Back to School: Keeping Yourself Mentally and Physically Healthy

By Sarah Hooper, Manager Occupational Health Services; Nicole Pohida, Luke Forsberg, and Smruti Hariprakasha, Student Interns; photos by Richard Frederickson, Staff Photographer
Guy getting flu shot.

Getting a flu shot can help keep college students healthy as they head back to school this fall. 

As summer ends, many students will be heading off to college. While it may be an exciting time of year, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. College means new experiences and knowledge, but it can also mean stress and anxiety for some students. Not to mention, there’s always the potential for illness.

But none of this should take away from a student’s college experience. When it comes to combatting stress and anxiety, there are plenty of ways students can find relief, and there are always other resources they can take advantage of for help. Before a student attends college, there are several vaccinations they’re recommended (such as the flu vaccine) or are required (such as the meningitis vaccine) to receive.

Fighting Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety often manifest in the form of constant worrying, an inability to concentrate, and nervousness or fear towards circumstances or events. Anything from deadlines and important tests, to peer pressure and relationship problems can become a source of stress. What causes anxiety and to what degree varies widely, depending on the person and their interests.  

It’s estimated that about half of college students feel overwhelmed with anxiety—13 percent of those students have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. If a student is facing stress or anxiety, there are several methods they can use to find relief. For example:

  • Listening to music
  • Meditating
  • Practicing yoga
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Eating balanced meals
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising daily
  • And simply taking deep breaths

While those methods can help, one of the most effective ways to deal with anxiety is to talk to someone. A student should tell their family and friends why they’re overwhelmed, and turn to them for comfort and advice.

Should stress or anxiety continue or worsen, the student should seek a therapist or physician for professional help. Colleges often have health or wellness centers with counselors who are there to help.

To avoid stress and depression, students shouldn’t overschedule themselves. If there are too many tasks at hand and no time to relax, responsibilities can pile up, and completing the tasks can become an endless and hopeless cause.

Even something as simple as an attitude change can help relieve stress. A student can redefine success, root out any bad tendencies towards perfectionism, and be aware of being overly competitive. More tips for reducing stress can be found at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website.

Avoiding Illness

In addition to one’s mental health, it’s important not to neglect their physical health.

Many colleges require that students receive the meningococcal vaccine before attending, and for good reason.

The meningococcal disease (or meningitis) is a life-threatening disease that affects the meninges that cover the brain and the spinal cord. This disease is primarily caused by a viral, fungal, or bacterial infection.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), approximately 6,000 people suffer from pneumococcal meningitis (the most common form of meningitis, and the most serious form of bacterial meningitis) in the United States each year. About 1,000–2,600 suffer from meningococcal meningitis.

The viral disease is often less serious, and many people are able to recover without specific treatment. However, the bacterial disease is a serious illness that should be treated immediately after detection. Fungal meningitis is the rarest disease out of the three types, and is caused by fungus entering the blood stream or spinal cord.

Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, sensitivity to light, vomiting, seizures, and exhaustion.

Infants, adolescents, and young adults are most at-risk, meaning it’s especially important for those heading off to college to get the vaccine.

All children between the ages of 10 and 12 years old should receive the vaccine. Over time, protection against the disease decreases, and it’s recommended that teens receive a booster dose around 16 years of age.  

In addition to receiving the meningitis vaccine, students should thoroughly wash their hands before and after they enter a public setting, as well as refrain from sharing make-up and silverware.

And even though it’s not required, college students should also make sure to get an influenza vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly influenza vaccine between now and the end of October, if possible.

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory illness contracted through viruses that are spread when people cough, sneeze, or talk. Symptoms can last up to a week and include fever, sore throat, headaches, cough, aches, congestion, and fatigue.

Making healthy choices at school and at home can help prevent the flu, and prevent the spread of flu to others. Some tips to avoid catching the flu include:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after use and wash your hands. If a tissue is not available, cover your mouth and nose with your sleeve, not your hand.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school, especially when someone is ill.

College can be the best time of your life. Find ways to reduce your anxiety that work for you, and keep yourself healthy so you can enjoy your college years to the fullest. 

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