Robert Hsu
The Casual Observer

Credit: Robert Hsu

During my first semester at Penn, the most physically demanding activity I did was either trying to scoop rock-hard ice cream at Hill or sprint from Fisher-Bennett Hall to Claire M. Fagin Hall with a 20-pound backpack.

If you think I’m kidding, I’m not. This has probably been one of the most challenging aspects of college: finding time to care for myself when there are countless pages to read in my textbooks, meetings to attend, emails to send and friends to see.

I vividly remember cutting my meals to 20 minutes in order to maximize the time I’d have to read my biology textbook or to send an extra email. I remember feeling bad for the students chugging Red Bull in Huntsman Hall to last a couple extra hours only to realize that I too couldn’t stop buying the $1 Wolfgang Puck chai tea from the MBA Café to keep myself awake. I remember all the times when I told friends I couldn’t hang out or eat dinner with them because “I didn’t have time.”

In hindsight, I did have time. But I didn’t think it was important to make time to relax, catch up with friends, exercise and sleep. At our age, it is easy to forget about the long-term effects of our actions since we are so fixated on the short-term: grades, internships, jobs and graduate school.

“When we’re young, we feel invincible. It is hard to imagine that you would get hurt by staying up late, or by not eating well, or by working too much, or partying too much,” Sandi Herman, heath and wellness educator at Student Health Services, wrote in an email.

“But, over time, your body and your mind feel the effect, and eventually the neglect takes its toll,” added Herman, who created the “Practice Self-Care” campaign.

In the end, my habits did take their toll. I was unhappy, but I couldn’t figure out why. I gained 10 pounds by the end of first semester and spent nearly all of my summer savings on late night Wawa runs for food that would keep me going at night.

Of course the stress we endure is an inescapable part of life, but we can change the way we deal with it by putting ourselves first, even if it means putting off reading or not sending a few emails. In the end, without a healthy heart, body and mind, we won’t have those extra years to travel the world, be able to savor our time with our loved ones and soak up new knowledge like sponges.

College freshman Josh Bryer shared with me how he takes care of himself: “I schedule my friends every day for lunch and dinner. It allows me to eat properly and catch up with a friend at the same time, which can really help on a stressful day.”

This semester, I promised myself I’d make small changes for the sake of my physical, emotional and mental health.

Instead of cutting off random conversations with my friends while we worked away in our Group Study Room, I let them happen — even if it meant doing 30 minutes less of my writing seminar homework.

Instead of leaving dinner abruptly at my planned time, I stayed and listened to my friend talk about a new love interest.

Instead of staying up to read another chapter of my chemistry textbook, I watched an episode of “Family Guy” to have a good laugh before going to bed early.

Instead of sitting around on a Thursday afternoon, I went on a run along the Schuylkill River.

In an environment where we’re taught to take care of GPA and job prospects, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves.

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