Staying Healthy in College

build karen latimerYesterday, I was part of a two person panel on BuildNYC to discuss college health. The platform is very casual, in front of a live audience. The other expert weighing in was John Fredrickson, a social worker at NYU’s student health center. We had a great time, our moderator, Matt Forte, kept things moving and interesting, and John had some great tips about mental wellness in college. As always happens after one of these engagements, I left feeling there was so much more to say.

In addition to seeing patients, I am now coaching on wellness to individuals and groups. With Jocelyn Sokol, a good friend and life coach, I recently hosted some discussions with rising college freshmen about their concerns with this major transition. Those, combined with my medical experience and my coaching training, have left me with a lot to say to Madelyn, my oldest child, before she leaves for college in a couple weeks. Poor kid. But, I think we should spend at least as much time talking about this as we do about her room decor.

Perhaps you can find some useful tips and suggestions in the following advice. It is just a quick overview, but may serve to help you with some talking points.

On mental health:

Yes, studies show increasing numbers of college students have an anxiety or depressive disorder. This doesn’t have to be you.

  • Manage your expectations. College will not be perfect and you can and will handle any obstacles that come your way.
  • Put down your phone. Do not allow your tech and social media to hijack your experiences.
  • Maintain the relationships with the people with whom you can be honest and open.
  • Don’t wait to get help.
  • Be cognizant of your stress level and take active steps to manage it.
    • Time management is key.
    • Make health and wellbeing one of your priorities.
    • Exercise. Find something to do you enjoy. Play is important.
    • Try meditation. Download an app and gift yourself 10 minutes a day.
    • Focus on nutrition, not calories.
    • Sleep.
    • Be kinder to yourself.

On physical health:

College is a petri dish. Living in close quarters breeds germs and sickness. Your mom will not be cleaning for you. Drinking games are an infectious disease doctor’s nightmare. Because peers will be coming from far away places, you will be exposed to new viruses and illnesses your immune system has never seen before, and therefore cannot easily handle. Food services are similar to those on a cruise ship, so food-borne illnesses are common. Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, especially in your age group (15-24.) Couple all this with increased stress, decreased sleep, poor nutrition, drugs (please, please, please just say no) and alcohol, and your immune system is going to be tested as it has never been tested before.

  • Be proactive
    • Get all your vaccinations. Strongly consider “optional” vaccines like the Meningitis B vaccine and the flu shot. Talk with your doctor.
    • Know your medical history, family medical history, allergies and insurance information. Have these all written in an easily accessible place.
    • Know the health services on campus as well as the nearest urgent care and emergency room.
    • Take a small medical kit including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream, anti-bacterial cream, bandaids and bandages.
    • Keep your area clean. Pack cleaning supplies and use them.
    • Avoid sharing drinks. (I do know the rules of beer pong … sorry.)
    • Wash your hands.
    • If you are sexually active, bring condoms. The pill will not protect you or your partner from getting an STD.
  • Help your immune system
    • Limit junk food and sugar.
    • Eat fruits and vegetables every day.
    • Drink a lot of water.
    • Prioritize sleep.
    • Manage stress. (see above)
    • Get outside.
  • Know the signs of illness and get help or intervene as soon as you can.
    • These signal you need to take better care of yourself:
      • weight gain or weight loss
      • gastrointestinal problems
      • fatigue
      • feeling overwhelmed
      • mood swings
      • hair loss
      • skin breakouts
    • The should prompt immediate attention:
      • fever
      • prolonged vomiting and/or diarrhea
      • extreme fatigue
      • feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or others
      • widespread rash
      • severe headache
      • binge or daily drinking
      • drug use
      • being in an abusive relationship
  • Pay attention to safety:
    • Travel in groups.
    • Don’t engage in risky behaviors. If you drink, know your limits.
    • Take precaution against accidents.
    • Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, get out.
    • Make a plan for leaving parties with friends.

Also, have so much fun;)
Love, Mom

If you have any questions or want to learn more about prepping for a healthy college career, email me with the subject line “College Wellness.”

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.