University life can be a blast. When I showed up at Dal it was my first real time away from home. I was suddenly on my own, in a new place, doing new things without my parents around to keep me in check. Let a tiger loose in the city, and crazy things are bound to happen. But it’s easy to go overboard and let your health suffer.
Ultimately, how you treat your physical and mental health is up to you. You’re the keeper of your own domain. And it’s normal to make mistakes and forget about how you’re treating yourself. But luckily, Dal has lots of resources to help you stay healthy. The trick is to use them and watch out for the different pitfalls that many university students face.
1. Put the right stuff in your body
Don’t worry if you gain a bit of weight in your first year—most people do at some point, and weight gain isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But watch what you eat. It’s all about making sure you get enough of the healthy stuff (check Canada’s food guides if you’re not sure what your body requires). You can use this handy online meal planner and activity tracker to make a plan and stick to it.
If you’re living in residence, Dal’s dining halls do a great job ensuring there’s plenty of tasty and healthy options for everyone, and even include the nutrition info for all their menus. If you have allergies or want to know more about eating healthy on campus, email our dietitian at email@example.com. If you’re living off campus, consider purchasing a meal plan for the dining halls. (It will save you the hassle of cooking every day, and ensure you get some healthy meals!)
Feed your body, feed your mind. I like junk food as much as the next tiger, but everything in moderation, right?
2. Get up off the couch
Just as you need to fill your body with nutrients, you also need to keep it active! Make sure you get enough exercise and don’t fall into the trap of sitting in your room binge-watching entire seasons of The Walking Dead or whatever you’re into. Dal has plenty of opportunities to stay in shape with fitness centres, intramurals, and clubs at Halifax’s Studley Campus and Sexton Campus, and the Agricultural Campus in Truro.
At this point in your life you should be doing 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of aerobic physical activity every week. But it can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking downtown (that’s 20 minutes right there), or biking around town. Just keep your body moving.
3. Know your limits
First things first: If you’re under 19 it’s against the law for you to drink alcohol in Nova Scotia. If you’re caught drinking underage (or drinking in public), you’ll be dealing with some mighty expensive fines. And if you do drink and have a crazy night of binge drinking, chances are one of three things is going to happen: you’ll end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, having your stomach pumped (or worse); you’ll end up in the drunk tank with people you’d rather not spend a night with (and those hefty fines); or you’ll end up puking on your (or someone else’s) bedroom floor and waking up with a nasty new nickname and wishing you’d stopped while you were ahead and the night was still fun.
None of those are attractive scenarios, and they’re not how you want to start your university career. If you’re going to drink, be smart about it. Use some common sense and limit yourself.
4. Let’s talk about sex
Some of you will have sex in first year, and some of you won’t. Frankly, it’s none of my business and it’s no one’s business but your own. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you don’t plan to have sex, that’s perfectly fine. But if you’re going to, make sure you’re safe and you’ve both consented to it.
Your sexual health should be just as important to you as your physical and mental health. There are plenty of places on and around campus to get free condoms and other resources—including Student Health & Wellness (Halifax’s on-campus clinic) and South House in Halifax, and Health Services in Truro. And if you’re worried about STIs or pregnancy, make an appointment with Student Health & Wellness in Halifax or Health Services in Truro.
5. Go to sleep!
Bottom line: you need your sleep. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s really easy to forget how important it is if you don’t have someone telling you to turn off the lights. One night you’re out listening to a DJ, the next you’re playing PlayStation until 5 a.m. And as it gets closer to mid-terms and final exams, you may feel the need to pull all-nighters to cram every last bit of knowledge into your head.
Of course you’re going to have some late nights, but your body and brain will thank you if you don’t make them a regular habit. Lack of sleep usually leads to a bunch of health problems, and I guarantee it will hurt your schoolwork. The experts say you should get seven or eight hours of shut-eye per night, and recommend turning off your computer, iPhone, and any other electronics an hour before you tuck in.
6. Try not to stress about it
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when you come to university. You may be living away from home for the first time, trying to figure out what it is you really want to be when you grow up, dealing with new or old relationships, or trying to cope with your studies. Whatever it is, take a deep breath and remember that everyone feels stressed from time to time.
The trick is learning to manage your stress before it overwhelms you. Personally, I like to clear my head by going for a jog or playing some squash (hitting a small rubber ball against a wall is incredibly therapeutic). I also make sure I eat well, because wallowing in your misery with a massive bag of Party Mix will only make it worse. But one of the best things you can do to cope is to talk with your friends and realize you’re not alone.
You can also use WellTrack, our free and confidential online self-help tool. It targets depression, anxiety, stress, and phobias, and you can access it from anywhere, anytime.
7. Don’t go it alone
I’m happy to give you advice, but the only person who really knows what’s going on with you is you. Listen to what your body is telling you and then look for support if you need it. If you’re feeling down and need to talk to someone, contact Student Health & Wellness for support in Halifax or Health Services in Truro.
If you feel like you need to see a doctor or nurse, or talk to a social worker or psychologist, make an appointment at Student Health & Wellness in Halifax. If you want to meet with someone about your physical or mental health in Truro, make an appointment with Health Services.
If you’re feeling sluggish, get your butt off the couch and go out for a walk. Your body will tell you when enough is enough.
There are a lot of fantastic resources and services at Dal that can help you feel great. Make sure you use them! And if you see your friends struggling, do the stand-up thing and talk to them. Support from a friend can go a long way.
Tiger’s a smart tiger, but he knows when to lay off the Doritos and Netflix and go to bed.