The 10 Best Things You Can Do for Your Mental and Physical Health
We want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself — inside and out — so the AC Hub surveyed Counselling and Health Services to get the best tips for maintaining your mental and physical health. Read on for helpful advice to keep your body, mind, and soul in tiptop shape.
1. Get organized
Organize your timetable, your assignments and tests, and even your work space at home. Being organized can help reduce your stress (because you’ve got this) and prevents the anxiety-ridden “Wait, we’ve got a project due?” scenario. Check out the Time Management section of the Essential Study Skills website for tools and templates for creating a weekly schedule, avoiding procrastination, and more.
2. Eat well
We know you probably hear this a lot, but it really is so important for impacting how you feel! Try to avoid highly processed foods that are pre-prepared and packaged (they tend to be high in salt and sugar). You may not be able to eliminate these foods entirely, but what about replacing the processed stuff with extra fruits and veggies one or two days a week? And don’t forget that hydration is equally important, so carry a water bottle with you throughout the day as a reminder (and fill up often). Need help with your nutrition? Book an appointment with the dietitian in Health Services at the Ottawa campus – it’s free for all AC students!
3. Good nutrition goes hand in hand with exercise
There’s just no escaping this fact. Join a gym (like the Fitness Zone on campus), or do YouTube videos at home if you’re on a budget or prefer to work out solo (there are so many free videos online!). You can also combine social time with exercise by finding a workout buddy and doing a class together (great for accountability), or using a fitness tracker and competing in “challenges,” or trying a sport or activity you’ve never done before (trampoline dodge-ball, anyone?). Besides “working out” though, you can make small, healthy decisions like getting off the bus one stop early, riding your bike to school or work, or taking the stairs whenever possible.
4. Know your cues for when you’re stressed
Got an eye twitch, a racing heart, or a stress rash? Ignoring these cues can lead to bigger problems, such as physical illness (high blood pressure), emotional issues (symptoms of anxiety or depression), and behavioural problems (social withdrawal or impulsive shopping or gambling). If you know when you’re likely to feel stressed you can develop coping mechanisms to help you deal with those situations. This could include learning to express your anger in a healthy way, saying no when you want to, managing your time well, or adding exercise to your routine as a stress reliever.
5. Create a good support network
These are especially important for those times when you need to take a break from the daily grind. A support network could be made up of family or friends, but also a counselor, a coach, members of a club or team, or anyone else who makes you feel supported. Remember, laughter can be a great stress reliever, so make time for people in your life who make you feel good. And the more organized you are – see point #1 – the more time you’ll have for them!
6. Get adequate sleep
For most people this means about eight uninterrupted hours a night. If you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, try avoiding sweet snacks and caffeine in the evening. You can also practise relaxation techniques before bed, such as taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music, reading a book (not studying), or practising meditation or prayer. And remember: darkness is needed to start the production of melatonin, which is our natural sleep aid. The light from a laptop or phone or TV will reduce melatonin production if you use these devices before bed, so have a cut-off time. If you’re someone who’s sensitive to light, you can also get blackout curtains to block those early morning rays.
7. Practise safer sex
Ask questions about your partners’ sexual histories and make sure you’ve been tested so you can protect yourself and your future partners (you can book an appointment with a doctor at Health Services for routine testing). Discuss birth control – there are a range of options out there, including the pill, patch, IUD, and Nuvaring. (Some brands of the pill are carried in Health Services for discounted rates – book an appointment with a doctor at Health Services to find out more.) Use condoms to prevent pregnancy and help protect you from sexually transmitted infections. Remember, condoms don’t work if they’re in your pocket or purse, so use them every time you have sex. (Condoms are available – for free! – in Health Services and many other locations around campus, so don’t let lack of access be the reason for not using one).
8. Focus on your breathing
When people are feeling angry or stressed their breathing often becomes short and shallow. When you focus on your breathing your muscles relax and your blood pressure lowers (it’s beneficial to do this even when you’re feeling good). Want to learn more? The Algonquin’s Ottawa campus offers Mindfulness Meditation drop-in sessions that take place on Wednesdays, as well as Clear Mind Meditation sessions several times a week. See the Student Support Services event calendar for dates and times. And click here for six breathing exercises you can start now to help you relax in 10 minutes or less.
9. Make healthy living decisions
These are the basics, but deserve repeating: Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth if you’ve touched communal objects (think grocery carts or door handles). Reduce or quit smoking (visit the Leave the Pack Behind website for information or talk to Health Services about programs available at Algonquin). Practise harm reduction with your substance use – this could be as simple as drinking water when you’re out partying, or not combining substances. Check out the Umbrella Project for more info about harm reduction. And please don’t google your symptoms – go talk to a nurse or doctor in Health Services about how you’re feeling and let them assist you.
10. Find time each day to do something for yourself
Think about what makes you happy and then book time for that activity into your day, just like you would any other appointment. This could be walking your dog, playing on a sports team, knitting a scarf – you name it. Remember to recognize and take pleasure in the small things, like that great catch you made during the game, or the fresh air in your lungs when you’re out for a walk. There’s a great quote that says: “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
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