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Seven Strategies for College Health and Safety

College freshman are ramping up to set sail in the new uncharted territory of independence. They are busy “friending” their future dorm mates on Facebook and Instagram, and color coordinating their bedding.

Independence is so exciting! Meanwhile, the parents are reluctantly pushing their babes out of the nest. They aren’t sure how their kids are going to get their laundry done, budget their money, get to bed on time, and balance homework and fun.

There are a lot of pressures the kids are facing in the wonderful world of college. Alcohol consumption is off the charts, sexual misconduct is rampant, drug use is expanding and casual sex fits in with all of that. I know this isn’t something any parent wants to hear, but it is reality and kids will make mistakes.

There are many books written about how to improve academics, however if you aren’t healthy mentally and physically it’s challenging to put the academic strategies in place. College success encompasses far more than being a good writer and test taker. Here are some important messages for the kids to help this huge transition from home to college a little easier, healthier and safer.

1. Get organized and manage your time efficiently

If students don’t take the time to make a plan and set some goals, precious time will be wasted and that could snowball into sleep deprivation, stress, a little stimulant abuse and maybe anxiety and depression. Organization is a huge component of health in college and prioritizing your time is not an easy task, especially in the media obsessed world we live in today.

  • Prioritize due dates and make a plan each week.

  • Be consistent about your study times and locations.

  • Make use of short, unscheduled time slots.

  • Take control over your phone; limit social media and turn off your device when you’re studying and in class.

2. Get your sleep

College deans have noted sleep as one of the biggest issues college students face. Aside from serious physical and mental health issues, our brains do not perform well when we are sleep deprived.

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule.

  • Agree on quiet hours with your roommates.

  • Turn your phone ringer off and set it aside.

  • Limit all stimulants including caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.

3. Pay attention to nutrition

Eating a poor diet can make us feel physically awful and decrease our energy, which makes combating stress a real challenge. It takes a lot of energy to be productive and face heavy loads of college multi-tasking! In addition, when we fall into bad eating habits, we gain weight and don’t feel good about how we look, which adds to our stress.

  • Eat small meals throughout the day, starting with a good breakfast.

  • Include healthy protein like lean meat, eggs, fish, nuts and low fat dairy.

  • Include healthy carbohydrates like fruit, veggies and whole grains.

  • Drink lots of water.

  • Avoid fried foods and cream sauces.

  • Limit sugary treats and drinks.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.

4. Make time for physical activity

Exercise helps to prevent disease, maintain a healthy weight, and is one of the best treatments available for improved mental health. According to the American Heart Association, exercise helps to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as contributing to higher levels of self-esteem and mental sharpness and improved memory. What college student couldn’t use a little dose of mental sharpness topped with a memory enhancer, drug free?

  • Find a workout buddy.

  • Shoot for about 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, five times a week.

  • Include both strength training and cardiovascular activity.

  • Learn your muscle groups and how to train them from a knowledgeable friend or fitness professional.

5. Be aware of the signs of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders

These issues are rampant and serious. If they are ignored, life can spiral out of control, having disastrous effects on our health! The more knowledge we have, the more tools we have to tackle the problem and get help. College is difficult enough when we are mentally and physically well. Addressing health issues when they crop up is imperative for college success and well-being. Don’t hesitate to get help for yourself or a friend from the campus health and counseling offices.

6. Practice safe sex if you haven’t chosen abstinence

You are sleeping with everybody your partner has ever slept with! Use a condom and protect yourself from all of those people! Some individuals are infected with sexually transmitted diseases that are lifelong, yet they have no symptoms. In doing my research for College Basic Training, I was shocked to find 16 sexually transmitted diseases on the Planned Parenthood website. Don’t forget how life changing an unplanned pregnancy is, and how devastating a sexually transmitted disease can be to your health and your intimate relationships.

7. Be safety smart

Assault on college campuses has reached record proportions. Students need to arm themselves with good decision-making skills along with awareness and self-defense preparedness.

  • Don’t walk alone at night.

  • Don’t get intoxicated.

  • Focus on your surroundings and not your gadgets.

  • Prepare yourself mentally on how you might handle being attacked through self-defense education.

  • Throw politeness out the window when it comes to a date taking it too far. No means No!

If you stay aware, listen to the voice of reason in your head, surround yourself with people who have positive behaviors, get support when you need it, make time for fun, stay on top of your responsibilities, and take care of your body, you WILL have an outstanding college experience. This unique time of learning is the beginning of the rest of your life, so savor every moment. A positive path creates a positive future.

Susan Jensen is the founder of Swan Fitness and Health Coaching. With a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota and Personal Fitness Trainer and Health Coach certifications from the American Council on Exercise, She recently published the book, College Basic Training: strengthen your mind and body to leap any college hurdle.

She’s passionate about helping young adults stay healthy and safe as they navigate from the security of their homes to the challenges of college life. The experiences of her two college-age kids and their friends inspired her to help young people strengthen their minds and bodies, leap unexpected hurdles, and develop new wisdom and self-respect. Her knowledge and expertise enable her to provide the essential tools for achieving a healthy and happy adulthood.

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