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Bridgette Cram
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Education, Higher Education
Material Type:
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Community College / Lower Division
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  • Austin Community College
  • EDUC
  • Effective Learning Strategies
  • Student Success
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    Week 7: Wellness

    Week 7: Wellness

    Overview

    Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day­-to-­day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life. ­—Marilu Henner, actress

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Explore practices for ensuring mental health and emotional balance in your life
    • Identify sources, symptoms, and strategies for managing stress
    • Identify techniques for developing and maintaining healthy eating habits
    • Describe the major risks of an unhealthy diet and the benefits of healthy eating
    • Identify the benefits of regular exercise, for both body and brain
    • Identify the benefits of sleep for physical and mental health
    • Explain what substance use and abuse is and identify the warning signs that help may be needed
    • Identify where to go for help regarding: sexually healthy behaviors, including protecting against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and sexual assault
    • Define and practice safety consciousness

    Managing Your Mental and Physical Health

    Managing Your Mental and Physical Health

    Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day­-to-­day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life. ­—Marilu Henner, actress

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Explore practices for ensuring mental health and emotional balance in your life
    • Identify sources, symptoms, and strategies for managing stress
    • Identify techniques for developing and maintaining healthy eating habits
    • Describe the major risks of an unhealthy diet and the benefits of healthy eating
    • Identify the benefits of regular exercise, for both body and brain
    • Identify the benefits of sleep for physical and mental health
    • Explain what substance use and abuse is and identify the warning signs that help may be needed
    • Identify where to go for help regarding: sexually healthy behaviors, including protecting against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and sexual assault
    • Define and practice safety consciousness

     

    Mental Health Basics

    Knowing how to take care of your mental health when you’re in college is just as important as maintaining your physical health. In fact, there’s a strong link between the two: doctors are finding that positive mental health can actually improve your physical health. Mental health can be defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”1 Having good mental health doesn’t necessarily mean being happy or successful all the time. Most people feel depressed, lonely, or anxious now and then, but those with good mental health can take these feelings in stride and overcome them. When such feelings or moods persist and interfere with a person’s ability to function normally, though, it may be a sign of a more serious mental health problem and time to seek help.

    The term mental illness refers to mental disorders or health conditions characterized by “alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.”2 Depression is the most common type of mental illness, and it affects more than 26 percent of the U.S. adult population. It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease.

    Evidence has shown that mental disorders, especially depressive disorders, are strongly linked to the occurrence and course of many chronic diseases—including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity and many risk behaviors for chronic diseases, such as physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep. In other words, if your mental health is poor, you may be at greater risk for disease and poor physical health.

    Mental Health Indicators

    In the public health arena, more emphasis and resources have been devoted to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness than mental health. Little has been done to protect the mental health of those who are free from mental illness. Here are some known indicators of mental health:

    • Emotional well-being: life satisfaction, happiness, cheerfulness, peacefulness.
    • Psychological well-being: self-acceptance, personal growth including openness to new experiences, optimism, hopefulness, purpose in life, control of one’s environment, spirituality, self-direction, and positive relationships.
    • Social well-being: social acceptance, belief in the potential of people and society as a whole, personal self-worth and usefulness to society, and a sense of community.

    The former surgeon general suggests that there are social determinants of mental health—just as there are social determinants of general health—that need to be in place to support mental health. These include adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, equitable jobs and wages, quality education, and equity in access to quality healthcare.

    There are also some common-sense strategies that you can adopt to support and improve your emotional, psychological, and social health:

    • Eat a balanced diet
    • Get enough sleep
    • Get regular physical activity
    • Stay socially connected with friends and family
    • Make smart choices about alcohol and drugs
    • Get help if you are anxious or depressed

    Depression

    Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that’s more than just a feeling of “being down in the dumps” or “blue” for a few days. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

    • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
    • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
    • Irritability
    • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
    • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
    • Decreased energy or fatigue
    • Moving or talking more slowly
    • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
    • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
    • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
    • Appetite and/or weight changes
    • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
    • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

    Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. It usually starts between the ages of fifteen and thirty and is much more common in women. Women can also get postpartum depression after the birth of a baby. Some people get seasonal affective disorder in the winter when there is less natural sunlight. Depression is one part of bipolar disorder.

    Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it is. Depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

    There are days that you will feel down, especially when the demands of college get to you. These feelings are normal and will go away. If you are feeling low, try to take a break from the pressures of college and do something you enjoy. Spend time with friends, exercise, read a good book, listen to music, watch a movie, call a friend, talk to your family, or anything else that makes you feel good. If you feel depressed for two weeks, or the feeling keeps coming back, you should talk to a counselor at your college – they see lots of students who are anxious, stressed, or depressed at college, and are trained to help you.

    Loneliness

    Most people experience occasional loneliness, and it’s an especially common experience among first-time college students who find themselves in an unfamiliar environment with a completely new social scene. Loneliness isn’t necessarily about being alone—you can be surrounded by people and still feel alone. It’s the feeling of being alone that counts, along with feeling empty, unwanted, or isolated. In the following TED Talk, Sherrie Turkle describes how, in this age of near-constant digital “connection,” loneliness is a challenge that faces us all:

    If you’re feeling lonely, try taking Turkle’s advice and start a conversation with someone. College is a great place to meet new people and develop new and interesting relationships. Others in college are new, just like you, and will welcome the chance to connect with and get to know another classmate. Try joining a campus interest group or club, play a team sport, or just ask another student if they’d like to meet for coffee or to study. If feelings of loneliness persist, and especially if you also feel depressed, you should get help from a counselor or health services.

    Eating Disorders

    Eating disorders are mental health illnesses that involve emotional and behavioral disturbance surrounding weight and food issues. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences.

    Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and extreme weight loss either through restriction or through binge-purging. This may frequently be a result of body dysmorphic disorder (a condition in which someone feels that their body looks different than it actually does) or a result of other psychiatric complications such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or depression. Starvation can cause harm to vital organs such as the heart and brain, can cause nails, hair, and bones to become brittle, and can make the skin dry and sometimes yellow or covered with soft hair. Menstrual periods can become irregular or stop completely.

    People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food (also called bingeing) at least two times a week and then vomit (also called purging) or exercise compulsively. Because many people who “binge and purge” maintain their body weight, they may keep their problem a secret for years. Vomiting can cause loss of important minerals, life-threatening heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), damage to the teeth, and swelling of the throat. Bulimia can also cause irregular menstrual periods.

    People who binge without purging also have a disorder called binge eating disorder. This is frequently associated with feelings of loss of control and shame surrounding eating. People who are diagnosed with this disorder tend to gain weight, and many will have all of the consequences of being overweight, including high blood pressure and other cardiac symptoms, diabetes, and musculoskeletal complaints.

    If you think you might have an eating disorder, you should go to the student health center or counseling center and get help. Talk to your family and close friends. Going for help and talking to others about your feelings and illness can be very difficult, but it’s the only way that you’re going to get better. Many colleges have treatment programs for these conditions and trained counselors who can relate to people with an eating disorder.

    Anxiety Disorders

    People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread. They have physical reactions to those objects, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if a person has an inappropriate response to a situation, cannot control the response, and/or has an altered way of life due to the anxiety. Anxiety disorders include the following:

    Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. If you have OCD, you have repeated, upsetting thoughts called obsessions. You do the same thing over and over again to try to make the thoughts go away. Those repeated actions are called compulsions. Examples of obsessions are a fear of germs or a fear of being hurt. Compulsions include washing your hands, counting, checking on things or cleaning. Untreated, OCD can take over your life. Researchers think brain circuits may not work properly in people who have OCD. It tends to run in families. The symptoms often begin in children or teens. Treatments that combine medicines and therapy are often effective.

