Mathew Nokes, MD Mathew Nokes, MD

Twice a year we award an exemplary student the iVein® Health and Wellness Scholarship. Students must write an essay that promotes a practical approach to a healthy lifestyle in college and how these habits can be sustained over a lifetime.

Here is the winning essay for the Spring 2023 scholarship:

The world we live in is one largely ruled by principles of balance. Newton’s third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. All living organisms have mechanisms that tightly orchestrate complex physiological systems in search of homeostasis. Ecological food webs and chains remind us that every component making up the environment matters—large or small. It is to no surprise, then, that we humans also need balance in order to promote good health. The road to achieving said balance in our daily lives, however, is a lifelong journey. To improve and maintain one’s personal wellness is a holistic process that comes with countless challenges, many of which I encountered personally and through the experiences of others.

Like many college freshmen, that fateful August move-in day marked my first real taste of independence. Though liberating, I soon found the transition to be bittersweet, afraid that I had too much freedom. Suddenly, every decision was up to me and me alone. Do I go to the doctor’s office? To church? To the gym? No invisible hand guided mine toward the steamed vegetables and away from the colorful buffet of desserts in the cafeteria. Faced with so many choices, trial and error led me to a critical understanding: there are few “either/or” solutions in life. I was my happiest and healthiest self when I made a point of acknowledging my diverse needs and avoided both excess and deprivation. Previous research corroborates me on this point. A 2008 article proposing a model of lifestyle balance evidenced the importance of balancing biological needs with those of personal satisfaction (1). Equally important, the article also emphasizes that wellness is a multidimensional concept that changes over the span of our lives. Reflecting on this idea, I am reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, which uses a tiered triangle to describe various levels of human need— physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (2).

Applied to my own experience, most of the stress I dealt with in college came from allowing one category of need, or stressor, to overshadow others. On some days, I neglected my physical health for the sake of getting good grades. I would routinely skip meals, spend days without exercising, and average four or less hours of sleep a night—all unhealthy habits associated with poor mental health and overall well-being (3). In fact, evidence shows that sleep deprivation can alter the body’s glucose metabolism, which increases one’s risk of developing diabetes and experiencing unintentional weight gain (4). Adding on to my stress, I also struggled with attending to my physical needs while juggling my friendships, family obligations, and extracurriculars. However, I could not afford to disregard my social needs, which also play a key role in determining one’s health and mortality (5). Just as the body requires a careful balance of ions, minerals, and vitamins for healthy functioning, my physical and mental health improved exponentially once I reevaluated how I weighed my priorities. To better address all my needs, I started using my phone’s timer app to carve out different slots in my day for different activities. I allotted myself a certain amount of time for doing schoolwork and extracurriculars, cooking, exercising at home, and writing stories. Developing a better lifestyle balance also allowed me to focus more on my personal relationships and get more hours of sleep, which helped me better manage stress and increased my sense of wellness.

These lessons were echoed throughout the duration of my college experience, reaching a fever pitch during my junior year when I signed up to become a volunteer crisis counselor. I did not know what to expect on my first shift. My mind swelled with concerns about what lay ahead: anxiety, depression, bullying, homelessness—only a few of the infinite possible manifestations of the all-encompassing umbrella of crises. By the time my heart slowed its erratic thumping, I had already received my first message. Gradually, I overcame the steep learning curve. A few shifts in, a new insight sprang to life in my mind: even in the most devastating situations, balance still plays a vital role in coping. In my conversations, we operationalized depression as lifestyle imbalances—bridgeable distances between past loves and current realities—over and above neurotransmitter imbalances. Panic could be quelled by grounding: letting go of internal and external noise and letting your immediate senses guide you back to peace through meditation. The blow of hopelessness was softened by remembrances of pets, people, and passions overshadowed by brain chemistry. Of my hundreds of conversations, I had the most impact when I helped someone realize that small adjustments—such as going for walks, talking with loved ones, and practicing reflection—eventually build up into larger transformations in their lives.

Now a first-year medical school student, I still rely on these insights to help myself continue to work towards a balanced lifestyle. Despite my busy schedule, I stay active by walking around campus, fight the urge to order delivery by recreating simple online recipes, and aim not to study past midnight. However, this can also prove challenging at times, especially when my school-life balance is stretched thin. When thrown off course, I reflect on the lifestyle tweaks that will best restore my sense of harmony at the moment. As my body and mind change with time, my needs and priorities will always be evolving along with them.

Above all, I constantly remind myself that wellness is more than a healthy diet or exercise regimen. The factors contributing to personal wellbeing span across various dimensions of life, all of which come together to make us the complex people that we are. Though achieving balance within this complexity can be difficult, it is a goal worth continually striving for.

  1. Matuska, K. M., & Christiansen, C. H. (2008). A proposed model of lifestyle balance. Journal of Occupational Science, 15(1), 9-19.
  2. Mcleod, S. (2020, December 29). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from,attend%20to%20needs%20higher%20up.
  3. Wickham, S. R., Amarasekara, N. A., Bartonicek, A., & Conner, T. S. (2020). The big three health behaviors and mental health and well-being among young adults: a cross-sectional investigation of sleep, exercise, and diet. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 579205.
  4. Sharma, S., & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and metabolism: an overview. International journal of endocrinology, 2010.
  5. Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51(1_suppl), S54-S66.
Mathew Nokes, MD

Mathew Nokes, MD

Interventional Radiologist

About the author:

Dr. Matthew E. Nokes is fellowship trained in interventional radiology. His expertise includes treatment of disorders of the arterial and venous circulation and acute stroke intervention.