It's February. You've been in college since September. Things started off on the right foot, but lately you've found yourself tired, listless and lacking in drive, energy and motivation. Many people find this time of year hard for a number of reasons. College students are no exception. I've heard some students describe this general malaise as “student burnout,” but there may be more to it than that.
Ask yourself some questions: Have you recently lost someone through death or a break-up, been dealing with financial worries, family concerns or been noticing failing grades in your program? Perhaps you have been sleeping in, missing classes, drinking too much, abusing prescription or street drugs, or hanging around with others who also lack drive and motivation. You may want to seek professional help if you are also experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive anger
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Withdrawal from others
- Feelings of loneliness
- A sense of separateness from others.
Self-awareness is the first step towards change. You are in control of your own destiny. Healthy changes start with the recognition that you are off-balance in certain areas of your life. Self-awareness leads to a re-evaluation of your lifestyle and daily patterns of behaviour, and will lead you to minor life changes that focus on taking better care of yourself.
Self-care is about eating, sleeping and exercise. According to Dr. Vickers-Douglas, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic, 30 minutes of exercise for at least three-to-five days per week has been known to significantly improve symptoms of depression. Exercise can simply involve walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes, three-to-five times a week. Another benefit of daily walks outside involves increased exposure to natural sunlight. You might ask “What sunlight?” but even a walk outside on a cloudy day may expose you to six times as much light as a well-lit office, and 10-15 times as much as most homes. If the idea of 30 minutes seems daunting, even 15 minutes of regular exercise has been shown to elevate moods in the short term. You need to start somewhere. Why not start today?
Nutrition seems like a no-brainer, but many college students suffer from a lack of balanced nutritional intake. Filling up on empty carbohydrates such as junk food and pop, including recently-popular energy drinks, will leave your body craving more and leave you with a sugar crash within an hour after eating, and/or an irritable, shaky feeling resulting from high caffeine/sugar combinations. Instead, choose a balanced intake of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat. The best way to shop in a grocery store is to shop the outside isles and avoid pre-packaged foods, if possible. If you can afford vitamins, you may be interested to know that a study by the University of Washington School of Nursing found the following daily supplements helpful:
- B1 50 mg
- B2 50 mg
- B6 50 mg
- Folic Acid 400 mcg
- D 400 IU
- Selenium 200 mcg.
A good multi-vitamin containing the above ingredients would suffice, as long as you're getting a balanced diet. Vitamins are not a substitute for food, so include them along with your daily food intake.
Ah, finally! Sleep. The key to sleep is regularity and establishing a consistent rhythm. Experts recommend a minimum of seven-to-nine hours of sleep per night for most young adults. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation adversely affects performance and alertness. According to an article in www.webmd.com, “reducing sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night reduces daytime alertness by about one-third. Excessive daytime sleepiness impairs memory and the ability to think and process information.”
Meditation for at least ten-20 minutes a day is a valuable tool for many people, and has proven to help reduce stress, anxiety and improve concentration and focus. The Counselling and Student Life Department holds bi-weekly meditation sessions in F2010, every Tuesday and Thursday during the academic year from 4-4:25 p.m. These sessions are open to all students on a drop-in basis. As part of our initiatives to ensure that you remain as relaxed and calm as possible leading up to final exams, the Counselling and Student Life Centre and the Student Union held a De-Stress day in December right before exams. The event was a resounding success, as many students took part in mini-massages, meditation sessions and healthy nutritional offerings. As a result, we would like expand this program, offering it twice per year, prior to the week of final exams. All students are invited to our next De-Frazzle Day, scheduled for Thursday, April 17 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge.
By Candice Lawrence, M.Ed., Counsellor, Fanshawe College Counselling and Student Life Services
February 25 — February 29
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This column is a Student Success Initiative sponsored by Counselling and Student Life Services, Financial Aid and the Office of the Registrar.