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 Spring scholarship was awarded to a student from the University of Colorado Denver. Here is the winning essay:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in understanding how people tick and how I might be able to help others. This interest led me to obtain my undergraduate degree in psychology and my first job post-college at Social and Health services in Washington state. While there, I worked with low-income people living in poverty and witnessed first-hand how difficult it was for folks to live in a way that promoted their health due to lack of resources, stress, knowledge, or healthcare coverage.
Since then, I’ve held a variety of leadership roles in the private sector working in various aspects of digital health. One of the first digital health companies I worked for was called “Free and Clear.” It was a little startup on a mission to help one person at a time quit using tobacco. In my tenure there, we helped over 1M people quit tobacco. The program, “Quit4Life,” lives on today, and is now owned by Optum Health. Next, I moved into weight loss digital health programs, at first, at another little startup called Retrofit out of Chicago. I served as the head of product and worked with the development teams to build the mobile app and program. On that team, we eventually reached recognition from the CDC as an effective program that helped to prevent type 2 diabetes. After all the work that went into that accomplishment, we all raised a glass to cheers this occasion.
After all of this life experience, I began to realize what it meant to live a healthy lifestyle over the long-term whether you are in college or in a stressful job or in need of public services. One must approach themselves with compassion and come to believe that their health is the most important thing in the world. After all, without your health you cannot do any of the things you plan to do. For example, for younger folks in college, it takes a recognition that if I “pull an all-nighter” without eating a proper dinner, I will likely perform worse on the exam than had I prioritized my well-being with a nutritious meal and a good night’s sleep. So, when your own health and wellbeing is prioritized as the first value, everything else seems to fall into place assuming you have the proper health coverage and knowledge about how to get care when you need it.
In addition to valuing your own health as your number one value, it takes the recognition that there is truly no distinction between mental health and physical health. They are fundamentally intertwined. For example, if you end up in the ER for chest pain and are told to take a medication and practice deep breathing my guess is that you will not follow through with that because of the focus on the physical symptoms vs. the underlying reasons for the symptoms in the first place. It takes recognizing and believing that your mental health is likely more important to how or if you practice a healthy lifestyle in the first place.
For college students today, I’d say managing stress is key in approaching your day-to-day health. To that end, eating a healthy diet, exercising, avoiding alcohol, and getting a full night rest are daily habits that should be incorporated. From first-hand experience, I know that students might need to talk to a health coach to help them establish these habits. These habits are not easy for anyone and they require daily effort. From there, it is recognizing that being healthy is a daily practice with good days and not so good days. Next, college students should get the support they need in truly helping them to effectively manage stress. This may sound trite but I think people (myself included) rarely manage stress effectively and need outside support to assist in breaking down what the stressors are so that there is relief. Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address mental health challenges larger than daily stress such as depression or anxiety which are rampant on college campuses. Folks that are depressed have a hard time taking any action let alone actions that prioritize themselves over all other things. So, each college student (and anyone really) needs to continually assess whether they might be suffering from depression or anxiety and take the steps needed to get help. This is easier said than done, so having a support network around you will help you to identify when you might need outside support.
In summary, I’d say that living a healthy lifestyle starts with having your basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy met (i.e. shelter, food) and then a recognition that you matter and that you are important in this world regardless of what you do or accomplish. This belief can help mitigate stress and propel you into the lovely world of living your best life.