    Panic disorder is a kind of anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden feelings of terror for no reason. You may also feel physical symptoms, such as fast heartbeat, chest pain, breathing difficulty, or dizziness. Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere and without warning. You may live in fear of another attack and may avoid places where you have had an attack. For some people, fear takes over their lives and they cannot leave their homes. Panic disorder is more common in women than in men. It usually starts when people are young adults. Sometimes it starts when a person is under a lot of stress. Most people get better with treatment. Therapy can show you how to recognize and change your thinking patterns before they lead to panic. Medicines can also help.

    A phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. There are many specific phobias. Acrophobia is a fear of heights: you may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains but be unable to go above the fifth floor of an office building. Agoraphobia is a fear of public places, and claustrophobia is a fear of closed-in places. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals, and blood. People with phobias try to avoid what they are afraid of. If they cannot, they may experience panic and fear, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, and/or a strong desire to get away. Treatment helps most people with phobias. Options include medicines, therapy, or both.

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real illness. You can get PTSD after living through or witnessing a traumatic event, such as war, a hurricane, rape, physical abuse, or a bad accident. PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid after the danger is over. It affects your life and the people around you. PTSD can cause problems like flashbacks, feeling like the event is happening again, trouble sleeping, nightmares, feeling alone, angry outbursts, or feeling worried, guilty, or sad.

    PTSD starts at different times for different people. Signs of PTSD may start soon after a frightening event and then continue. Other people develop new or more severe signs months or even years later. PTSD can happen to anyone, even children. Medicines can help you feel less afraid and tense. It might take a few weeks for them to work. Talking to a specially trained doctor or counselor also helps many people with PTSD. This is called talk therapy.

    Suicidal Behavior

    Suicide causes immeasurable pain, suffering, and loss to individuals, families, and communities nationwide. On average, 112 Americans die by suicide each day. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–24-year-olds, and more than 9.4 million adults in the United States had serious thoughts of suicide within the past twelve months. But suicide is preventable, so it’s important to know what to do.

    Warning Signs of Suicide

    If someone you know is showing one or more of the following behaviors, he or she may be thinking about suicide. Don’t ignore these warning signs. Get help immediately.

    • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
    • Looking for a way to kill oneself
    • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
    • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
    • Talking about being a burden to others
    • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
    • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
    • Sleeping too little or too much
    • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
    • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
    • Displaying extreme mood swings

    Get Help

    If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    If your are or you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone—stay there and call 911.

    Please also remember that FIU Counseling and Psychological Services is available to all FIU students.

     

    Stress

    As a student, you’re probably plenty familiar with the experience of stress—a condition characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. What you may not know is that it’s a natural response of the mind and body to a situation in which a person feels threatened or anxious. Stress can be positive (the anticipation of preparing for a wedding) or negative (dealing with a natural disaster). As a college student, it may feel like stress is a persistent fact of life. While everyone experiences stress at times, a prolonged bout of it can affect your health and ability to cope with life. That’s why social support and self-care are important. They can help you see your problems in perspective . . . and the stressful feelings ease up.

    Sometimes stress can be good. For instance, it can help you develop the skills needed to manage potentially challenging or threatening situations in life. However, stress can be harmful when it is severe enough to make you feel overwhelmed and out of control. Strong emotions like fear, sadness, or other symptoms of depression are normal, as long as they are temporary and don’t interfere with daily activities. If these emotions last too long or cause other problems, it’s a different story.

    Signs and Effects of Stress

    Physical or emotional tension are often signs of stress. They can be reactions to a situation that causes you to feel threatened or anxious. The following are all common symptoms of stress:

    • Disbelief and shock
    • Tension and irritability
    • Fear and anxiety about the future
    • Difficulty making decisions
    • Being numb to one’s feelings
    • Loss of interest in normal activities
    • Loss of appetite (or increased appetite)
    • Nightmares and recurring thoughts about a particular event
    • Anger
    • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
    • Sadness and other symptoms of depression
    • Feeling powerless
    • Crying
    • Sleep problems
    • Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
    • Trouble concentrating

    It’s not only unpleasant to live with the tension and symptoms of ongoing stress; it’s actually harmful to your body, too. Chronic stress can impair your immune system and disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, leading to increased risk of numerous health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and/or memory and concentration impairment.3

    That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stressors in your life.

