Learn to look after yourself at university

University is often described as the best years of your lives by students who have been there and done it. It can be exciting and liberating to move away from home to begin what you hope will be the start of a successful career. However, there may be times where it will seem stressful, overwhelming and too much to handle. Looking after your health and wellbeing is paramount to having an enjoyable and successful time at university and this blog, written by Biomedical Sciences students and nutrition expert Dzhansel Hashim, is all about maximising your chances of doing just that…

Moving away for university is when most of us take our first steps to adulthood simply by starting to live away from our families. Sometimes it will be thrilling, adventurous and fun to live at your own pace! At other times, however, it will get stressful, exhausting and overwhelming considering all the responsibilities that come with growing up! Often, we will have to spend so much time and energy to be on top of things in our lives, and before we know it, we will have forgotten the greatest responsibility that we all have, aka to care for our health!

The question is, how do we maintain a healthy lifestyle despite a busy schedule? In my humble opinion, the four pillars of healthy living are 1. Nutrition, 2. Physical activity, 3. Social relations, 4. Emotional health.

We will now explore them in turn:

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Nutrition

People say that you are what you eat. Therefore, the first rule of respecting your body and treating it well is to fuel it with whole nutritious food.

Keep it simple! You don’t have to be the next Gordon Ramsay to roast some veggies and potatoes and combine it with a source of protein such as meat, yoghurt or chickpeas. Come up with 3-4 simple and balanced meal ideas that you enjoy and a few go-to breakfast recipes, and just improvise for the remaining of the time. For example, this is what a typical week of mine looks like:

  1. Roasted veggies + chicken/ another source of protein -> 1 cooking = 2 portions
  2. Salmon + roasted potatoes + salad -> 1 cooking = 2 portions
  3. Simple veggie curry -> 1 cooking = 2-3 portions
  4. Whole pasta (with varying sauces) -> once (or twice) per week
  5. Breakfast ideas: oatmeal, avocado toast, eggs, yoghurt with fruits and nuts

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Physical activity

First and foremost, find the type of physical activity that you would enjoy being engaged with. Explore the wide range of options that our university offers to its students including two gyms with various classes, a pool, free fitness classes, dancing, hiking and many other societies that allow you to make friends and have fun while keeping your body active.

Second, don’t wait for the right time as it might never come. Instead, have a look at your timetable and find the most appropriate time for your workouts. For example, I prefer swimming after lectures, going to the gym early in the morning on the days I don’t have morning lectures and jogging at the weekends.

Last but not least, listen to your body! Avoid forcing yourself to stick to a strict workout programme. Instead, listen to the needs of your body and let it ‘Netflix-and-chill’ if that is what it really needs.

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Social relations

In 2017 an 80-year-long study conducted by Harvard University revealed that having close relationships with friends and family is the key to happiness. Therefore, finding a good balance between the time you invest in your studies and in your close relationships is essential for your emotional health.

I have good news for you! Oftentimes, small gestures are enough to show someone we love them and care for them. No matter how busy we are, it only takes five seconds to send that ‘good morning’ message to our parents. We can always spare ten minutes to hear the story our sibling wants to tell us or afford to have a one-hour coffee break from our studies to catch up with friends.

Make the most of social media to connect with friends and relatives that are away. Text them every now and then, be interested in what they are up to, ask how they are doing and share with them what is new in your life.

To conclude, I will leave you with a great quote by John C. Maxwell who has said ”Family and friendships are two of the greatest facilitators of happiness.” Hence, they should not be taken for granted.

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Emotional health

Statistics released by The Guardian in 2019 revealed that almost 88% of students at UK universities suffer from stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, dealing with stress is an essential life skill that our schools fail to teach us. Therefore, it is our responsibility to teach it to ourselves.

We can start by identifying the main causes of stress in our lives and then come up with creative ways of dealing with them. Student surveys revealed that some of the most common stress factors are poor time and finance management skills, difficulty in organising work, leaving assignments to the last minute, examinations and deadlines. Ask yourself what is it that you struggle with the most, and find out an easy way to overcome it. Share your concerns with your friends as there is a good chance you are not the only one having these problems.

Find people who support you, listen to you and empathise with you. As the saying goes, shared pain is half pain. Always remind yourself that it’s okay not to be okay! Don’t ever feel scared or embarrassed to share your concerns no matter how insignificant they might seem. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends consider using the counselling services at UoM or joing support groups on Facebook and other social media platforms. Journaling is another effective technique that has been proven to significantly alleviate emotional distress, and contribute to one’s mental and spiritual growth.

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These are only a few of the most effective ways to overcome anxiety, and there are probably twice as many. All you need to remember is that you are not alone in this journey and there are so many people that appreciate your existence and are ready to help you at any time.

All said, our health is dependent on many variables, and in some cases, they are completely out of our control. However, it is in our hands to take the wheel and start living the mindful life that we deserve. Find your own simple definition of health, and identify your own pillars, rules and techniques to manage your life. Love and respect your body, and always keep in mind that your health is your priority.

 

 


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