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The Michigan Daily > Columns

Prioritize your health

October 19, 2017

Students in high school dream and breathe every waking moment about going away to college. In high school, students can feel stuck in a rut: same friends, same teachers, same homework, same pressure from peers to get good grades and from parents to ace ACT or SAT, same competition from seemingly every student to get into the top schools. But in the distance, there is that exciting college scene, where we can go out, hang out, hook up, experiment with drugs and alcohol — all without any supervision, no parents to be accountable to. 

For freshman, the world is wide open: We can take classes we think we will enjoy, focus on studies and a possible major we think will fit, find relief from the pressure to ace the ACT or SAT and are excited about participating in a social scene on steroids, especially in the fall. It is heaven on Earth! Of course, students soon realize that the course load of “only” four classes is four times more than their eight classes in high school, and homework can bury us. College provides students with an immersive experience by living at the place we learn, but with that comes many challenges between balancing school, extracurriculars and social lives.

And after game day and studying 24/7 for weeks on end, it happens: We get sick. Our parents are not here to tell us to get extra rest. We think we can push through what seems like a minor cold and ride it out if we just get a little extra sleep and leave the Thursday party at 11 p.m. instead of 2 a.m. Sometimes that works. Other times it doesn’t. As students at a top public university, the pressure of making a grade, making it to the game and making great friends often compromises our ability to focus on the most important factor of our existence: our health.

Important practices that were second nature to us when we lived with our parents can often seem like things of the past when it comes to coping with stress. We often think that if we stay up to finish the essay, we will be less stressed because we will get it done. But what if getting it done that night meant getting even sicker? At home, maybe our parents will remind us to get that extra sleep. But in college? All bets are off.

Studies show that sleep has a tremendous impact on learning. When we do not get enough sleep, we are drowsy in lecture the next day and we don’t retain the full capacity of information that we could when getting the recommended amount of rest. This lack of sleep affects our immune system, which is essential in college. Think about all the doorknobs, tables, elevator buttons and water fountain handles we press in a day. And a weaker immune system makes one even more susceptible to getting sick.

Lots of times, I forget to eat. Though it is not clear how many meals diet experts recommend, unless we take proper measures to eat healthy foods and satisfy our hunger, there are clear health risks down the line. But when our days are packed with classes, interviews, talks, meet-ups and office hours, it can be hard to remember that we need to sit down and eat a full meal, not just a venti iced coffee. It is common for students to joke about how little they have eaten in a day, how few hours of sleep they got the night before and how many cups of coffee they’ve had in the last hour. While it might seem comical on the surface, these subtle habits of placing academic and social activities before our health are the reasons we get sick.

In many big lecture classes at the University of Michigan, iClicker points count as participation in class and can have a large impact in students’ final grades. The competitiveness on campus accompanied by the rigor of the University makes students think that feeling unwell isn’t a valid excuse to miss lecture. Additionally, many upper level classes are smaller in size, which makes it obvious if someone is not there. Students place so much pressure on their commitment to the course that they neglect their body and their classmates by coming to class contagious.

Transitioning from high school life to a college campus is stressful for almost every student. Figuring out which school to attend, where to do homework, who to hang out with and go out with seem like trivial things for someone to worry about, but are legitimate problems lots of first year students face. Successfully juggling all the social and academic elements of college students need to succeed can be hard, and this excessive stress can lead to not focusing on other important factors, like our health.

As students, we need to realize that the only body we have in this life is the one that we are currently living in. Taking care of ourselves and our bodies are much more important than cramming all night for a midterm to try to get that extra grade boost; one that you may not even see and won’t matter much in the long run if we haven’t taken care of ourselves. The choices we make in response to stress hinder our ability to take care of ourselves physically, and we end up paying the price with a stuffy nose or a scratchy throat. Learning to take full responsibility for the decisions we make as students at the University that will affect our mind, body and health is essential to being successful and making it out of here alive.

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