    Ways of Managing Stress

    Man lies comfortably on his back in the sun on public steps, his skateboard at this feet, phone in hand.

    The best strategy for managing stress is by taking care of yourself in the following ways:

    • Avoid drugs and alcohol. They may seem to be a temporary fix to feel better, but in the long run, they can create more problems and add to your stress instead of taking it away.
    • Manage your time. Work on prioritizing and scheduling your commitments. This will help you feel in better control of your life which, in turn, will mean less stress.
    • Find support. Seek help from a friend, family member, partner, counselor, doctor, or clergy person. Having a sympathetic listening ear and talking about your problems and stress really can lighten the burden.
    • Connect socially. When you feel stressed, it’s easy to isolate yourself. Try to resist this impulse and stay connected. Make time to enjoy being with classmates, friends, and family; try to schedule study breaks that you can take with other people.
    • Slow down and cut out distractions for a while. Take a break from your phone, email, and social media.
    • Take care of your health. Eat well, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, try a relaxation technique (such as meditation or yoga), and maintain a normal, predictable routine.

    Not surprisingly, these techniques are similar to those recommended for supporting good mental health in general. If the self-care techniques listed above aren’t enough and stress is seriously interfering with your studies or life, don’t be afraid to get help. The student health center and college counselors are both good resources.

     

    Wellness

    Nutrition

    A diet is anything that you consume on a regular basis. If you drink Diet Coke for breakfast every day, that’s part of your diet. When people talk about “going on a diet,” they usually mean changing their existing dietary habits in order to lose weight or change their body shape. All people are on a diet because everyone eats! Having a healthy diet means making food choices that contribute to short- and long-term health. It means getting the right amounts of nutrient-rich foods and avoiding foods that contain excessive amounts of less healthy foods. The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future.

    Developing eating healthy eating habits doesn’t require you to sign up for a gimmicky health-food diet or lifestyle: you don’t have to become vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or go on regular juice fasts. The simplest way to create a healthy eating style is by learning to make wise food choices that you can enjoy, one small step at a time. The key is choosing a variety of foods and beverages from each food group (vegetables, fruits, grains, protein foods, and dairy) and making sure that each choice is limited in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.4 The current USDA Healthy Eating Guidelines are a great reference for making healthy food choices.

    USDA Healthy Eating Guidelines

    Infographic showing a picture of a plate divided into four segments: One segment is labeled "Fruits," one is labeled "Grains," one is labeled "Protein," and the last is labeled "Vegetables." Next to the plate is a circle (suggesting a cup or glass) that's labeled "Dairy."

    Healthy Eating in College

    College offers many temptations for students trying to create or maintain healthy eating habits. You may be on your own for the first time, and you’re free to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Cafeterias, all-you-can-eat dining facilities, vending machines, and easy access to food twenty-four hours a day make it tempting to overeat or choose foods loaded with calories, saturated fat, sugar, and salt. You may not be in the habit of shopping or cooking for yourself yet, and when you find yourself short on time or money, it may seem easier to fuel yourself on sugary, caffeinated drinks and meals at the nearest fast-food place. Also, maybe you played basketball or volleyball in high school, but now you don’t seem to be getting much exercise.

    On top of that, it’s common for people to overeat (or not eat enough) when they feel anxious, lonely, sad, or stressed, and college students are no exception. It’s incredibly important, though, to develop healthy ways of coping and relaxing that don’t involve reaching for food, drink, or other substances. It’s also important to eat regular healthy meals to keep up your energy.

    Kidshealth.org offers the following advice on ways for college students to adopt a healthy food attitude:5

    • avoid eating when stressed, while studying, or while watching TV
    • eat slowly
    • eat at regular times and try not to skip meals
    • keep between-meal and late-night snacking to a minimum
    • choose a mix of nutritious foods
    • pick lower-fat options when you can, such as low-fat milk instead of whole milk or light salad dressing instead of full-fat dressing
    • watch the size of your portions
    • resist going back for additional servings
    • steer clear of vending machines and fast food
    • keep healthy snacks like fruit and vegetables on hand in your room
    • replace empty-calorie soft drinks with water or skim milk

    Regular Exercise: Health for Life

    The importance of getting regular exercise is probably nothing new to you. The health benefits are well known and established: regular physical activity can produce long-term health benefits by reducing your risk of many health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and it can also increase your chances of living longer, help you control your weight, and even help you sleep better.

