How To Stay Healthy In College — Without Stressing Yourself Out

Photographed by Kurtz-Christy.
If you're leaving home for college right now, chances are you're so ready to be free from your parents and out on your own — but the thing is, it's only a matter of time before you'll start to miss your parents' nagging. For example, do you know where you're supposed to go when you get sick? Or how to assemble healthy, balanced meals for yourself? Probably not, because there are a lot of other things going on in your life, and picking out the perfect twin XL duvet for your room is way more fun than dealing with your health.
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"It’s natural that when you’re adjusting to a new set of independence and responsibilities, you forget some things you were taught," says Chanelle Coble-Sadaphal, MD, an adolescent pediatrician who works with college-age people at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. "And really, it’s a time to learn what it is you need, and how to make those choices for yourself."
It's okay if you have questions about your how to be an adult, but your health is super important to ensuring you have a positive college experience. Ahead are seven pressing issues — from the "Freshman 15" to how to deal with homesickness — with answers from experts. And for everything else, just call the people who raised you, or your resident assistant.
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Figure out your health insurance.

Figure out your health insurance.



Before you ship off to school, understand what your health insurance status is. Are you still on your parents' plan, or will you be enrolling in your school's student health insurance policy? Regardless, know which doctors are covered by your insurance plans, and make sure you have all the appropriate information about your policy, so you can refill prescriptions and get care when you need it.
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Find a doctor when you're sick.

Find a doctor when you're sick.



Most schools have health and wellness centers where you can conveniently see a doctor or nurse. When you get to campus, pop in to the health center so you can familiarize yourself with it before you get sick, Dr. Coble says. "Many have open houses, and very active information in the front desk where you get a sense of resources available, hours, and types of services," she says. (There are also non-profit clinics in most cities where you can seek care if there's not a health center on campus, she says.) If you come down with a cold or some other minor illness, it's on you to decide whether or not to skip class and stay home. So, you might want to prep beforehand with your doctor to learn what types of symptoms to look out for, she says.
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Get tested for STIs.

Get tested for STIs.



It's a good idea to get tested at least once a year regardless of your symptoms, or with each new sexual partner, Dr. Coble says. "I have some patients that come every season: once in the spring, summer, fall, winter," she says. Or if you have different partners and you're not sure if you've been placed at risk, then it's good to just check in, she says. "There's no such thing as checking in too much."

Now, if you're over 18 years old, then healthcare providers are not allowed to disclose your health information to anyone without your consent, Dr. Coble says. "Under 18, it does vary state by state, and many college health centers recognize that," she says. (To learn about the confidentiality laws in your state, check Planned Parenthood.) If you are using your parents' health insurance, then there's a potential that your parents would receive a bill, but that's not a reason to skip getting tested, she says. "Many [school health centers] have ways to offer care for patients without compromising confidentiality," she says. And also, remember that it's not the end of the world if your parents find out you're getting tested.
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Sleep enough each night.

Sleep enough each night.



First, do a quick inventory of your sleeping environment, Dr. Coble says. "Lots of sleep disruption can happen because of lights and noise, or using our screens, computers, iPads, or phones," she says. Then, establish a good sleep regimen if you don't have one already. Maybe you take a warm shower, drink non-caffeinated tea, or do something else that tells your body it's time for sleep, she says. Most college-age people need at least seven hours of sleep — ideally between eight or nine hours — so make sure you're going to bed early enough for that to happen. Keep in mind that sometimes sleep issues can be a sign of depression or stress, so if you can't seem to improve your sleep with these switches, you might want to see a mental health professional who can take in all your symptoms and information and help you rest easy, she says.
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Seek emotional support when you need it.

Seek emotional support when you need it.



Everyone may experience homesickness, separation anxiety, or loneliness being in a different place, but if it's causing you any kind of disruption, you should seek care, Dr. Coble says. "If it’s interfering with your ability to meet others, develop new social networks, or go to school, get help immediately," she says. "It’s really difficult to know if it’s something that you’re just going to get over in a few days, weeks, months time, or something that may need some more care." Seeing a mental health professional can make all of your emotions feel easier to manage, she says. "Talking to someone can make a huge difference, and you don’t want to suffer academically or socially with something that could’ve been prevented," she says.
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Stay safe around alcohol and drugs.

Stay safe around alcohol and drugs.



This is tricky, because it's not so easy to eliminate every risk, Dr. Coble says. "Often what I tell patients going to college is, it's your body and your decision whether or not you're going to have sex, smoke, and drink," she says. But if you do decide to drink, think about drinking responsibly. That means limiting the amount you're drinking, not drinking on weeknights, and knowing your limits, she says. "Until you figure out your limits, err on the side of less is more," she says. Also make sure you're doing it with people who you trust to look out for you, she says. If at any point you feel overwhelmed or are having trouble navigating these types of party situations, check in with your campus center or a healthcare provider who can go over some concrete negotiation skills you can use in the moment, she says.
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Don't stress the Freshman 15.

Don't stress the Freshman 15.



A couple things here: First of all, the "Freshman 15" is a myth that can harm your perception of your body image and interfere with your eating habits. That said, it can be hard to figure out how to feed yourself in school at first! Basically, you should aim for meals with at least three food groups (fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and grains) including fruits and vegetables, says Amanda Kruse, RD, CD, a registered dietitian who works in public schools. Check out your cafeteria's menu beforehand, so you know what you have to work with. If your school has a buffet-style cafeteria, listen to your hunger cues so you can stop eating when you're full, she says. "No one wants to let food go to waste, but if you get something you don't like or you're feeling full, don't feel like you have to finish it," she says.
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Move around.

Move around.



You should aim to get between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise a day, but that can include walking or biking to your classes, Dr. Coble says. If you're looking for more of a structured workout, check out your health center to see if they offer group fitness classes for students, she says. Most of the time, they're free! Or if you find yourself missing the camaraderie of your sports team back home, see if there's an intramural league that you can join to meet other like-minded athletes.
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