The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Balancing Act: Back-to-School Basics of Self-Care on Campus

It’s that time of year again! While it was just a few months ago that everyone was so excited for the start of summer break, there is also something very exciting about the start of a new school year: new school supplies, new classes, new back-to-school clothes and maybe even new friends. Notice a theme? The start of a school year offers the opportunity for new beginnings. For some, they will be making a major transition to living on a new campus where every aspect of the experience is, in fact, new. For others, returning to school or starting a new semester offers a chance to improve upon their earlier efforts at balancing school, their social life and self-care. For everyone, this new beginning is a time to pause and reflect on what your goals are for the semester and how you would like to achieve them.

Here at the Center for Eating Disorders , we often work with students who are struggling tocar breakdown balance all of their responsibilities during the very hectic semester. When mounting pressure and too many commitments forces something to be let go, too often people opt to give up sleep, meals, relaxation, or time for self-care. These basic needs are sometimes even viewed as a luxury. While the thought of failing to meet deadlines or getting poor grades can be very stressful, people tend to underestimate just how important the “luxury” of taking care of yourself is in the grand scheme of your overall ability to function. It would be similar to draining a car battery without ever recharging it; eventually, the battery is not going to work and the car won’t start!

Fortunately, this scenario can be prevented with a little foresight and some planning. The start of the semester is a great time to create a plan to help keep things balanced throughout the next couple of months. Here are some tips for creating a good plan.

  1. Write out your schedule for the semester. Once your classes, work schedules and social engagements are in the calendar, go back through and make sure that there are times for all three meals each day. Schedule them in so that they will not be forgotten!
  2. Plan accordingly. Do you have a work shift or a class that goes from 11-2? Plan to pack your lunch so that you can have something to eat during your break.  Look at your syllabi and put important deadlines and exam dates on your calendar. If you notice one week is going to be packed with things to do, plan ahead so you are not overwhelmed.
  3. Get connected to your safety net. Its the first week of school and everything might still be feeling new and  exciting and maybe even easy.   But even if you don’t feel like you need the extra support right now, take a moment while things are slow to identify the phone numbers and locations on campus for the student health center and the counseling center.  Save the info in your phone.  If a time comes later in the semester when you need to reach out for help, you will have made it a little easier for yourself to quickly connect with your campus support system.
  4. Choose a bedtime. School schedules can be erratic. You might start each day at different times based on your class schedule, and you might stay up very late on the weekends or during exam times.   But resist the urge to maintain this erratic sleep schedule throughout your entire college career.  Whenever possible, do your best to go to sleep and wake-up around the same time every day in an effort to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, especially if you are working on recovery from an eating disorder.  Why? Balanced sleep can help you maintain balance in other areas of life as well, such as your mood and your eating.  This is partially because sleep helps your body regulate hormone levels, including those that stimulate feelings of hunger and fullness. When hormones are dysregulated it can set you up for overeating or  bingeing.   When you are tempted to pull those all-nighters during midterm week, remember that studies show a sleep deficit of 3-4 hours a night over the course of even just one week can interfere with the body’s ability to process nutrients from food, manage stress, and maintain a proper balance of hormones. (source: American Thoracic Society, International Conference, News release, San Diego, May 19-24, 2006.)
  5. Schedule “me” time. It is very important that you take time to check in with yourself. Try to find time to journal or do something you enjoy for even just a few minutes every day. If you know that you will struggle to fit this into your schedule, try signing up for a yoga class, a book club or another fun, relaxing activity to make sure that you stick with it.  This is also a great way to meet people with similar interests.
  6. Stay True to Yourself. It can be easy to feel pressured or rushed into making as many new friends as possible, sometimes by altering yourself and your priorities to fit in lest you risk being all alone. You may want to pause every so often and reflect on whether the company you are keeping is raising you up or is dragging you down. Are the new friendships you’re building helping you commit to self-care and positive self-worth or are they contributing to greater body/food anxieties? Listen carefully to your inner voice and let it guide you to make the best decisions for you.

We at the Center wish all of you a happy first semester at school!  Stay connected with this back-to-school blog series and other body image and eating disorder resources by liking CED’s Facebook Page or following @CEDatSheppPratt on Twitter.

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, College Liaison, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Originally published 9/6/11

Photo Credit: Freedigitalphotos / Naypong

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