    As a busy college student, you may be thinking, I know this, but I don’t have time! I have classes and work and a full life! What you may not know is that—precisely because you have such a demanding, possibly stressful schedule—now is the perfect time to make exercise a regular part of your life. Getting into an effective exercise routine now will not only make it easier to build healthy habits that you can take with you into your life after college, but it can actually help you be a more successful student, too. As you’ll see in the section on brain health, below, exercise is a powerful tool for improving one’s mental health and memory—both of which are especially important when you’re in school.

    The good news is that most people can improve their health and quality of life through a modest increase in daily activity. You don’t have to join a gym, spend a lot of money, or even do the same activity every time—just going for a walk or choosing to take the stairs can make a difference.

    Physical Fitness and Types of Exercise

    Physical fitness is a state of well-being that gives you sufficient energy to perform daily physical activities without getting overly tired or winded. It also means being in good enough shape to handle unexpected emergencies involving physical demands—that is, if someone said, “Run for your life!” or you had to rush over and prevent a child from falling, you’d be able to do it. There are many forms of exercise—dancing, rock climbing, walking, jogging, yoga, bike riding, you name it—that can help you become physically fit. The major types are described below.

    Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate, works your muscles, and raises your breathing rate. For most people, it’s best to aim for a total of about thirty minutes a day, four or five days a week. If you haven’t been very active recently, you can start out with five or ten minutes a day and work up to more time each week. Or, split up your activity for the day: try a brisk ten-minute walk after each meal. If you are trying to lose weight, you may want to exercise more than thirty minutes a day. Examples of aerobic exercise include going for a run or brisk walk, dancing, swimming, and cycling.

    Strength training, done several times a week, helps build strong bones and muscles and makes everyday chores like carrying heavy backpacks or grocery bags easier. When you have more muscle mass, you burn more calories, even at rest. You could join a strength training class or lift weights at home.

    Flexibility exercises, also called stretching, help keep your joints flexible and reduce your risk of injury during other activities. Gentle stretching for 5 to 10 minutes helps your body warm up and get ready for aerobic activities such as walking or swimming. Check to see if your college offers yoga, stretching, and/or pilates classes, and give one a try.

    In addition to formal exercise, there are many opportunities to be active throughout the day. Being active helps burns calories. The more you move around, the more energy you will have. You can increase your activity level by walking instead of driving when possible, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing some house or yard work every day, or by parking a little farther from your destination.

    Benefits of Exercise and Physical Fitness

    Longevity

    Exercise, even after age fifty, can add healthy, active years to one’s life. Studies continue to show that it’s never too late to start exercising and that even small improvements in physical fitness can significantly lower the risk of death. Simply walking regularly can prolong your life. Moderately fit people—even if they smoke or have high blood pressure—have a lower mortality rate than the least fit. Resistance training is important because it’s the only form of exercise that can slow and even reverse the decline of muscle mass, bone density, and strength. Adding workouts that focus on speed and agility can be especially protective for older people. Flexibility exercises help reduce the stiffness and loss of balance that accompanies aging.

    Diabetes

    Diabetes, particularly type 2, is reaching epidemic proportions throughout the world as more and more cultures adopt Western-style diets, which tend to be high in sugar and fat. Aerobic exercise is proving to have significant and particular benefits for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes; it increases sensitivity to insulin, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and decreases body fat. In fact, studies show that people who engage in regular, moderate aerobic exercise (e.g., brisk walking, biking) lower their risk for diabetes even if they do not lose weight. Anyone on insulin or who has complications from diabetes should get advice from a physician before embarking on a workout program.

