While most college students have a Netflix account these days (or mooch off their parents'), if you think about it, watching television is probably the most passive activity you can do in your downtime besides sleeping. No one can doubt the relaxing feeling of coming home after a long day of class to your favorite show, but in the long run, Netflix doesn't do you body or mind justice, and may make your college days feel more monotonous over time.
Additionally, college is a great time to engage in solo activities that will help you reconnect with yourself on a deeper level to discover genuine happiness, instead of the temporary numbness that comes from going straight to your Netflix home screen each day.
1. Get lost in nature
As simple as this sounds, studies have found that being outside increases brain function and Vitamin D uptake and is likely to boost your mood with even a short period of sun exposure. As students, we can't escape the indoors during class, but we owe it to ourselves to deliberately spend some time outdoors everyday to take in all the beauty that nature has to offer.
Whether this means taking a hike, taking the scenic route back to your dorm, eating a meal outside, or just taking five minutes out of your day to breathe in the air around you, surrounding yourself by nature is definitely an easy way to self-care throughout the week.
2. Listen to podcasts
I'm still not sure if listening to podcasts is considered cool in our generation, but who cares if it's not? Not only are podcasts low-commitment ways to gain insight into diverse and thought-provoking issues, they're also a great way to stay connected with other people's stories as a conscientious citizen of society. My favorites are Freakonomics, TED Radio Hour, and Radiolab — perfect for walking to class or doing busywork. Find other great podcasts for college students here.
3. Read a book you actually enjoy
While this one seems like a no-brainer, when was the last time you read something for fun, not just because you had a five-page report due on it the following week? College students are some of the worst perpetrators of becoming disaffected readers, which is a shame because so much of the young adult experience can be enriched by reading great literature, old and new.
Dig deep to find genres you really enjoy, or try some new ones that might surprise you. Additionally, making a GoodReads or PaperbackSwap account is a great way to keep track of reading progress while getting books at a low cost. (Currently: Runaway by Alice Munro has become my bedtime favorite).
4. Create something
This next one is left intentionally vague to give you room to create whatever your heart desires. Miss your art days from middle school, or want to get into decoupage, photo transfer, needle-felting, or cross stitch? Head to the local craft store or Walmart and try something that will let you create something tangible with your personal mark on it.
Crafting not only stimulates your brain but also gives you an outlet to explore your own interests outside of the classroom. While this may take slightly more time, investments in your personal well-being are totally worth it in the long run. Freshman year, I'd sometimes knit before bed and currently, I have mini canvases, paint, and coloring books on my bedside table.
5. Go to the gym
Most people in college are able to give off a sporty vibe by wearing name brand athleisure attire, but how many of us actually take time every week to go to the gym? As someone who's biggest form of exercise in high school was marching band, I didn't seriously work out until coming to college, but it's honestly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Set personal goals each time you go, and record the number of reps and weights you use to track your progress. I go once a week for an hour and a half, or twice a week for an hour each. My favorite workouts include 30 minutes of elliptical, leg machines, free weights, TRX, benching (and the occasional ab workout for my food baby). Going to the gym is all about starting small and pushing your limits to awaken your body to all the great things it can do, so believe in yourself and go for it.
Meditation doesn't have to just be a buzzword anymore. Studies have found that meditation improves your immunity to sickness and can lower blood pressure by causing your blood vessels to literally open up. The great thing about meditation is that it's easy to do and a free way to reconnect with yourself at the beginning or end of your day.
For beginners, meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and letting your breath go, while focusing on the sensation of your breath. Meditate for five minutes in bed every day, morning or night, and you'll gradually feel the benefits of this centuries old practice over time.
Everyone's heard that journaling is a healthy outlet for life's stresses, but did you know it may actually improve memory and reading comprehension, as well as strengthen self-discipline to help achieve future goals? Not only that, journalling may boost self-confidence by allowing yourself to better process feelings and your brain to relive experiences that build mental resilience.
As with meditation, journalling can be a low-commitment activity at the end of each day to reflect and introspect for 10-15 minutes. You can even download a delightfully simple app I use called Notebook that let's you write short daily entries while grabbing lunch or walking to class.
At the end of the day, college is one of the most stressful periods of our lives, not just academically, but also physically and emotionally. It's important to take care of yourself while working hard in classes and orgs to keep your body feeling its best. Remember, life is all about balance, and we can't achieve it without giving our bodies and minds the love they deserve.