, you won’t feel as much stress when exams or deadlines approach. 
  • Limit stimulants (like caffeine) which can increase your body’s stress response. 
  • Start journaling or writing down your thoughts. Many people find that getting emotions and goals on paper is a helpful tool for managing stress. 
  • Do something that makes you laugh. Laughter (and smiling!) helps reduce tension. 

Manage Your Mental Health

Nearly half of all college students have experienced depression or anxiety. If you have any of the following symptoms for two weeks or more, see a counselor or health-care provider right away:  

  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless or guilty 
  • Losing pleasure in things you normally enjoy
  • Problems sleeping 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Low energy, extreme tiredness or lack of concentration 
  • Uncontrollable worry, nervousness or unease 
  • Cycles of negative thoughts 

The good news for students suffering from depression or anxiety is there are treatments available to help you feel better. Many campuses offer Student Health and Campus Counseling Services. If you’re struggling to take that first step on your own, ask a family member or close friend to help you seek help. 

If at any time you have thoughts of death or suicide, seek help immediately—depression is a serious disorder that you shouldn’t attempt to handle on your own. For immediate help, call The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

author name

Christine M. Stabler, MD, MBA

Christine Stabler, MD, MBA, FAAFP is Medical Director of Women’s Health for Lancaster General Health, a family medicine physician with LG Health Physicians Women's Internal Medicine, and Vice President of Academic Affairs. She is a graduate of Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. She completed her residency at Lancaster General Hospital and a fellowship at Temple University Hospital.

Call: 717-544-3737

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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