    Brain: Mood, Memory, Creativity

    In addition to keeping your heart healthy, helping with weight loss, and helping you live longer, regular exercise can also improve your mood and help keep depression and anxiety at bay. 

    If you still aren’t persuaded, check out this slightly longer but excellent TEDx Talk, which describes how aerobic exercise can improve your cognitive functioning, memory, and creativity:

    The Benefits of Sleep

    We have so many demands on our time—school, jobs, family, errands, not to mention finding some time to relax. To fit everything in, we often sacrifice sleep. But sleep affects both mental and physical health. Like exercise and a healthy diet, it’s vital to your well-being. Of course, sleep helps you feel rested each day. But while you’re sleeping, your brain and body don’t just shut down. Internal organs and processes are hard at work throughout the night. Sleep can help you “lock in” everything you’re studying and trying to remember.

    “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness, and mood,” says Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at NIH. When you’re tired, you can’t function at your best. Sleep helps you think more clearly, have quicker reflexes, and focus better. “The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on one or two hours less nightly sleep,” says Mitler. Tired people tend to be less productive at work and school. They’re at a much higher risk for traffic accidents. Lack of sleep also influences your mood, which can affect how you interact with others. A sleep deficit over time can even put you at greater risk for developing depression.

    But sleep isn’t just essential for the brain. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health.” Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease, and infections. Throughout the night, your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure rise and fall, a process that may be important for cardiovascular health. Your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight.

    A good night’s sleep consists of four to five sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we dream. “As the night goes on, the portion of that cycle that is in REM sleep increases. It turns out that this pattern of cycling and progression is critical to the biology of sleep,” Twery says.

    Sleep can be disrupted by many things. Stimulants such as caffeine or certain medications can keep you up. Distractions such as electronics—especially the light from TVs, cell phones, tablets, and e-readers—can prevent you from falling asleep.

    How Much Sleep Do We Need?

    Photo of a male student asleep on a couch amid a pile of book. A fan is aimed at his face, and a book lies open on his chest

    The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age, and getting a full night of quality sleep is important. For most adults, 7-8 hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days. Getting too little sleep creates a “sleep debt,” which is a lot like being overdrawn at a bank. Eventually, your body will demand that the debt is repaid. We don’t seem to adapt to getting less sleep than we need; while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our judgment, reaction time, and other functions are still impaired. If you’re a student, that means that sleep-deprivation may prevent you from studying, learning, and performing as well as you can.

    Experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep. If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, you probably have severe sleep deprivation, possibly even a sleep disorder. “Microsleeps,” or very brief episodes of sleep in an otherwise awake person, are another mark of sleep deprivation. In many cases, people are not aware that they are experiencing microsleeps. The widespread practice of “burning the candle at both ends” in western industrialized societies has created so much sleep deprivation that what is really abnormal sleepiness is now almost the norm.

    Many studies make it clear that sleep deprivation is dangerous. Sleep-deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task perform as badly as or worse than those who are intoxicated. Sleep deprivation also magnifies alcohol’s effects on the body, so a fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well rested. Driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Since drowsiness is the brain’s last step before falling asleep, driving while drowsy can—and often does—lead to disaster. Caffeine and other stimulants cannot overcome the effects of severe sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation says that if you have trouble keeping your eyes focused, if you can’t stop yawning, or if you can’t remember driving the last few miles, you are probably too drowsy to drive safely.

    Falling Asleep and Getting a Good Night’s Rest

    Photograph of a man asleep, with a a cat, also asleep, snuggled across his cheek.

