While for many students their medical issues never get more serious than having to write an occasional essay about drugs, there is no doubt that college is the time when many people run into serious health issues, often for the first time in their lives. This is further exacerbated by the fact that for many people it is also the first time they operate more or less independently from their families. Add these two factors, and you get an excellent environment for the proliferation of all kinds of health problems. So what are the most common of them, and what can you do to avoid them?
1. Weight Gain
Everybody heard about “the freshman 15”, i.e., the 15 pounds freshmen tend to gain over the first year in college. While the exact figures are debatable, multiple studies show that it is an issue, with about two-thirds of first-year college students gaining a significant amount of weight and having a weight gain that is greater than in the average population. It is important because the habits you acquire in college often stay with you for the duration of your life. If, for example, you get used to eating fast food while leading a sedentary lifestyle, you have all the chances of sticking to these habits for many years later on. And while getting rid of extra pounds is relatively easy when you are in your teens or twenties, later on, it has all the chances of turning into a major problem.
Strategies to deal with this issue are more or less obvious. Avoid eating fast food. Maintain a regular lifestyle. Get enough sleep. Exercise (join a college team for some sports for extra motivation). Cook your own meals and keep track of what you eat.
2. Anxiety and Depression
Feeling sad or anxious from time to time is a natural part of life, and college, with the many changes it brings to one’s life, certainly gives plenty of reasons to experience such feelings. However, sometimes you encounter something more significant than just feeling stressed or anxious. You have to learn how to tell the difference between normal sadness and something greater, something that starts to have a major impact on your life. Depression is more than just feeling down – this condition permeates everything and makes it difficult to do even the most basic things. It prevents you from living your life, makes it impossible to fulfill your duties, and, in extreme cases, can lead to self-harm and suicide. If you feel that this is what you experience, you should look for help immediately. Sometimes therapy is enough to deal with it, but in more difficult cases you may be prescribed drugs to compensate for the chemical imbalance depression creates in your brain.
Huge workloads and general disruptions in the daily routines most students experience when they enter college can make havoc on their sleep schedules. And sleep schedules, in turn, can significantly influence their quality of life. If you ask your average student to write an essay about one major thing college brought in his/her life, the topic of most of their writing will probably be insomnia. According to multiple studies, most students start experiencing some sort of sleep problems as they enter college, usually in the form of having trouble falling asleep at night and staying awake during the day. This influences not just their academic performance, but also their general well-being and health, as sleep is one of the most important prerequisites for normal functioning.
It may be hard to avoid it, especially if you tend to be high-strung in your dealings with stressful events, but some things you may still do. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Avoid using sleeping pills – they may help a bit in the short term, but they are also a surefire way to ruin your sleep cycles in the long term. Get enough exercise, preferably in the sun during the day – the more sun you get, the more melatonin your body produces, the easier you fall asleep at night. Avoid sitting in front of a screen of your computer or other electronic devices for a few hours before going to sleep.
4. Alcohol and Drug Abuse
While most students come to college already having some sort of experience with alcohol, certain specifics of the college environment (such as easy availability of alcohol, lack of supervision from parents, social pressures, etc.) can encourage students, especially freshmen, to consume much greater amounts of it than they are used to. This, in turn, leads to all sorts of short- and long-term health problems. This can also be the first time many people have a real chance of trying out illegal drugs, whose effects can be much worse.
It is hard to give any surefire recipe against these sorts of problems – you simply have to be sensible and reasonable. Don’t drink more than you are comfortable with. Don’t drink to fit in the crowd. Don’t consume illegal drugs, even if you are offered to simply sample them. All in all, it just boils down to not doing obviously stupid things.
5. Sexual Health
While many students enter college already having some sort of sexual experience, the nature of this new environment, newly-found independence, and lack of supervision commonly combined with often insufficient relevant knowledge lead to multiple negative health outcomes like unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Again, it is hard to give any specific advice other than not to do anything you would probably regret later on.
As you can see, college years bring all kinds of health concerns with them, and if you want this period of your life to be a positive experience for you, you have to prepare accordingly and be ready to make your own decisions, without relying on others to help you out. Keep track of the dangers listed here, and you will probably be alright.