Published August 18, 2006
For the first few months or weeks, the freedom is intoxicating. You can eat what you want, when you want—or not eat at all. You can sleep when you want, and where you want—or not sleep at all.
While college campuses have plenty of rules about your public and academic comportment, as an all-grown-up, of-legal-age college student, your private life perhaps for the first time is entirely your own.
Many first-time college students, however, soon find that the dramatic change in lifestyle they're experiencing can come with equally dramatic — and unexpected — results, not all of them positive. Kicking back and keeping it together do not have to be mutually exclusive goals. Think balance and common sense, and you can let the good times roll without sacrificing your well-being.
Here are some tips:
1. Squeeze in the Zzz's: It may seem a minor point, but experts say sleep deprivation is a major factor in the deterioration of students' mental and physical health. Lack of sleep can actually trigger episodes of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders, and can cause all sorts of physical ailments.
No one expects you to pass on such staples of the college experience as all-night cram sessions or parties, but try to be mindful of when your mind and body have been pushed passed their limit and give yourself a break.
2. Eat Right and Exercise: A well-nourished, fit body will give you the energy and strength to withstand the rigors of college life and stave off colds, flu and fatigue. Feeling well physically can also go a long way in helping you feel mentally alert and positive.
3. Be Prepared: Take the time to familiarize yourself with the services available for students at your school's health clinic and mental health or counseling center, as well as their hours of operations and policies. Also, make sure to bring a detailed medical history of yourself, all necessary insurance cards and information, and, if you take a prescription medication regularly, find out what you need to do to get your prescription refilled while away from your home doctor.
4. Take Your Meds: Many college students take the "new life, new me" approach when they start college and stop taking necessary medications—almost always to disastrous results. Whether you're on Ritalin or Insulin, or your condition is mental or physical, if you are taking a medication, do not go off your meds without a doctor's supervision.
5. Phone Home: The folks are forking over big bucks for you to be at college, they want nothing so much as for you to have a happy, healthy, successful experience. Keep mom and dad in the loop. They may be miles away, but they can still be the best support system around. They got you this far, afterall.
The Danger Zones
1. If Your Going to Drink, Do It Responsibly: You might be a legal adult, but at 18 it's still illegal for you to buy alcoholic beverages. Colleges are getting tougher on underage drinking -- the University of Oklahoma has banned alcohol from its campus, and has a zero-tolerance policy for violators -- and campus police are working with local law enforcement to crack down on the sale of alcohol to underage students.
Regardless of policies and laws, many students still are going to drink. They should know that the consequences of alcohol abuse — alcohol poisoning or dependency, driving while intoxicated, being the victim of an assault or sexual assault—can be tragic. Excessive drinking can also trigger mental conditions like depression, destroy relationships and cause a person to behave in ways they may seriously regret once they sober up.
While there is no downside to living a booze-free life, if the teetotaler approach is not a realistic option for you, think in terms of limits: limit the frequency and volume of your alcohol consumption, and limit yourself to never, ever getting behind the wheel of a car when you've been drinking.
2. Don't Do Drugs: When it comes to drug use, colleges reflect society: the law's the law. Get caught and you will be prosecuted, regardless of whether you're on campus or in a city park. In addition to it being against the law, FBI statistics show that students engaged in unlawful drug use stand a greater chance of being involved in crime, either as a victim or perpetrator. From a health standpoint, it will have grave consequences on your classroom performance.
3. If You're Going to Engage in Sexual Activities, Be Safe: From sexually transmitted diseases to unintended pregnancies, a night of passion can come with a hefty price tag. An adult sex life requires adult responsibility. Take the necessary precautions to avoid potentially devastating consequences, and if you think you may have contracted a disease or become pregnant, seek medical attention immediately.
4. Depression: College can be an intensely emotional experience. Classroom stress can be compounded by extreme peer and social pressures. Many students, especially those away from home for the first time, might not know where to turn for help. If you suspect you or a friend are feeling depressed, seek help at the campus counseling center. These centers are staffed with experienced and professional counselors who are trained to deal with the stresses of college. Don't feel as if you're the only one feeling down: statistics show 25 percent of college students visit their campus counseling center during their four years, most during the first year.
5. Abuse: If you believe you are the victim of physical or mental abuse, or if you feel that a relationship — be it romantic or even with a roommate — has put you in danger, get help, and get out.