    Many people, especially those who feel stressed, anxious, or overworked, have a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep, and this can shorten the amount of time and the quality of sleep when it actually comes. The following tips can help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling well rested:

    • Set a schedule: Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Disrupting this schedule may lead to insomnia. “Sleeping in” on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it resets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.
    • Exercise: Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps people sleep. A workout soon before bedtime may interfere with sleep, though, so try to get your exercise about 5 to 6 hours before going to bed.
    • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed: Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant and keeps people awake. Sources of caffeine include coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers. Smokers tend to sleep very lightly and often wake up in the early morning due to nicotine withdrawal. Alcohol robs people of deep sleep and REM sleep and keeps them in the lighter stages of sleep.
    • Relax before bed: A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine can make it easier to fall asleep. It’s also a good idea to put away books, homework, and screens (that means your computer and phone) at least 30 minutes before bed. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual.
    • Sleep until sunlight: If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.
    • Don’t lie in bed awake: If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired. Avoid digital screens, though: watching TV, and being on the computer or a smartphone are too stimulating and will actually make you more wakeful. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.
    • Control your room temperature: Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.
    • Screen out noise and light: Do what you can to drown out any bright lights and noise of loud roommates, etc.
    • See a doctor if your sleeping problem continues: If you have trouble falling asleep night after night, or if you always feel tired the next day, then you may have a sleep disorder and should see a physician. Your primary care physician may be able to help you; if not, you can probably find a sleep specialist at a major hospital near you. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively, so you can finally get that good night’s sleep you need.

    Substance Abuse

    drug is a chemical substance that can change how your body and mind work. Drugs of abuse are substances that people use to get high and change how they feel. They may be illegal drugs like pot, cocaine, or heroin. Or they may be legal for adults only, like alcohol and tobacco. Medicines that treat illness can also become drugs of abuse when people take them to get high—not because they’re sick and following their doctor’s orders. People abuse drugs for many reasons:

    • They want to feel good. Taking a drug can feel really good for a short time, and people keep taking them to have those good feelings again and again. But even though someone may take more and more of a drug, the good feelings don’t last. Soon the person is taking the drug just to keep from feeling bad.
    • They want to stop feeling bad. Some people who feel very worried, afraid, or sad abuse drugs to try to stop feeling so awful. This doesn’t really help their problems and can lead to addiction, which can make them feel much worse.
    • They want to do well in school or at work. Some people who want to get good grades, get a better job, or earn more money might think drugs will give them more energy, keep them awake, or make them think faster. But it usually doesn’t work, may put their health at risk, and may lead to addiction.

    When and Where to Get Help 

    Here’s a simple way to think about substance use and abuse: if your use of drugs or alcohol is interfering with your life—negatively affecting your health, work, school, relationships, or finances—it’s time to quit or seek help. People who are addicted to a substance continue to abuse even though they know it can harm their physical or mental health, lead to accidents, or put others in danger.

    If you are concerned about your drug or alcohol use, or you need help quitting, visit the student health center or talk with your college counselor. These folks are there to help you—it’s their job to provide information and support.

    If you need additional resources or help, the following are good places to check:

     

    Sexual Health

    The Healthy Living Program at FIU provides a number of resources and services provided to students, including those related to sexual health. 

    How and Where to Get Help

    Take the following steps if you or someone you know has been raped, or you think you might have been drugged and raped:

    • Get medical care right away. Call 911 or have a trusted friend take you to a hospital emergency room. Don’t urinate, douche, bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hands, change clothes, or eat or drink before you go. These actions may alter or wipe out evidence of the rape. The hospital will use a “rape kit” to collect evidence.
    • Call the police from the hospital. Tell the police exactly what you remember. Be honest about all your activities. Remember, nothing you did—including drinking alcohol or doing drugs—can justify rape.
    • Ask the hospital to take a urine (pee) sample that can be used to test for date rape drugs. The drugs leave your system quickly. Rohypnol stays in the body for several hours and can be detected in the urine up to 72 hours after taking it. GHB leaves the body in 12 hours. Don’t urinate before going to the hospital.
    • Don’t pick up or clean up where you think the assault might have occurred. There could be evidence left behind—such as on a drinking glass or bed sheets.
    • Get counseling and treatment. Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and shock are normal. A counselor can help you work through these emotions and begin the healing process. Calling a crisis center or a hotline is a good place to start. One national hotline is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.

