Chronic Illness & Higher Education: How to Stay Healthy and Maintain Your Grades

No doubt about it, college is stressful. Maybe you’re living on your own for the first time, or you might be trying to balance school and a job. Not matter the combination, it’s no secret that college puts a lot of pressure on its students in a number of different ways But when you combine college and a chronic illness — well, that’s a whole new level of stress. So how do you prioritize both your grades and your health?

Chronic Illness in Higher Education

Reach Out

When you’re trying to manage life as a college student and life with a chronic illness, the first thing you need to do is let your university know. By law, the university is required to provide necessary accommodations and the services you might need to support your academic success.

So, reach out to your university’s office of disability services to see what resources you might qualify for and how you can register with their office. Your confidentiality will be protected, but your professors will be notified of the accommodations you have been approved for and will be required to comply with them.  

At the same time, it will ensure you’ll receive the physician-recommended accommodations you might need to level the playing field between you and students who aren’t fighting the same battles you are, and you’ll be protected when you have to use them. Depending on what your particular needs are, this could include extended time on exams, note takers for class, the provision of audio books in the place of print texts, and even the opportunity to have lectures recorded when your health prevents you from attending class.

Once you’ve registered with your school’s disability services office, your professors will be notified of the accommodations you’re approved for prior to the beginning of class. However, they won’t be told what your condition is or any specific details regarding your health. It will be up to you to determine how much, if anything, you want to tell your professor.

Still, there’s absolutely no shame in having a chronic illness. And if you feel comfortable, then it’s recommended to let your professors know what you are contending with so that they will be better able to help you when you need it. 

There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and stating your needs. That’s true whether you’re talking about a spouse, a parent, a friend, a professor, or a school administrator. And the fact that you’re making college work while also managing your illness shows what kind of mettle you’re made of. You have nothing to prove!

Consider TeleHealth

Going off to college often means moving away from the healthcare providers that know your medical history, care providers who know you and whom you feel comfortable with. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go through the aggravation, and even the trauma, of finding a new medical team.

Read: 5 Tips To Help Cope With A Chronic Illness

Thanks to the wonders of telemedicine, you may well be able to continue “seeing” your regular doctors through secure video conferencing. Your doctor can even prescribe remote monitoring devices to keep track of your vitals, from your glucose levels to your blood pressure and heart rate. It’s even possible to have your vision tested and get your eyeglass or contact prescriptions renewed online! 

And if your campus is one of the many across the country that’s remaining virtual for at least part of the fall semester, you can still take advantage of telemedicine from the comfort of home. Telemedicine can ensure you’re still getting the healthcare you need, without risking exposure to the virus in a clinical setting. That’s going to keep you strong and well for those online classes of yours!

Make a Plan

One of the best things that you can do is begin the semester with a plan already in place for managing your studies while also taking excellent care of yourself. 

That includes creating a weekly study schedule and ensuring that your course load does not overwhelm your ability to manage your health. It’s better to graduate a bit later than to make yourself sick sick trying to complete your degree in 2 or 4 years.

It also means ensuring that you’re managing your stress by getting ample rest, along with gentle exercise. Spending a little time outside each day, breathing in the fresh air, enjoying the peace of nature, and getting your body moving is not just going to make you feel better, but it’s also going to keep your heart healthy and strong.

While you’re at it, you also need to have a menu in place to ensure you’re eating healthfully, rather than succumbing to the temptation of fast and tasty junk food at the end of a long day of classes. After all, the Freshman 15 isn’t good for anyone, but it can be especially harmful when you’re battling a chronic illness.

If you find that you need to work to make ends meet while you’re going to school, it’s a good idea to consider online work. There are a whole host of legitimate online jobs in nearly every industry that are perfect for college students. And with many of them, you can even make your own hours, which will allow you to take time off when you need to for the sake of your health.

The Takeaway

If you’re managing a chronic illness while also managing your life as a college student, you might sometimes feel as if you’ll never succeed. But it is possible to get that coveted degree without sacrificing your health. The key is to ensure that you have a strategy. It starts with reaching out for the support you need, even before you need it. And then, when times do get tough and you need help, it means using those resources you’re entitled to and not being afraid or ashamed to state your needs. It also involves having a strategy for success already laid out before the semester even begins, including a plan for practice extreme self-care, from ensuring you have consistent medical care and proper nutrition to making a manageable study schedule and lining up online work if needed.

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Article Author Details

Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.