The University 411: Good Health and Hygiene

Today we’re going to talk about healthy habits, applicable to all walks of life and not just university students. This is especially true for people who are juggling multiple responsibilities (along with education or training having multiple paid or volunteer jobs as well as families and other relationships) and/or if you’re feeling pressure to succeed (maybe you need to maintain grades for a scholarship or you’re in a competitive programme). I’m not going to tell you to forget about those priorities. But I am going to tell you to take some time to breathe. If you simply can’t afford to sacrifice your time to make and maintain friendships like we talked about in yesterday’s post, still remember to take care of yourself first. Eat right – or at least eat something. Toss some dried food snacks into your backpack as you never know when you’ll be hungry. Don’t skip breakfast and preferably avoid the fast food line. Your brain needs FUEL so don’t try to run on empty. Since I’m usually on the go every morning, I’ve been relying on shakes. You don’t need a fancy 20 speed blender; The cheapest blender on the market will do the job. You can vary up the shakes with different frozen fruits (if you’re on a budget buy in season and freeze a load), add some protein if you can (if you have nut allergies try yogurt if you’re not lactose intolerant), and make it up the night before to save time.

Don’t forget other parts of hygiene. The obvious – shower, clean clothes etc – and the not so obvious such as sleep hygiene and vision hygiene. Sleep hygiene is probably a laugh with most university students. But if you’re not going to sleep at a decent time every night, at least avoid blue light before bed. This will help prevent insomnia. The goal here isn’t just quantity (number of hours slept) but to get quality sleep. Have a good sleep environment: dark room, cool, and quiet or with a sound machine. Don’t work IN bed. Ideally don’t work in your bedroom at all, but dorm rooms seem to ignore that so try to stick to your desk (or find a library or study hall) and avoid the bed itself.

Surprsingly blue light filters only help with sleep hygine, and doesn’t effect vision hygiene at all. Vision hygiene is a concept I learned just this week from my son’s optometrist. She said that studies have shown that environmental factors are a bigger influence for poor vision than genetics and that the more educated you are, the higher the chances of getting glasses. This is because we focus so intently for long periods of time so we strain our eyes. If you already have glasses, there’s also a high chance that your vision will get worse throughout your university career. The good news is that this is an environmental factor that is preventable if we practice good vision hygiene. The doctor suggested the 20-20-20 rule: if you’re focusing intently, every 20 minutes look up and focus on something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. So get up and stretch your legs and look out the window or get a cup of tea. Interestingly this 20 min rule also matches up with an interesting factoid I learned in psychology class 15 years ago: we’re more likely to retain information from our first 10 minutes of studying and our last 10 minutes of studying. While I have no idea if this study has since been debunked, taking a break every 20 minutes can’t be a bad thing. But make sure to keep it a short break. Don’t go bingewatch an episode of your favourite Netflix show every 20 minutes. (…. I, of course, have done this myself more than once. So do what I say and not what I do.)

Making friendships is also a part of healthy mental hygiene, of course, as is physical exercise. But I also recognize that some students are in extremely stressful situations due to any number of external factors and simply don’t have the time for these necessities. If you’re really feeling overwhelmed, Please seek help. Your campus might provide mental health services themselves or even provide a few therapy or counselling sessions as part of your tuition. Check out what’s available. If you don’t know where to find this info, student or information services should point you in the right direction. Your city might also have a toll free help line which provide 1) someone to talk to, as well as 2) further information on services and programmes available in your area. If you’re lucky enough to study in a country with public health care, you can also talk to a doctor about anxiety and depression. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re asking for medication, but instead they should be able to refer you to the right service. (You may need a doctor’s referral to get an appointment in a free/public health programme.) But also don’t rule out medication entirely. Forget any stigma and look at it as an emergency flotation device: something to help you tread water until you can figure out how to swim. That’s the goal at the end of the day: just keep swimming. And remember to breathe.

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