‘Prioritize your mental health’: How new students can prepare for college

India Carter, 18, works out in the Recreation and Physical Activity Center at The Ohio State University. Scheduling healthy habits just like they schedule classes can help college students maintain their health, something they are likely managing for the first time on their own. (Courtesy The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)

Freshmen college students on their own for the first time can be susceptible to anxiety, stress and depression, but one expert says healthy habits can help smooth the transition and prevent problems.

“Prioritize your mental health right from the start,” said Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the college of nursing and chief wellness officer at The Ohio State University. “Absolutely block time for stress reduction.”

Whether it’s yoga, meditation or long walks, the key is to tap your stress reduction tools regularly.

“Prioritize it, schedule it in in your calendar — ways that you’re going to keep your stress under total control is really critical as you’re starting college,” Melnyk said.

Here’s more advice on how students can take better care of themselves when they start college.

Be good to your body

Establishing healthy habits from the beginning pays off in the long run.

“Physical activity, healthy eating and regular stress reduction can help you to perform better in school, your grades will be better (and) you will feel more confident about your performance,” Melnyk said.

Know when to ask for help

Melnyk said you’ll know things are getting out of control when symptoms of anxiety, stress and feeling depressed begin to interfere with your functioning.

“You can’t concentrate as well. Maybe you don’t feel like engaging in activities like you used to. That’s the time when you want to seek out some help,” Melnyk said.

Prepare for health care

The time to figure out where to get medical care and where to fill prescriptions is not when you feel miserable, or are injured. Many institutions have a student health center, but some don’t.

“Whether that is on site for the university or off-campus, students need to get connected,” Melnyk said.

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