As summer winds down, a back-to-school frenzy ensues. For many, this means picking out lunch boxes and loading up backpacks. Others though, find themselves leaving home and living on their own — for the first time ever.
Back-to-school for college freshman is an adventure unlike any they’ve ever experienced. It’s the first time they’ll truly be on their own, independently figuring out what works for them and what doesn’t, and being thrown into these new situations amongst complete strangers.
“A lot of times, people aren’t focused on wellness when going to school,” Bernadette Melnyk, Ph.D., Chief Wellness Officer at The Ohio State University tells Parentology, “but wellness is so critical to do well academically in college.”
Melnyk helped create a different back-to-school checklist that focuses on wellness to prepare incoming freshmen mentally and physically for the year ahead. It includes establishing healthy habits, the importance of finding local healthcare and prioritizing mental health.
Establish A System
A great starting point – a planner for mapping various aspects of their lives – not merely class schedules. Some people like apps, others prefer hard-copy calendars. However approached taking control of one’s schedule should be easy, accountable and habitual. It should also be put into their daily routine right away, not halfway through the semester.
“By hitting all this stuff as the first step, really taking care of wellness, students are going to do better academically and are not going to feel so much stress,” Melnyk says.
Enact Healthy Habits
Ideally, freshmen will already have instilled healthy habits before heading into dorm life, but there are always ways to encourage this behavior. Just like students schedule classes each semester, Melnyk recommends doing the same for physical activity, mental health, nutritious eating and sleep. Go a step further and map out school gyms, healthy restaurants and dining halls.
As students can get bogged down by sitting most days, whether in class or studying, Melnyk encourages physical activity. “They’re coming to college to prove themselves,” she says. “They’ll sit and sit and sit for many hours a day, studying and not thinking about how chronic sitting affects energy levels.”
The gym doesn’t appeal? Consider pick-up sports or clubs with a physical aspect built-in, like intramural ultimate frisbee or even Quidditch (Yes, Harry Potter Quidditch).
Locate Student Health Care
Living away from home for the first time will present all sorts of challenges, including becoming sick. Key: finding a primary care provider at the university’s health center prior to this happening. Also, locate a local pharmacy. And for those students dealing with daily medications, consider setting an alarm as a reminder.
Make Mental Health A Priority
Not to be left off the checklist – mental health. “Unfortunately, we’re living in an era where suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people,” Melnyk says. “We have to do more than just deal with students in crisis. We have to prevent and intervene early and really take a mental health promotion and prevention approach.”
As stress, depression and anxiety become more apparent among college students, it’s important to take an active role in prevention, rather than when they’re already in crisis.
Students should seek professional help right away if feeling overwhelmed or if their moods are interfering with their day-to-day functioning. Every student should get connected with the school’s counseling center and know the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number — 1-800-273-8255.
Just as Melynk recommends scheduling in weekly physical activity, she says the same goes for mental health and setting aside time for destressing, whether with a yoga class, meditation app or a fun night of DIY spa treatments.
Getting socially connected is vital for mental health, as well. Luckily, most colleges have a full week of freshman orientation with copious amounts of clubs and organizations to join.
Support And Trust
Parents accustomed to monitoring their teens’ whereabouts and overall health all the time may have trouble letting them take this role over on their own. It’s okay to reach out and check-in. Talk to them, share the checklist, and stay connected while still fostering a sense of empowerment and independence.