College is an exciting time of growth and learning for young adults, and for many of you, the first time in your life where you primarily are responsible for your health and the many decisions that affect it. While the dad in me would love to remind you to avoid the midday sun and tanning beds, eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, wear your seat belt, and please don’t use your phone while driving, I suspect doing so would garner a collective twenty-something eye roll. The seasoned [meaning “old”!] physician in me knows chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes are not on your imminent radar as threats. So then, what words of wisdom COULD I share that might keep you from suffering ill health during your semester? Thinking back over my years as campus doc at Davis and Elkins College in rural West Virginia, I offer the following 3 pearls of advice:
STRESS!! The challenges associated with college and being away from home are many, and include worry over workload and grades, money, and relationships to name “the biggies”. How you handle these stressors will directly affect your health. Good diet beyond GrubHub, regular self-care through exercise, spiritual care that may include formal institutions or meditation and yoga, are time honored proven strategies to mitigate the negative impact of stress. Seeking the aid of a good campus counselor can also let you express your feelings, not bottle them up till some calamitous breaking point. In severe cases, seeking medical attention from a good family doctor or therapist is needed to optimize your health and functioning. Happily, for your generation, the stigma associated with getting professional help has lessened, and it is not seen as being “weak” to seek help, rather, just the opposite!! Taking charge and positive action are strengths!
AFTER MIDNIGHT!! One famous NFL coach implored his players to be home on time: “Nothing good happens at 2 am!” I can validate that sentiment, as being out late, especially if the South Side or Keg Party has been your destination, is often the setting for all kinds of adverse health outcomes. There are the direct adverse affects of overdoing alcohol: getting sick on Carson St, hangover, missing work or class, the real risks of DUI and worse, trauma from car crashes, falls, and pedestrian mishaps. None of these things are good and can pretty much be expected to hit you at some point if you frequent overdo it. Bottom line: If you are of age and want to “unwind” with a drink, stick to one or two and come on home before it gets late!!
PROTECTION: Really? In 2018 I still have to mention using condoms EVERY TIME you have sex? Apparently, I do, as too often the lab confirms another case of Chlamydia, Herpes, Gonorrhea, and HIV, all COMPLETELY avoidable diseases with proper use of a condom that typically costs under five bucks. Sure, some of these STDs are treatable, and others “manageable”, but to my way of thinking, the mental and physical cost of contracting one of these cooties is infinitely more expensive than the prevention. Human Papilloma Virus [HPV] can also be transmitted orally and lead to deadly oral cancers, including tonsil tumors, years down the road. When it comes to sex, all forms, heed the warnings, it’s out there and its real! Protect yourself and your partner.
So, managing stress in a healthy way, avoiding misuse of alcohol, and proper avoidance of STDs via abstinence or condom use will go a long way toward making sure you have a safe and healthy time at school focused on your studies, friends, and bright future. Skipping the tanning bed, French fry line, and phone use while driving won’t hurt you either!
With deep respect for your generation, and high hopes for your future,
Bret Rosenblum MD, Chief of Urgent Care, UPMC Urgent Care Centers