Twice a year we award a 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.
This year’s fall scholarship was awarded to a student from San Diego Community College. Here is the winning essay:
Growing up in a lower income neighborhood in Oakland, California I was exposed to more liquor stores than grocery stores. I never stepped foot into a Whole Foods until I moved to San Diego for college. I remember leaving as soon as I read $5.99 for 4 stalks of asparagus in a jar of water. Being in college is a stressful and transformative time. You’re away from your family, coping with academic stress, juggling work and relationships, all while trying to incorporate a healthy lifestyle. As I was writing this scholarship essay, I realized how many of my daily habits originated from my years in college. It was a pivotal time of experimenting and implementing different healthy habits as I was growing into an adult. While achieving good health is a lifelong journey, the habits I learned in college completely transformed my life today.
The common perception that college students survive off cheap ramen and hot Cheetos is not only misleading but normalizes this unhealthy behavior for incoming students. Chronic illnesses like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression can be prevented by what we put at the end of our fork. Every meal is an opportunity to either feed health or feed health problems. Even though I couldn’t afford shopping at Whole Foods as a college student, I found ways to cut back on food expenses while still getting plenty of nutrients. You can find healthy options at Trader Joes or Walmart for half the cost as Whole Foods. Frozen mixed vegetables became a staple in my grocery list during college. It was cheap, nutrient dense, and quick to prepare when in a rush. I would often buy black beans as a source of protein which are also packed with antioxidants and cost 99 cents per can. Healthy options are available and affordable. It just requires creativity and some planning.
When I eat healthy, I feel more energetic, vibrant, and motivated. Although spending money on healthy foods can seem burdensome in the moment, I know it will save me thousands of dollars in healthcare costs in the long run. Sleep is another vital component of our health that often gets neglected especially during college. As someone who struggled with sleep deprived anxiety in college and even today, I learned different techniques to get into a deep relaxation state that mimics sleep. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, his number one tip is to get direct sunlight to your eyes in the morning. Exposure to direct light sets a biological timer in your body by producing melatonin. This signals your brain when it’s time for rest. In addition, he stresses the importance of avoiding bright light at night. I found turning off my notifications on my phone after 9:00 pm and setting it away from arm’s reach helpful in getting to sleep faster.
I experienced my first onset of mental health challenges in college. I had crippling anxiety and moderate depression that prevented me from being present for the people I love. I found two methods that help manage my mental health. Both are free and accessible anytime. The first one is conscious breathing. There is transformative power and neurobiological effects of deep conscious breathing. I typically breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale slowly through my nose. This bodily action immediately activates the parasympathetic nervous system which increases oxygen flow and lowers stress levels. The second method is journaling. I considered talking to a therapist when my anxiety was reaching its peak, but I unfortunately couldn’t afford a therapist at the time. Journaling is a safe, free, and accessible way to track your symptoms, process your fears, and identify negative behaviors. I’ve become my own therapist in a way by writing things I could never say to anyone. It’s played a major role in becoming more connected to my inner dialogue and identifying areas in my life I want to work on.
My final healthy habit I have cemented in college is a salient factor for my overall productivity today. As an incoming physical therapy student this fall, I have a deep passion for the science and therapeutic effects of exercise. Exercise has diverse effects on our brain and body. Exercising can physically change the structure and function of the brain by promoting the growth of new brain cells and prevent them from degeneration. It results in better mood, energy, memory, and attention. I personally exercise for the mental health benefits. The gym became my therapy throughout college. Every time I felt anxious about an upcoming exam or social event I would play my favorite album by Notorious B.I.G. and sweat out my stress at the gym. Although it can feel like a luxury in today’s busy world, I make it a priority because it has compounding positive effects on my overall productivity and mindset for the day.
Living a healthy lifestyle is an on-going process as our bodies continue to evolve with time. I am committed to living a healthy lifestyle so I can be present for others. Being healthy not only frees you from different disorders and diseases, but allows you to share meaningful moments with the people you love. It is within these moments we look back and cherish the most. Having almost lost my dad in 2017, I understand how impermanent life is and how time is truly the most important currency. As I embark on this next chapter of starting my doctor of physical therapy program back in my hometown of Oakland, California, I am excited and eager to educate and give back to the community that shaped me today.