My first year was a colorful experiment in new friendships, fascinating coursework, and newfound freedom. I was thrilled to be independent, grow, learn, and experience all that Vanderbilt and Nashville had to offer. I had my struggles, however, and I tussled with stress, anxiety, and disappointment. While I had a great first year, there are still a few things I wish I had taken more time to do.
1. Pay attention to your body.
During the second semester of my first year, I caught a cold and experienced an asthma flare-up that didn’t subside for a few months. I was so busy studying and running around campus that I neglected to notice body aches, a persistent cough, and other symptoms. Consider keeping up with a journal in which to document your body’s reactions throughout your first year. Take a visit to Student Health before symptoms get out of hand. Student Health offers services from sexual/reproductive health and LGBTQI+ resources to immunizations and allergy medication.
The inevitable all-nighter is almost synonymous with college, accompanied with a visual of unkempt students rushing to 8am exams afterwards. While a few may be necessary, sleep deprivation comes with a myriad of costs. According to the National Institute of Health, sleep deprived people lose their abilities to focus and memorize, both of which hurt class performance. Consider making a sleep schedule and scheduling naps to refuel before studying for long periods of time. Give your brain a break, too. In the library, stand up and stretch your legs. Take a walk outside, watch television for a few minutes, or catch up with a friend. Attend events that interest you, join a club, or play a sport. It is all too easy to become caught up in a whirlwind of work, and your mind needs rest just as much as your body does.
3. Maintain your physical health.
Eat mindfully. Unhealthy food consumption can get out of hand quickly when you’re reliant on dining halls rather than home cooking, and few of us have escaped talk of the proverbial “freshman 15.” Besides, Rand’s famous chocolate chip cookies are always difficult to resist. Have treats occasionally, but try to pay attention to the food that goes into your body. Fruit and vegetable consumption can improve cholesterol levels, focus, and blood pressure. Also, exercise often. While speed walking to main campus from Commons may feel like an extreme sport, the Mayo Clinic actually recommends two and a half hours of vigorous exercise per week. Try taking a cycling class at the Recreational Center, inviting friends for a run through Centennial Park, or completing a routine in your dorm room. Write down your health goals - losing or gaining weight, getting into shape, etc. - and review them once or twice a month to hold yourself accountable.
4. Monitor your mental health.
Persistent sadness, substance abuse, fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and insomnia can all be symptoms of a mental health issue. Almost 42 percent of college students have anxiety, and another 36 percent have depression. You are not alone if you are struggling. Reach out to a trusted individual, like a friend or RA, if you feel that something is wrong. It is important to note, however, that speaking with someone is not a substitute for professional help. The University Counseling Center offers therapy, trauma informed care, ADHD and eating disorder resources, and crisis care counseling. If you are nervous about going to the UCC, have a friend walk with you, or write down what you have been feeling so it is easier to speak with a therapist.
5. Be gentle with yourself.
This last step is perhaps the most important. Sometimes you may feel as though you are the only one who has yet to get it all together. Keep in mind that college is not a competition. Take deep breaths. Relax when you need it. Write down your feelings. Allow yourself to be alone and reflect. Give yourself the time you need. You have worked hard to get here, and deserve to make it as healthy, safe, educational, and enjoyable a year as possible.
By Kaitlin Joshua
Welcome to Vanderbilt, VU22. Anchor down!