Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Top 10 Ways to Succeed & Stay Healthy in College

By: Peter Mastroianni, M.A., Health Educator

Ah. FREE at last…away from home, parents, brothers and sisters…no one to bother you or tell you what to do. Life is good! Well, yes, college can be a great time and loads of fun. It’s also a time to explore who you are, how you relate to new people, what you want to do with your life. It’s a time to take control of your own life and start shaping a life that is in line with your values, desires, ambitions…to clarify YOUR goals and define what SUCCESS means to you.

The first step of course is living on your own, meeting new people and adjusting to a new environment. Oh and yes, college is a lot of work. This leads to varying amounts of stress, depending on your attitudes, coping strategies, support and ability to manage your own life. This article is meant to help you think about a few things you may want to pay attention to in order to increase your chances for success here at UCF.

1. Learn to manage your stress.
Any change in your life can be stressful, and starting college is no exception. Students report that stress is the biggest obstacle to academic success, so learning to manage it is important. Exercise is a great way to burn off the chemicals that cause the stress response. Getting enough sleep and eating well help your body handle it as well. Talking to roommates, friends, RAs or counselors can help you find solutions to common problems.

Your attitude plays a major role in how stressful college life will be for you. People who believe they must perform perfectly in all situations experience a great deal of stress. If you are taking courses you truly enjoy, there will be less stress involved. Be sure that your academic and career decisions are based on your needs and desires, and not the expectations of others. Most people entering the workforce today can expect to have multiple careers, so stop thinking that your entire life depends on making one right decision this very moment.

The Wellness Center provides programs to help you learn natural stress reduction techniques using state of the art biofeedback techniques to assist you in the learning process. Massage Therapy is also available in the Annex next to Health Services and at the Wellness Center.

2. Learn to manage your time.
It is entirely too easy to get distracted and pulled away from accomplishing the things you need to do. Effective time management does call for some discipline on your part and an active decision to use your time wisely. Nothing is more critical to your academic success. Try to start each semester with a good plan of attack, based on time management techniques that are well suited to you. While some things are out of your control, it is important to learn to take charge and assert control as much as possible.

First, consider the time of the day you function best at and plan to do your most difficult work then. Find or create an environment for studying where distractions are minimal. Shut off your cell phone so you won’t be tempted to answer it. You will live without calls for a few hours at a time. Plan times for studying and learn to say "no" to offers to do other things. In the long run, you will be happy you did.

Learn to determine your priorities and set up plans by the semester, month, week and day. One system for setting priorities is to make a list of everything you need and want to do. Include things like exercise, socializing, shopping, and watching TV on your list. Next, decide which items are "Urgent" vs. "Non-Urgent" based on time constraints. Then decide which items are "Important" vs. "Non-Important." Priority should be given to items that are both "Important" and "Urgent." Next, make time for items that are "Important" but "Non-Urgent," followed by "Urgent" but "Non-Important." Lastly, if time permits, plan time for "Non-Urgent," "Non-Important" items.

Try to maintain a balance in your life between work, school, recreation, socializing and taking care of your body’s needs, like eating and sleeping. This can be very difficult to do while in college, but make the effort and do the best you can. Again, it is not about perfection.

3. Manage test anxiety.
Many people experience test anxiety. Some experience a very rational type based on how prepared they are. Others experience anxiety no matter how well prepared, or how many positive experiences they have had in the past.

Most important is your attitude. It is indeed a very rare occurrence where one grade will make or break your entire career. At times, students do find an area of study very difficult and realize that they really were not well suited to it. Often they discover a new area that brings more happiness than their original plan ever would have. What they thought was the “worst thing that could happen” turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In any event, try to keep some perspective on the importance of any one test or paper.

Managing your time allows you to study for tests over time instead of cramming the night before. Cramming is not a good way to learn and increases anxiety. Think about what may be on your test and try to incorporate materials from class notes, text books and articles into reasonable answers.

Take breaks while studying, don’t forget to eat meals and try to get a good night’s sleep the night before the test. If you do prepare ahead of time, you can do something relaxing between studying and taking the test to reduce anxiety. Try to avoid use of caffeine or other stimulants as they increase the stress response in your body.

