If you have made the decision to go back to college as a mature student and study for a degree program, congratulations! You’ve taken the first step in an exciting new chapter of your life that will open countless doors for you and broaden your horizons. Now, you’ve probably given plenty of thought as to how you can succeed academically when the semester begins. From the most effective form of notetaking to revision tactics for exams, there’s a lot you’ve likely covered. However, have you given any consideration as to how you will care for your physical and mental health during your studies?
The importance of wellbeing for students
The glamorized notion of students staying up all night to study and surviving on caffeine tablets and energy drinks needs to change. Not only is it damaging to your health, but it is also going to harm your grades. That’s because our physical and mental wellbeing is inextricably linked to our cognitive capabilities. In short, if your wellbeing suffers, so will your ability to study effectively. As such, taking care of your health and happiness should be one of your top priorities during your student days. Not sure how to go about it? Read on for some top tips!
As a student you often have to handle competing deadlines and a packed schedule of classes, so being well organized is key. For starters, it’s good practice to begin working on all of your assignments, reading lists and other tasks as soon as you get them. This allows you more time to complete them, and also gives you a buffer in case a family or work emergency crops up or you get sick. Completing your work well in advance of the deadlines also lowers the risk of you needing to pull an all-nighter, which is guaranteed to raise your stress levels and leave you feeling exhausted. All of this also makes it more likely that you’ll get better grades, because you can take your time with each essay and write them to the very best of your ability – plus you’ll have the chance to proofread them carefully before submission, just in case!
Build a close social network
Depending on the subject you are studying, working on essays and doing your reading can feel quite solitary. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Make the effort to reach out to your fellow students and forge meaningful friendships with people. It’s easy to do this on campus, but even if you’re studying a distance degree you can network with your cohort. For example, online Christian colleges make it easy for you to connect with other students through their virtual learning management systems. Having a close social network is not only vital for your mental health, but it will also be a big help academically. You will be able to motivate one another, study together, and celebrate your achievements. Don’t feel restricted to those on the same course as you are though. Most colleges have a broad range of social groups you can join that focus on different interests, as well as groups for people in the same circumstances (such as mature students or students who have children).
By now you’re surely well aware of how important eating a balanced diet is for your physical health. However, you might not know that what you eat can also have an impact on your cognition. Aim to consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, in addition to whole grains, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds. On the flip side, it’s best to avoid foods which are high in salt or sugar (although of course the occasional treat is ok!). When it comes to drinks, try to have six to eight glasses of water every day – staying hydrated enables your concentration and memory to operate at their best, both of which are vital for keeping your grades up. Meanwhile, you want to avoid energy drinks, sodas and alcohol as much as possible.
Taking part in frequent physical activity is another key aspect of staying healthy and happy. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood, reduce your risk of a number of harmful medical conditions, and even boost your brain power. The good news is that as a student, you have all sorts of options available to you when it comes to being active. Your college is sure to run a broad range of classes, from yoga to dance and martial arts, as well as having a gym you can use. For those who are studying virtually, see what there is available in your local area. One of the best choices is actually also one of the simplest: taking a walk in a park or local forest during your lunch break. Not only does this keep you active, but it also gets you some important exposure to sunlight, which in turn makes us feel happier and helps our bodies to produce all-important vitamin D. In addition, spending time in nature has been shown to boost levels of creativity and productivity – both of which are sure to help you succeed academically.
Get plenty of sleep
Good quality sleep is absolutely vital, if you want to feel alert and refreshed. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of negative consequences, including poor memory, impaired concentration and difficulty learning – so you can see why it’s crucial for students in particular to get plenty of shuteye. Aim for six to eight hours of sleep a night, and feel free to nap during the day if that helps. If you struggle to get to sleep or to stay asleep, try some of the following tips:
- Avoid caffeine in the evening
- Avoid screen time, such as being on your phone or laptop, late at night
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule, even on your days off
- Do some deep breathing exercises before bed
- Meditate before bed
- Write down anything that’s worrying you before you go to bed, to stop negative thoughts keeping you awake
- If you can’t get to sleep, rather than staying in bed and getting annoyed, get up and read a book or do something similarly calming
- Don’t do strenuous exercise shortly before bed (try yoga or more relaxing activities instead)
- Avoid alcohol – it might help you to fall asleep, but ultimately reduces the quality of that sleep
- Wear a sleep mask to block out light, or get blackout curtains
- Listen to a sleep story in bed
Set clear boundaries between study and home life
If you’re a mature student who is combining college with work and family commitments, it can be helpful to draw a clear boundary between these different aspects of your life. That way you won’t be worrying about your essay while at the office, or your work projects during your lectures. Likewise, set aside quality time that is just for you to spend with your family. Make sure the kids know that when you are studying, you’re not to be disturbed – but when it’s family time you’re all theirs. They’re sure to appreciate it!
Make time for hobbies
Becoming a student doesn’t mean you have to give up all the other aspects of your life. College can take up a lot of time but be sure to set aside dedicated periods to spend doing the hobbies that you love. Whether it’s going to the movies, playing a musical instrument, drawing, climbing, or learning a language, engaging in activities outside of work and study is a great way to relax and bring down your stress levels. This in turn can help you to be more productive in the long run and get better grades. Plus, college is a fantastic opportunity to find a new hobby, so make the most of it!
Indulge in a little self-care
Self-care might have become something of a buzzword these days, but the idea behind it is definitely valid. Looking after yourself is crucial for staying happy and healthy, and setting aside time for self-care is an effective way to do it. For example, you could take a long hot bath, have a spa day, curl up on the sofa with a good book, go out for a meal with your partner, use an adult coloring book, journal, or do anything else that cheers you up. The specifics aren’t important, it’s more about how it makes you feel – positive, relaxed, and ready to learn!
Focus on your goals
It’s no secret that doing a degree can be tough at times, and on days when you’re struggling you might question whether you’ve made the right choice or have the ability to succeed. If this happens to you, take a deep breath and remind yourself of the reasons why you enrolled on the program in the first place. Are you doing this degree because it will lead you to your dream career? As a precursor to a higher-level qualification? Or is it because you simply love the subject and want to learn more about it? Whatever your reasons, focus on your goals and imagine where you want to be after graduating. That image should help to boost your motivation, spur you on to study a little bit harder, and ensure that you pass with flying colors.