Editorial: Self-care critical in college
The chances that you, the reader, got more than eight hours of sleep last night is, at best, 50 percent. I’m going to refrain from guessing what the chances are that your eating habits are healthy, that you’re feeling no stress from school work, grades or tests, that you’ve exercised recently or that your personal life is completely healthy and stress-free, because … well, you know what they say about glass houses.
I get it; being free to choose your own lifestyle for the first time means that you’re going to stay up way too late hanging out with friends sometimes, and sometimes you just need to eat a pint of ice cream at noon on a Thursday. And God knows you shouldn’t feel guilty for occasionally breaking down in tears after a particularly cruel and unusual test; we’ve all been there, I’m not judging.
Shockingly enough, though; constant stress, sleep deprivation and poor eating choices on top of leaving home and facing the trials of independent life for the first time has its downsides.
Anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketing among college students, and are already higher among millennials than any other age group. Weight gain among college students is so common that it has a cute nickname. Substance abuse started in college can carry over as a habit through the rest of a person’s life.
Unfortunately, these problems rarely get addressed, either because they’re viewed as just part of the college experience (who doesn’t have a great story about a time they pulled an all-nighter?) or because there’s a lack of serious discussion about them, sometimes bordering on genuine stigma for substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
More challengingly, there are personal reasons for why some of these habits fall by the wayside in college. When you have to excel in your upper-level classes in order to get into a good grad school or medical school, you’re involved in extracurriculars that you care about and you need to work a part-time job to pay rent, eight hours of sleep starts looking like an outrageous luxury.
These issues are often tackled separately, but more often than not they bleed into each other. Anxiety about financial stability and the future leads to overwork, sleep deprivation and lack of exercise, which lead to increased stress and anxiety, which starts the whole process again.
The stress caused by these unhealthy habits can then put pressure on relationships. If you think trying to negotiate who has to clean the bathroom is fun now, try it when everyone is on different sleep schedules, running primarily on coffee and sheer force of will, studying for three different tests and still kind of irritated about how Eric never cleans his dishes.
The skill required to navigate through these dilemmas is one that little effort is spent on in college: self-care. Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising at least occasionally, spending time with friends and doing restful activities are ways of taking care of yourself the same way you would take care of other people you love.
The Protestant work ethic and tendency of the Christian tradition not to address the close relationships between physical, emotional and spiritual health don’t help matters.
But the Bible constantly emphasizes rest and peace. The practice of the Sabbath as a day of abstaining from work to focus on God is referenced from the beginning of the Bible, characterizing rest as a critical part of even God’s life.
Jesus tells us not to worry about our life or the future, but to trust that God will clothe and feed us in the future the same as the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Not only should we avoid worry in order to deepen our relationship with God, but Jesus adds that all these things (food, clothing and future peace) will be given to those who trust in God.
It can be frightening to trust in God — to rest when it seems like a choice between being academically or financially responsible and something as apparently frivolous as going to the gym or going to bed early, but that’s a common characteristic of trusting in God.
At the end of the day, putting resting in God ahead of doing your homework is an expression of love for God and yourself. As Augustine says, the only true way to rest is in God.