Stamina, Sanity and Spirituality: Extended Version

There is a meme floating around the Internet that presents three choices to the college student: good grades, a social life and enough sleep. It gives the reader instructions to “choose two.” Similar in nature, it seems, are the aspects of college students’ health: from spiritual, physical, mental and social health, it is as if we have to “choose two.” But is this really a choice we should have to make?

I recently had the opportunity to speak with a few faculty members who had some practical advice on how busy students can stay healthy without having to “choose two.” Here’s what they had to say:

Spiritual Health

Deb Varland, assistant professor of health, human performance and recreation at Spring Arbor University (SAU), believes that physical, mental, social and spiritual health are all interconnected, but that Christ is the most important part of a healthy life.

“A lot of wellness models will have physical fitness in the middle, but for me, having the cross at the center is really important,” said Varland.

To Mary Rick, nurse practitioner at SAU’s Holton Health and Wellness Center, a person’s spiritual life is paramount, as well. “A healthy life begins with a healthy spiritual life,” said Rick.

Ron Kopicko, SAU’s chaplain, emphasized the importance of a commitment to four different things in order for a person to grow spiritually: time management, people, the spiritual disciplines and fellowship. He also explained his definition of spiritual growth: “Spiritual growth is not just [about] what I believe, but it’s also understanding God’s relationship with me, my relationship with him and being consistent with those two things,” as well as “seeing myself the way God sees me and wanting him to see me as being faithful regardless of what I feel.”

Kopicko said that time management is also important, because spiritual growth does not simply happen on its own. Whether or not a person feels like it, it is essential to work at growing spiritually. “Success is predicated upon the cost that you pay when you do something when you don’t feel like it,” said Kopicko.

Furthermore, relationships with others are part of a healthy spiritual life. Jesus instructed his followers to “love one another even as I have loved you” (John 13:14, NASB). Kopicko suggested a person ask him or herself, “How can I contribute to what God is doing in this person’s life?”

Additionally, Kopicko recommended consistency in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reading the Bible.

Rick explained that what motivates her to meditate and read the Bible is the idea that “God delights in us.”

Finally, Kopicko used an example from Acts 2 to demonstrate what Christian fellowship should look like: the 3,000 people who put their faith in Christ “committed themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to prayer and to the breaking of bread and to sharing with anyone who was in need.”

Physical Health

Getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night—as Terry Darling, professor of psychology, recommended—is both desirable for virtually all college students and beneficial to their physical health.

Rick’s suggestion to help students fall asleep is practicing “good sleep hygiene,” or having a routine that consists of “gentle things,” like prayer, meditation, reading, listening to music and taking a hot shower.

Varland said that students should go to bed and get up at about the same time every day so as not to interfere with their bodies’ natural rhythms. In addition, she explained that, on top of a good night’s sleep, resting during the day is important. “We don’t often take time for Sabbath or even for daily rest, daily reflection and time spent with God,” said Varland.

In terms of diet, Rick recommended one that is rich in protein, fruits and vegetables, adding that students need to eat a good breakfast—such as eggs or a high-protein bar, perhaps with milk. Furthermore, students should always carry a snack—carrot or celery sticks work well, along with a source of protein, like peanuts or cheese—to keep their blood sugar stable.

According to Rick, we should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days per week. Ideally, this exercise will include both aerobics and weight training.

Varland recommended that students try new forms of exercise, such as intramural sports, walking the P-Loop by campus or using the indoor track or weight room and the cardio equipment in the gym.

“No one should leave Spring Arbor University without having a complete physical,” said Rick, noting that the health center offers physicals, including lab work, to both insured and uninsured students. She additionally emphasized the importance of students seeking medical attention when they need it.

Students can visit the health center for reasons other than physicals, too. For instance, the health center offers flu shots during the fall. Ultimately, in visiting the health center, students need not be afraid of getting in trouble; everything is confidential.

“Come to the health center for anything,” said Rick. “It is the best deal in health care you’ll get.

Mental Health

“The freshman year of college can create a lot of anxiety and stress for the new student,” said Carrie Dashner, director of counseling services.

Dashner and Varland both recommended getting acquainted with other people. Varland explained that talking with someone helps with stress. “It’s really important to develop relationships with someone that we feel secure with,” said Varland. Then, a “sharing of ideas” can occur that can help a person work through his or her problems.

Dashner suggested Core instructors, peer advisers, resident assistants/directors and Ron Kopicko as people that freshman students can feel comfortable talking to. “It is really important for the freshman student to feel connected and supported,” said Dashner.

Incoming students should know that confidential counseling—for any reason—is available to them through the health center. Rick noted that there can be a “stigma” attached to counseling, but added, “There should not be a stigma. It’s health-seeking behavior.”

Dashner said that, in seeking out counseling, “you are actually being proactive in dealing with your struggles, issues and feelings before they become unmanageable.”

Dashner also explained that students can stress less by practicing organizational skills. “I would recommend that all assignments, projects and exams be entered into a planner to stay organized,” she said. “Often, students find it helpful to color code their classes to distinguish between them. Staying organized, prioritizing, making lists and following a schedule will all help reduce anxiety and stress.”

Social Health

Bonnie Holiday, assistant professor of social work, provided some suggestions for practicing good social health.

First and foremost, “get involved in something.” It may be uncomfortable, but “it’s awkward and weird for everybody,” said Holiday, noting that it may take a while to really make friends, but that that’s okay and normal.

More important than being best friends with our roommates, said Holiday, “is that you can live together in harmony.”

For homesick students, Holiday recommended doing something nice for another person: “It usually makes us feel better when we do something nice for somebody else, which of course is biblical.”

“Do one thing every day that you enjoy,” Holiday advises students, “and do one thing every day that’s outside your comfort zone,” such as being intentional about meeting a new person.

“There’s no perfect freshman,” said Holiday, encouraging students to keep in mind that our experiences will be a little different from everyone else’s.

In the end, the components of spiritual, physical, mental and social health connect and overlap with each other. So, instead of asking whether we have to “pick two,” or even whether we can be healthy in all four areas simultaneously, perhaps the question should be, is it possible to have one type of health without the others?

By Dana Van-Doren

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