How to prepare new college students to manage their health
As thousands of Iowans and Minnesotans head off to college this fall, one of the most important things needed isn’t on any shopping list. There are lots of new freedoms when entering college, and when it comes to creating strong routines and habits—especially healthy eating, exercise and sleep—it’s important to remember that what you learn now, can shape your health for years to come.
“College is a great place to gain more independence,” says Dr. Kristin Avery, provider at MercyOne Clear Lake Pediatric and Adolescent Care. “Sleep, physical activity and quality and quick meal ideas are great places to start forming habits.”
Make routines that work
Getting enough sleep helps you concentrate; it helps your body fight off illness and it supports mental health. Yet almost half of all college students say they get less than seven hours of nightly sleep and report feeling tired three to five days a week. Some tips to keep in mind:
• Get quality sleep with a daily routine.
• List favorite healthy, easy-to-make foods/snacks and get those at the dining hall or grocery store.
• Be active doing what you enjoy.
Read how to develop these routines without sacrificing the college experience.
Prioritize mental health
Approximately one third of college students surveyed who say they’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, say they were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression. To help prioritize your mental health:
• Choose your favorite strategies to use during times of stress.
• Look up your school’s mental health resources in advance.
• Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline anytime by dialing 988.
“It’s good to identify what works best for you when things get tough to make your toolkit stronger when it is needed,” says Dr. Avery. “Take the time now to recognize what works (and doesn’t) when you start to feel stress.”
Plan ahead before becoming sick
Schedule a visit with your primary care provider before heading off to school. Your provider plays an important role in helping you to establish healthy habits and routines when you leave for college. If you don’t have a primary care provider, take a short quiz to find a MercyOne provider in your college town matched perfectly with your needs.
In addition to knowing the resources offered at your college’s student health centers, make sure to become familiar with the urgent care and emergency departments near you and when to visit each.
Prepare to treat minor injuries and illnesses in your dorm with a good first-aid kit. Items to include:
• For illness: pain and fever relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) and a working thermometer.
• For wounds: antibiotic ointment, bandages, blister block, tweezers, elastic bandage wrap.
• For insect bites and other skin irritations: anti-itch cream.