With all-night study sessions, the stress of exams, (dreaded) group projects, and a changing schedule, college gives students a lot to juggle! Students who also experience chronic health issues, such as hypothyroidism, have even more on their plates.
Combine the pressures of college with the demands of managing an illness, and it's easy to risk burnout. If your disease flares up, it will affect your ability to do well in school. If you begin doing worse in school, that could increase your stress and impact your health habits, causing your symptoms to become even more severe.
These tips help you avoid that negative cycle, so you can finish college without your hypothyroidism getting worse or impacting your grades.
Find a good doctor and pharmacy near campus
Many students go to college away from home or have different insurance while they're in school. Check out which doctors are available in your network and your area, and establish care with one that you trust, making sure they understand your medical history. That way, if your hypothyroidism symptoms change, you won't have to travel back home or rush to get a last-minute appointment with someone you've never met.
Also, find a local pharmacy and have any prescriptions transferred there. You don't want to find yourself scrambling for refills or having to go without medication for a while because you're too busy or realize mid-semester you're running out of meds. Skipping medication is a sure-fire way to throw your hypothyroidism out of whack.
There are many free services to find the best self-pay price for your medication in your area or by mail order like SingleCare and GoodRx.
Eat healthy foods and don't skip meals
Both weight gain and sluggishness are symptoms of hypothyroidism, which means maintaining a balanced diet is essential. Eat frequently enough that you keep your energy up throughout the day. This way you are alert in class and can adequately attend to your studies. If you are one of the 45% of college students who skip meals for financial reasons, seek out on-campus resources to see what free or lower-cost meals are available. Many schools have resources like this available.
To keep your body properly nourished, eat more of these foods:
- Plant-based foods - especially leafy greens and berries
- Nuts and seeds
- Chicken or turkey
- Olive oil or coconut oil
- Herbs and spices
- Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines
Sugar and fat has been linked to impaired memory, so try to avoid these foods:
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Red meat
- Fried foods
Take movement breaks
Regular physical exercise has a huge benefit on cognitive function by improving brain plasticity - the brain's ability to change and adapt.
Almost all colleges and universities have free fitness facilities available to students, so you can get your sweat on without breaking the bank. Aim for 30+ minutes, three to five times per week, and try out different types of exercise to find what you enjoy the most. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you'll stick with it.
At-home fitness streaming apps are also an excellent way to fit a workout into your schedule. Many offer free trials so you can shop around if you're on a student budget.
Find time for healthy relaxation
Stress can affect endocrine function and increases symptoms. College students face increased stress, so it's crucial to incorporate healthy relaxation into your routine all semester long. (And, despite what your classmates might be doing to relax, looking at your phone or drinking alcohol don't count as healthy relaxation.)
Healthy relaxation might include meditating, taking a walk through nature, painting watercolors, socializing with friends, or scheduling a massage. Relaxing looks different for everyone. What you do to relax isn't important, so long as you genuinely feel relaxed. Give your body a much-needed break from the daily tension experienced by most students.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
Up to 70% of college students are sleep-deprived, so this one is clearly hard for many college students. If your class schedule has you starting at different times each day, it may be tempting to wake up at different times. Plus, who doesn't like staying out late on the weekend!?
Getting a good (or bad) night of sleep affects everything from how your body processes food to how it regulates blood sugar, remembers information, controls inflammation, and more. The thyroid functions best when your body is well-rested.
So, for your health, try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every night, aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Also, monitor your caffeine and alcohol intake, which can disrupt sleep architecture, causing restless sleep. Consistent, quality sleep will keep your stress levels down and your energy up.
Stay organized - mentally and physically
Keep both your mental and physical space organized to avoid flare-ups or alleviate symptoms. Research shows that a cluttered space means a distracted or unfocused mind, which is part of the cognitive impairment that is "brain fog." Give yourself space to think more clearly by tidying up your physical space regularly.
Keep yourself organized mentally, too. Manually writing down your to-do list, schedule, and lecture notes help to commit the information to memory. This organization may also keep your workload organized throughout the semester. Research shows that procrastinators report lower stress and less illness than non-procrastinators early in the semester. Procrastinators then report higher stress and more illness (not to mention, lower grades) later on.
Studies suggest that symptom flare-ups are commonly the result of physical, mental, or emotional stress on the body.
Use relevant campus resources
All higher education institutions must legally comply with the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act. Even if you don't view hypothyroidism as a disability, you are covered by the ADA if your illness affects your ability to attend class or complete work. Work with your school's disability office if you need to negotiate for extended deadlines, or take a medical leave.
Most universities have a counseling center that provides one-on-one therapy to students in need. Don't hesitate to take advantage of this resource if you need help with the stress of managing your illness, your studies, or both.