Heading off to college, whether you’re going across the country, across the state or staying close to your home, is a time of independence. The habits you make during this time can set up your health and wellness for years to come. Here are a few small ways you can set yourself up for success in college and in adulthood.
Take stock of your health up until now
Before heading off to college — if you haven’t already – consider transitioning from your pediatrician to either a family medicine or internal medicine provider. Learn more about the differences between a family medicine or internal medicine provider to decide which would be the best for your care.
“It’s recommended to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider for a wellness visit or visit to establish care,” says Laura Bowshier, MD, a family medicine provider at MercyOne Waukee Family Medicine. “If you have more chronic health conditions present or several medications, you might consider a final visit for a summary letter or comprehensive note to take with you to your new provider.”
Whether you’re going in for a final visit or an introductory visit, make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations, especially against meningitis and HPV.
“We recommend all patients receive the HPV vaccine, both men and women,” says Dr. Bowshier. “The HPV vaccine is more effective when given at a younger age and helps greatly to decrease the risk of cancer.”
Make routines that work for you
There are lots of new freedoms when entering college, but when it comes to creating strong routines and habits – especially healthy eating, exercise and sleep – it’s important to remember that what you learn now, can shape your health for years to come.
“College is a great place to gain more independence,” says Dr. Bowshier. “Sleep, physical activity and quality and quick meal ideas are great places to start forming habits.”
Sleep has important benefits for energy, concentration, the immune system, mental health and metabolism.
“Making it a point to get regular quality sleep and to choose healthy sleep habits will help grades and performance in activities, as well as make one healthier and happier along the way,” says Dr. Bowshier.
Helpful habits to work towards include taking a break from your phone for 30-60 minutes before bed and not scrolling while laying down, avoiding caffeine after midafternoon, and trying for a consistent sleep schedule no matter the day.
We all know we need to eat our fruits and vegetables, but it can feel difficult to reach for dark leafy greens in a dining hall.
“Think about what you like, what is easy to buy/keep, and healthy, quick meal ideas to prepare before heading off to school,” says Dr. Bowshier. “Find some good, easy protein sources (eggs, peanut butter, frozen cooked chicken breasts, nuts) as well as planning out healthy and easy snack options is key.”
Remember, none of this has to be fancy but having a running idea list on your phone available when visiting the grocery store or quick mart makes decision making easier!
Regular physical activity has great benefits for physical and mental health. As you transition from organized athletics in high school to more independent activities in college, making a point to find ways of continuing to be active is important. Knowing what activities are enjoyed and what a campus may have to offer is a good first step.
Prioritize your mental health
Any major (or minor) life change can challenge your mental health. There will always be bumps in the road and planning for and understanding what works for you can help you face transitions and recognize “it’s okay not to be okay.”
“It’s good to identify what works best for you when things get tough to make your toolkit stronger when it is needed,” says Dr. Bowsheir. “Take the time now to recognize what works (and doesn’t) when you start to feel stress.”
Questions to ask yourself include:
How do you like to be active in a way that regenerates you?
How much sleep do you need to feel good?
Do you feel better after conversations/time with people or with a little quiet time?
When you’ve felt stressed in the past, what makes things better (or worse)?
Dr. Bowshier also recommends looking up the information for your school’s mental health resources in advance, so that if there is a need, the process to find options and help available is familiar.
Stay prepared with a comprehensive first aid kit
A good dorm first aid kit would include pain and fever relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen), a working thermometer, bandages, blister block, antibiotic ointment for wounds, tweezers, an elastic bandage wrap and an over-the-counter steroid (anti-itch) cream.
Learn more about first-aid kits and what a trauma nurse says are your must-haves.
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