4. Plan for getting enough sleep.
Many students simply sleep “when they can” and do not get adequate sleep consistently. Planning your time and saying "no" to activities that keep you up later, will help. The point is that you need to make an active decision to get as many good nights of sleep as you are able to. Try to do something relaxing right before going to bed. It could be a great time to practice one of the “relaxation techniques” you learned at the Wellness Center.

5. Reduce your risk of getting sick.
Dealing with stress, exercising, eating balanced meals and getting enough rest will help keep your immune system strong. The most effective way to avoid germs that cause colds and flu is to WASH YOUR HANDS REGULARLY. Believe it or not…it's true. However, the quick rinse with water will not do the trick. One must wash with soap and create friction by rubbing hands and fingers together for 15 seconds to remove the majority of germs. How long is 15 seconds? Sing "Happy Birthday" twice. The other technique for reducing cold/flu transmission is to sneeze into your shirt sleeve rather than your hand. Sounds yucky? Well it really is a better way to keep from spreading germs, and getting a cold or flu is VERY yucky.

6. Build a support system to help deal with feelings, obstacles, and relationships.
Having both emotional support (people you can talk to about personal issues) as well as tangible support (people you can call on for help with practical issues) safeguards you against stress. Getting involved with clubs and organizations is a great way to meet people and build friendships. Take advantage of the professional support available to you while here at UCF, as well. The Counseling Center has a professional staff that can talk with you about any type of personal or family problem, and many students do choose to take advantage of this free service.

7. Don’t overdo your partying.
Alcohol and other drugs can provide some immediate relief from stress and cause you to feel more relaxed. The problem is that as soon as the chemicals wear off, your body rebounds back to an increased level of stress. This rebound effect can cause some people to get “hooked” into coming back for more. Try to rely on natural stress reducers as much as possible. People whose only source of stress relief is through alcohol or other drugs are more likely to become dependent.

Expectations of partying at college are often formed by what they have heard, and usually what we hear about are the wildest parties and behavior. People don’t generally talk about the majority of people who are having a couple of drinks, talking with friends, and having a good time without getting out of control. Studies actually show that almost 20% of UCF students have never used alcohol, and 75% indicated they had 4 or less drinks last time they went out. Most UCF students are pretty smart and do a number of things to keep their risks low, such as keeping track of how much they are drinking, alternating water or soda with alcoholic drinks, using designated drivers and avoiding drinking games.

8. Get help with compulsive behaviors like gambling and/or playing computer games/chatting.
In a Spring 2007 survey, 15% of UCF students indicated that excessive I
nternet use and computer gaming had interfered with their academic performance in some way. Gambling has become a much more significant problem on college campuses as well. Just about anything that you enjoy or makes you feel good, can become problematic if you lose control over how often you do it. Yes…even sex can become a problem for some people. If you find that any behavior is starting to cause you problems such as missing classes, losing sleep, arguments with other people, missing meals or spending too much money, then it is time to get help to regain control. You can try setting limits on yourself first and if you can stick to them, things should calm down. If not, the Counseling Center and REAL Project offer assistance to those in need.

9. Exercise and eat balanced meals with a variety of foods.
Regular exercise helps to maintain your immune system, prevents a number of specific diseases, and helps in the management of stress. It helps you to think more clearly as well. Eating a balance of different foods, especially a variety of fruits and vegetables, will help provide the nutrients your body needs to repair and maintain itself. While food choices may be limited by availability, cost and schedules, make an attempt to eat as many portions of fruits and vegetables as you can. Limit the fried foods and choose steamed, broiled or grilled foods instead.

To learn more about diet and fitness, attend on of our "Hot Topics by the Dietitian" seminars!

10. Use Credit Wisely! Avoid building up credit card debt you cannot afford to pay off. While college students traditionally “feel poor” for 4-5 years, it is better to be careful now and graduate in a good position to start your new life. Be prepared to be hit with “fantastic” offers and “free” merchandise and rewards for signing up. Although tempting, limit yourself to one card or even use a debit card that takes money directly from your checking account.

Do the math! Making the minimum payment on a balance of $1000, at 19% interest, it would take you 7 years to pay off your debt and cost you $730 in interest. Even small purchases add up quicker than you might imagine.

No comments: