The transition from second to third level education is exciting and potentially traumatic. Some people simply don’t grasp the enormity of the challenge and miss the opportunity that college presents. So don’t lose out, make the most of it.
It’s up to you now: How well you do at college depends on how well you want to do. You won’t have teachers annoying you looking for work. You won’t have parents checking to see if you’ve done your homework. If you accept that your college is treating you like an adult, you’ll know what’s expected of you. You’re not in college for anybody else’s benefit, just your own. So push yourself to excel – nobody else will.
Plan your work Exams months away? Submissions not required until Christmas? Don’t make the mistake of kicking back. Start planning your work now and tip away. Make time for study, schedule it and find someplace you enjoy doing it. Consider doing a little bit on those distant projects every day and, when submission time comes around, you’ll be the one with the smile on your face. Get a decent organiser, PDA or wallchart.
Make friends Easier said than done, but try and go out of your way to get friendly with people in your classes, the college staff, your neighbours, heck, everyone. While most of your fellow students will – rightly – have the ‘looking after number one’ attitude (see above), they will probably also be feeling a little nervous and insecure and eager to make new friends.
Take advantage of your student status You will probably be budgeting your finances for the first time, so use your student card to qualify for discounts in a surprising variety of places. Fashionable clothes shops offer discounts, as do some cinemas and restaurants. Chance your arm if you’re not sure. If researching something for a project, don’t be afraid to push your status as a student. People will want to help, or may feel sorry for you. Great!
Use your student union: The student union is a super source of useful information, whether times are good or bad. The union also organises social events, which are highly recommended. Social clubs, based around interests and hobbies are a great way to meet new people and broaden your circle of friends outside your classes. Why not volunteer to help out in your student union?
Get the balance right: The independence of being in college and the attraction of all the events and house parties is brilliant. Right? Yeah, but keep it in balance. Partying too hard is one of the key reasons for dropping out of college. If you find that you’re missing classes because you were out too late the night before, that should set alarm bells ringing.
Enjoy it! What you learn in college is unique in that, for the first time in your life, you’re increasing your knowledge in a subject area that you chose. Make the most out of this opportunity. Ask questions. Stimulate your brain. Put a smile on your face – the rest of your life starts now!
Conclusion Going to college is a time of amazingly exciting change. The more you put in, the more you get out. Push yourself to get involved, plan the work, set goals for yourself. With the right attitude, you won’t just graduate with a qualification, you’ll be a much better person. For useful information, including student rights, check out the website of the Union of Students in Ireland, www.usi.ie.
Mental health isn’t just about not being mental, it’s important for every person, every day of their lives. It includes such things as how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others and how we cope with the stresses of daily life. Enjoy good mental health by living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a realistic and positive view of yourself.
Self esteem: Take time out for yourself, however hectic your schedule. Relax, do nothing. Eat healthily, sleep well. Decide what you want out of life. Fill your mind with positives, I am, I can, I will. Remember that your body and brain are nothing short of miraculous and if you don’t feel good about yourself, how can you expect anybody else to?
Diet: What we eat has a major bearing on how we feel. Aim for a balanced diet with a rich variety of foods. Fruit and vegetables are essential, as are meat, fish, dairy products, bread, pasta and rice. Prepare fresh foods whenever possible and reduce dependence on convenience or junk foods. Drink plenty of water and reduce intake of caffeinated tea and coffee. Relax and enjoy your meals. Remember that eating should be a pleasurable experience.
Sleep: Sleep lets your body heal and recharge itself, both physically and mentally. While there is no ‘normal’ amount of sleep, most adults need 7 – 8 hours per night. Try to get into a routine by going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding caffeine or alcohol for four hours before bedtime and making your bedroom as cosy and comfortable as possible. A good night’s sleep is one of the easiest and best ways to improve your mental health.
Communication: Communicating with people around you is not only essential for your mental health, it’s also a critical part of the human experience. A smile, a greeting, a shared joke, these are the things that make life worth living. They also open the door to friendships and relationships. It’s natural to feel shy in social situations but, remember, other people feel the same! And don’t be afraid of silence either, many people’s favourite conversation topic is themselves, so ask an open question and let them off! Communication is also very important if you’re feeling down. Share the burden and you’ll immediately start to feel better about yourself.
Relationships: Feel good about yourself and feel good about others. They’re not all out to get you. Other people are on the same emotional rollercoaster called life as you. Be a good friend. Listen. Offer. Share.
Alcohol and Tobacco: Alcohol is ubiquitous in social situations but it’s not actually essential for a good night out. Watch out for the early warning signs of dependence on alcohol which include drinking every day, pouring vodka on your cornflakes and becoming irritable when you haven’t had a drink. Alcohol in moderation; especially red wine may be beneficial to your health, but excessive alcohol consumption ruins it. It is recommended that an adult male consumes no more than 21 units of alcohol per week, with females consuming no more than 14 units. A glass of wine or half pint of beer contains 1 unit of alcohol. Check out a useful alcohol consumption calculator but remember that it’s not a competition!
Tobacco is simply not good for you, never has been, never will be. Besides the risk of painful death from cancer, tobacco also makes you stink, makes your teeth and fingers go brown and increases your blood pressure. It also costs a fortune, with a pack-a-day smoker spending almost three grand a year to feed their habit. The best way to avoid nicotine addiction is to not start smoking. If you have started, then talk to your doctor or pharmacist about quitting – there are many effective aids on the market today.
Exercise and Relaxation: Exercise, even a 20 minute brisk walk, is good for you in so many ways. It will exercise your heart, boost lung function and stimulate the release of endorphins, natural feel-good drugs in your brain. Joining a sports team is also a great way to increase your social connections.
Relaxation is as critical as exercise for ongoing physical and mental health. Set some time aside for yourself every day, again 20 minutes would be a great start. Do nothing, enjoy a hobby, meditate, read, do whatever you want. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that every second of every day has to be used productively and effectively. Down that road lies madness and heart attack.
Conclusion: Everybody has their ups and downs. Without the downs, the ups wouldn’t feel so amazing. But if you’re consistently feeling down, you need to talk to somebody. Try your Student Union, who may be able to offer counselling. Talk to a friend or family member. Talk to your doctor. The Samaritans are always on hand to offer support and advice. Call 1850 60 90 90 for immediate assistance or look up their website: www.samaritans.org for information on local branches and other useful mental health advice.
There are two major issues that may arise from unsafe sex. Unwanted pregnancy, which is no fun at all, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which may cause discomfort, agony or death. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to practise safe sex.
Be prepared: If you are sexually active or just desperately want to be, always take a packet of condoms with you when going out. Heck, carry a condom at all times, as that fantasy about having sex with a stranger behind the frozen food section in your supermarket might happen tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
Be aware that sperm and eggs are designed to meet and form a baby. It only takes one sperm (out of an average 200 – 600 million per ejaculation!) to do the business and sperm can survive within the female vagina for up to three days, biding their time until the egg ripens. Be aware also that both semen and vaginal fluids can carry the HIV virus (which causes AIDS), as well as a whole range of nasty STIs, from herpes to syphilis. This also goes for blood and saliva. Be aware that women are more prone to transmitting and receiving infection while menstruating and that viruses can get into your body via cuts.
Be straight, discuss birth control with your partner before you have sex. Condoms can break or fall off, so it’s best to have a back-up method.
Use a condom properly: Latex condoms are the single best defence against both unwanted pregnancy and STIs. Guys – find a condom that fits you properly and take the time to read the instructions that come with your condoms. Always put the condom on before any genital-to-genital contact takes place, check it regularly during intercourse and never use a condom more than once. Condoms should be used for vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Stay sober avoid the use of alcohol or drugs before engaging in sex as these can lead to reduced inhibitions, losing control, taking stupid risks.
Monogamy is best, but… Staying faithful to one sexual partner is obviously the best way to reduce exposure to STIs, but you both need to be clear about this. Also, when you have sex with a person, you’re also having virtual sex with all their previous partners. Slow things down, talk things out. This is your life. Don’t risk it.
Conclusion: Unsafe sex is a bad idea on many levels but, luckily, there is free, non-judgmental and confidential treatment available in Ireland. See the list of service outlets at the Irish Family Planning Association’s site. The IFPA’s site also includes useful information on the many methods of contraception available and how to cope with an unplanned pregnancy.