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Health Mistakes that College Freshman Make

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


We all make mistakes as freshman: academic slips, social faux paus and even the occasional style misstep. Your move up to campus may very well be the biggest life transition you've made so far, and this can leave you vulnerable and gullible (18 is really young, after all.) As a freshman studying health education, I was able to observe a lot of health mistakes not only in myself, but also in those around me. While most of them might not be fatal, or even that harmful, they can certainly affect your quality of life. You want to be in the best health these four years of your life, so here are the mistakes I would avoid if I could do it all over again:

Not getting enough sleep

Okay, so this one is kind of really obvious, but it's so common, I think it needs to be revisited. Sleep is so vital for things like immune function and hormone regulation (more on that here), that it's really important to make a goal to sleep eight hours a night. My first semester freshman year my sleep schedule was all over the place, but second semester I really made it a point to go to bed earlier, especially nights before an early morning class (and I saw a massive improvement in my health and mood.)

Going to class when you're really sick

If you just have a minor cold, you can totally go to class (sure, your occasional sniffles might annoy the people sitting around you, but you'll still be better than the guy three rows over crunching on raw granola.) However, if you have strep, pneumonia or any kind of flu, it's best to stay home if you can. It's better for your physical and mental health, and you won't contribute to your university's overcrowded health center more than you have to.

Falling for fads

People who sell snake oil products when they know they don't work are my least favorite kind of people and unfortunately they are all over the place (I could easily go off for a whole post on this but I won't.) I can't name all the phony fad products out there (although pretty much any "miracle" wrap or essential oil falls into this category), but I can urge you to do your research! Usually a quick Google search should clear up any questions, but make sure to stick to reputable websites like WebMD (and certainly not any owned by the company in question!) If you find yourself really confused about how to stay healthy, I really recommend taking some basic health classes for your generals if you can. I was originally a health ed major and the nutrition class I took freshman year was one of the most informative classes I've ever taken (I can honestly say I use what I learned in it everyday: something I can't say about most of my generals!)

Being unsafe

A lot of the time we don't think about safety as being a part of our health, but it was a whole unit in one of my health classes last year. It makes sense though: if you are injured, the rest of your health often suffers as a result. While I'm not saying you need to baby-proof your dorm, you do need to be careful as you're out and about campus, and even in your dorm. While most people you meet will probably be nice and have good intentions (I hope they all do!), there are people out there that don't have your best interests in mind. The best way I've come up with to analyze your safety is to ask yourself the five W's (and one H):

Where am I going?

I like to think you're already smart enough to stay away from that skeezy frat house or club, but it's also important to think of physical danger. Are you going free-climbing or skiing on black diamond runs? Make sure you're prepared. My freshman year I went on a nine mile hike in the middle of the night to see the Northern Lights. While the people I was with were perfectly good people, there were plenty of natural hazards that really made that hike a bad idea. I could barely see, even with my headlamp, so I kept tripping on stuff and at one point my roommate and I got separated from the group. I also was poorly prepared, as I only brought a half-full water bottle and a cardigan (this was at high-altitudes in Northern Utah in the fall...I definitely needed a coat.) Looking back, going on that hike wasn't the worst idea I've ever had, but a little more organization and preparation from everyone in the group really would have made that hike a lot safer (and more fun for those of us freezing our limbs off.)

Even in your own dorm room, it's important to be safe. Lock your doors when you and your roommate(s) are both out and don't hesitate to use a laptop lock or lockbox if you feel it's necessary.

How am I getting there?

In the same vein as where you're going is how you're getting there. Are you walking to the student center after dark? Make sure you have your phone (you might also want to take a friend and/or some pepper spray.) Are you driving with a friend who is a notoriously bad driver? You might want to reconsider or have a back-up plan if they end up getting drunk or just staying later than you'd like (it's not a bad idea to have the Uber app or a number for a cab company in your contacts.) Are you taking the bus? Make sure you're familiar with the routes you need to take and bring a map if you're not familiar with the area (or have a screenshot ready on your phone.)

Who I am going with?

While I like to preach the buddy system (your friends will have your back in sketchy situations), there are some events that are awkward to bring a friend to. A date, for instance. If you've only met someone online, you should always meet in a public place (even if you've met in real life but don't feel entirely comfortable around them, it's always best to be safe.) If, at any point in your time with them, you feel unsafe, it's more than okay to leave (and don't ask them to take you home: call a friend or a taxi.) 

When will I be home?

While certain times may be statistically less safe to be out and about, I think it's more important to worry about when you're coming in than when you're going out. I know it's liberating not to have to report to Mom and Dad about when you'll be back, but it's still a good idea to let your roommate know when you expect to be back. Something along the lines of "If I'm not home by 2, do you mind calling to make sure I'm okay?" or even a broad "I never stay out past 3" at the beginning of the year to let them know what's normal for you. It may seem a bit awkward to ask, but any good roommate should care about your safety and might even worry about you if they don't know when to expect you home (I know I had some sleepless nights my freshman year when my roommate was out until sunrise!) It's also a nice gesture to offer to do the same when your roommate goes out.

What is involved?

A lot of people consider alcohol to be pivotal to the college experience and while that's definitely not the case (there are plenty of people who don't drink, or drink very little, so you never need to feel pressured to drink), there are risks to consider (and avoid) if you choose to drink in college. Most people know they shouldn't drink and drive, but not everyone is aware of other things to watch out for. Even if you don't drink, you might have roommates and friends that do, so it's good to be informed.

Heavy drinking is one of the top predicting factors for sexual assault in college (according to the Washington Post) and one study showed 80 percent of sexual assaults in college involved alcohol (Slate.) At my university a large number of sexual assaults went unreported because the girls who were drinking were underage and didn't want to get in trouble (as it turns out, in Utah at least, you can't get in trouble for underage drinking when reporting a sexual assault.) While the victims of sexual assault are never to blame (your decision-making skills are impaired when you're drunk so you can't even give consent), it is an extremely traumatizing experience, both physically and emotionally, that we as women, unforunately, have to be aware of. I'm not into the party scene and personally don't drink, so I don't have a ton of advice in this arena, but this site has some great tips for staying safe when drinking (although I wouldn't personally suggest substituting marijauana for alcohol.)

There's also the risk of having your drink spiked with other substances, including date rape drugs. No matter if you're drinking a rum and Coke, or just a Coke, always get your drink yourself and don't leave it unattended (if you do leave it on accident, get a new drink.)

Finally, know the signs of alcohol poisoning. This is a surprisingly common condition and usually very treatable, but can also result in dire consequences. Watch out for any of your friends that might be drinking and don't let them just "sleep it off."

Why should or shouldn't I be worried?

This might seem like a weird question, but I really encourage you to examine how comfortable you are with a situation. I learned a lot of things my freshman year, but one of the biggest was to trust my gut. If I felt nervous about a situation, it often turned out to be a bad situation or I just didn't enjoy myself because I was on edge the whole time. I'm not saying you should never step out of your comfort zone, but if that guy in your human development class gives you the creeps, you have ever right to say "no" when he asks you out. If you do choose to go into a situation that you're not fully comfortable with, I think it's a good idea to have an excuse to back out ready. If you're alone, you can pull the class tv move and have your friend call you with "an emergency." If you're with someone, prepare a phrase ahead of time to let the other one know you're uncomfortable like "Dominos is about to close" (which, in my humble opinion, is always a valid reason to get going!)

If you'll be an incoming freshman this fall, let me know what other college posts you'd like to see! I'll be doing a bunch this year, especially in the summer!

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