I'll admit it: I am a victim of stress. Midterm season is in full swing and whether you are a college student or not, stress plays a tremendous role in our daily lives. As a current sophomore, I took on a heavy course load, committed to clubs and organizations, and filled my remaining free time with lab research. My schedule was dense—a daily 8 am to 5 pm block spent on campus, with little to no breaks in between.

I believed that I could withstand the high demands of my schedule while balancing my passions for both academics and extracurriculars, but the sleepless nights, long days, and time began to catch up to me. As a result, my physical, mental, and nutritional health took a toll. 

Nutritional Health

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Megan Japczyk

Most days, I would run out of the door on five hours of sleep, rushing to be on time for my 8 am lecture. In my haste, I would often leave without packing a lunch or snack in my bag. A combination of laziness, fatigue, and lack of time resulted in food becoming less of a priority—even things like meal prepping a simple salad or making overnight oats seemed hard. I thought I wouldn’t feel hungry later on, or told myself I would eat a more substantial meal when I got back from class, but I was always wrong.

Between classes, my blood sugar levels dropped, my stomach grumbled, tiredness subsumed, and I felt emotionally irritable. Since I was consistently skipping meals, I noticed minute changes: decrease in energy, dry skin, and sleepiness during class. My motivation for studying significantly decreased and my attention span became shorter. 

Physical Activity

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Denise Uy

In the past, going to the gym had been my way to relieve stress. However, with a busy schedule and limited amount of rest, my early morning workouts were now dedicated to an extra hour of sleep, and my long days made evening workouts impractical. Physically, I felt burnt out—a constant stressful feeling of pressure lingered above my head.

Fighting Against Time and Stress

Taylor Park

My experiences have made me realize that with some little tweaks in our daily habits, we can alleviate the stress and anxiety in our lives. First and foremost, our nutrition—the foods we eat and the amount we consume—plays a critical part in affecting our mood, physical well being, and academic performance. Even if you don’t have time to prepare a lunch for the day, packing small snacks in your backpack can keep your blood glucose levels stable, prevent feelings of lethargy, and provide a boost of energy that will keep you feeling motivated.

According to researchers at the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, the quality of food is more important than the amount of calories we eat. Although portion control is also important to keep in mind, sticking to whole grains, fruits, and healthy fats can improve your mental productivity and performance under stress.

#SpoonTip: If you're looking for a healthy on-the-go snack that contains minimal added sugars, try packing nuts, fresh fruit, or an RXBAR—all of which take less than a minute to throw into your backpack. 

Finding Ways to De-Stress

Taylor Park

Although it may feel like time for self-care is relatively nonexistent, it is essential to take a step back from the pressures of our lives and engage in the activities we enjoy. By planning out the day, it is possible to squeeze in that açaí bowl date with a friend, make the trip to the gym, or spend some time alone. De-stressing can take shape in a variety of different ways—even something small like taking in a breath of fresh air on the way to class counts.

My personal experiences fighting against a busy college schedule have opened my eyes to the importance of setting aside time to eat, to relieve stress, and to spend time with friends and loved ones. Whether you feel stressed or not this midterm season, it is important to remember that your physical health is directly connected to your mental health, and despite the challenges, you are not alone. 

For more information pertaining to mental health, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Tang Center for help.