College is full of exciting new things, from meeting people to living away from home. But, college can also be stressful as you try to develop new routines, live on a limited budget and manage responsibilities on your own. Keep the tips and information below in mind to stay safe and healthy in college.
Find a health care provider at your school or local health clinic for routine check-ups and when you have health concerns. Check-ups can help ensure you stay healthy and can help identify and correct any health concerns early.
Vaccinations help prevent diseases and save lives. Be sure to ask your health care provider about getting vaccinated for meningitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), tetanus, flu and other diseases.
Fight Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation
Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and depression. Students who are working or studying long hours may experience episodes of sleep deprivation. This can cause daytime sleepiness, sluggishness and difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Teens and young adults who do not get enough sleep are at risk for problems, such as automobile crashes; poor grades and school performance; depressed moods; and problems with friends, fellow students and adult relationships.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, colas, teas and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully.
- Have a good sleeping environment. Get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as noises or bright lights.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
- See your health provider if you continue to have trouble sleeping.
- Avoid pulling an all-nighter to study.
Get Physical Activity
Be active for at least 2½ hours a week. Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Include activities that raise your breathing and heart rates and that strengthen your muscles. Find something you enjoy, such as jogging or running, dancing or playing sports.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Fruits and vegetables are a natural source of energy and are one of the best eat-on-the-go foods. Be sure to eat regular healthy meals to help you maintain your energy level. Your eating habits may change once you’re in college, and you may gain or lose weight. Cafeterias, buffets and easy access to food 24 hours a day make it tempting to overeat or make unhealthy food choices. On the other hand, you may not eat enough because of stress or other reasons. If you are concerned about your weight, talk with your health care provider about how to lose or gain weight safely.
Eating disorders are serious medical problems. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are all types of eating disorders. Eating disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but can occur during childhood or later in adulthood.
- Talk with a nutritionist or dietician at a health clinic on campus or in the community about improving your diet.
- If you or someone you know is showing signs of an eating disorder, get help. Find a friend to go with you or offer to go with a friend to talk to a counselor or doctor who knows about eating disorders.
Maintain Mental Health
Everybody has the blues, feels anxious, loses interest in enjoyable activities or gets stressed sometimes, but when it continues for a long time or interferes with daily activities, it may be more serious. Stress is the body’s response to any demand or pressure. These demands are called stressors. When stressors in your life are constant, it can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps you deal with a tense situation, study harder for an exam or keep your focus during an important speech. However, if you cannot shake your worries and concerns, or if the feelings make you want to avoid everyday activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.
- Develop a support network of friends. Campus and extracurricular activities such as playing in a college band, joining a student club or writing for the school newspaper are great ways to meet new friends.
- If you have concerns over your study habits, ability to take tests or managing your coursework, talk with teachers, counselors, family and friends for advice and support.
- Stay active. Regular physical activity can improve one’s mood, relieve depression and increase feelings of well-being.
- Visit the health center and discuss concerns with a health professional. If the health professional advises treatment, follow instructions. Watch out for side effects, and attend follow-up appointments to assess improvement.
- If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a counselor or health provider. Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Avoid Substance Abuse
Some college students experience significant pressure to use alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, especially when trying to make friends and become part of a group. Drinking among college students and on college campuses is more pervasive and destructive than many people may realize. Studies show that four out of five college students drink alcohol. One in five students report three or more binge drinking episodes in the prior two weeks; binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more for women within a short period of time. Alcohol consumption among persons aged 12–20 years contributes to the three leading causes of death (unintentional injury, homicide and suicide) in this age group in the United States. It is associated with other health-risk behaviors, including high-risk sexual behavior, smoking and physical fighting.
- Work with campus leaders to increase the availability of healthy activities and safe places on campus to meet with friends.
- If you are concerned about your or someone else’s use of alcohol or other drugs, seek assistance from your parents, resident advisor, faculty advisor, student health/counseling services or health care provider.
- Avoid second-hand smoke. It is just as harmful as if you were smoking yourself.
- Don’t drive after drinking or using drugs.
Be Informed of Campus Security
Choosing a college or university is a major decision for students and their families. Along with academic, financial and geographic considerations, the issue of campus safety is a vital concern.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) is a federal mandate requiring all institutions of higher education (IHEs) that participate in the federal student financial aid program to disclose information about crime on their campuses and in the surrounding communities. The Clery Act affects virtually all public and private IHEs and is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education.
Have Healthy Relationships
Healthy relationships increase our self-esteem, improve mental and emotional health, and help us have fuller lives. Feeling scared, humiliated, pressured or controlled are all signs of an unhealthy relationship. Instead, you should feel loved, respected, and free to be yourself. Friends are an important source of support and advice. They play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
Sexual violence is a serious problem that affects millions of people every year. Sexual violence can have very harmful and lasting effects on victims, families and communities. Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than men. An estimated 20%-25% of women in college in the United States reported experiencing an attempted or a completed rape during college. The person responsible for the violence is typically male and usually someone known to the victim.
- Communication is essential in healthy relationships. Take time to talk with and listen to your friends and loved ones. Express your thoughts and feelings clearly and directly, without intentionally hurting or disrespecting others.
- Avoid relationships with those who drink heavily or use drugs, act aggressively or treat you disrespectfully.
- Lower your risk for sexual violence by trusting your gut. If anything in your relationship makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to someone you can trust, such as a parent, doctor, counselor, religious leader or teacher.
- If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence and needs help, contact the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or your local emergency service at 911.
Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections (STDs/STIs)
Sexually active adolescents (10- to 19-year-olds) and young adults (20- to 24-year-olds) are at higher risk for getting sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs). Women bear long term effects, including pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal scarring, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.
- If you are a female age 26 or younger, get an HPV vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer.
- If you are a sexually active female 25 years or younger, get tested every year for chlamydia and other STDs/STIs.
- If you are diagnosed with an STD/STI, notify your sex partners so that they also can be tested and receive treatment if necessary. If your sex partner is diagnosed with an STD/STI, it is important for you to be evaluated, tested and treated.
- The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
- Latex male and female condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of some sexually transmitted diseases.
Information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the “College Health and Safety” area of the CDC’s website for more information.