    In addition to the above, The Victim Empowerment Program’s (VEP) mission is to provide free confidential assistance to FIU students, faculty, staff and university visitors who have been victimized through threatened or actual violence and to support the healing process. In addition, the center seeks to enhance safety and promote healthy relationships by sponsoring awareness activities, prevention education, peer education and collaborating with university officials. Through clinical practice and research, the VEP aims to contribute to the body of knowledge and influence public policy regarding issues related to victimization.

     

    Safety Consciousness On Campus And In College

    College and university campuses tend to have a special feel—so special that when you are on campus you may feel you are fully apart from the wider world around you. But the reality is that any campus is subject to the same influences and crimes as the towns and cities that flank the campus. And so it is important to be aware of your surroundings, the people near you, and the goings on in your physical spaces and in your virtual spaces at all times. In this topic, we explore college safety concerns and share tips and resources to help ensure that you are always safe, protected, and no more than a phone call away from help if you need it.


    Tips for Staying Safe

    Walking, driving, traveling:

     

    • Travel with a buddy.
    • Use the campus escort service at night, especially if you are alone.
    • If you live off-campus, call someone when you get home.
    • Keep moving; don’t linger (especially at night).
    • Carry pepper spray or pepper gel.
    • Keep a personal alarm (for example, on a keychain).
    • If you have a car, lock it.

    At home:

    • Keep your windows and doors locked.
    • Keep the main door to your home, hall or apartment building locked at all times.
    • Don’t let anyone into your dwelling that you don’t know.
    On campus:

     

    • Keep a close eye on your belongings when you’re in a library.
    • Get a locking device for your laptop.
    • Participate in a college safety program.
    • Be cautious, not paranoid.

    Anywhere:

    • Make sure your phone is charged.
    • Know the phone number for Campus Safety.
    • Put emergency numbers in your cell phone.
    • Carry emergency cash.
    • Speak up if you notice something going on.

    Also, don’t hesitate to take advantage of campus and community resources, which may include any of the following:

    • Websites, offices, organizations, and individuals with safety information
    • Campus police and campus security
    • Local police
    • Sexual assault and relationship-violence services
    • Shuttle services
    • Escort services
    • Counseling programs
    • Mental health programs
    • Substance abuse programs
    • Local health care centers
    • Campus abuse hotlines

    Safety Apps

    One of the very best safety measures you can take at any time is to keep emergency numbers handy, either on your phone or in your wallet or backpack or a place where you can easily access them. You may also find it helpful to have a safety app on your mobile device. 

    Resources for Learning About Safety in College

    Your personal safety both on- and off-campus, and the safety of your family and friends, is a treasure. The more you know about safety, perhaps the safer you can be and the safer you can help others be. Here are many resources to help you learn more about safety.

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    • Most people feel depressed, lonely, or anxious now and then, but those with good mental health can take these feelings in stride and overcome them. If these symptoms persist, engage in practices for ensuring mental health and emotional balance in your life and seek help if necessary.
    • Physical or emotional tension are often signs of stress. It’s important to learn healthy ways of coping with the stress to prevent negative consequences for your mental and physical health.
    • The simplest way to create a healthy eating style is by learning to make wise food choices that you can enjoy.
    • Regular exercise can produce long-term health benefits by reducing your risk of many health problems and increasing your chances of living longer.
    • Getting enough sleep is essential for good mental and physical health.
    • Substance abuse can have serious consequences including health problems, overdose, and even death.

    • The decisions you make can affect your own sexual health and safety and that of your partner(s). It’s important to protect yourself (and your partner) from sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual violence.
    • Exercise safety consciousness by being aware of hazards and alert to potential dangers.
    1. "Mental Health Basics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. 
    2. "Mental Health Basics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. 
    3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037 
    4. "MyPlate." Choose. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2016. 
    5. "Beating the Freshman 15." Kidshealth.org. Web. 3 Mar 2016. 
    6. "How You Can Prevent Pregnancy." It's Your Sex Life. MTV. Web. 11 Mar. 2016. 
    7. "The Offenders." RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Web. 11 Mar. 2016. 
    8. Jones, Ruth. "College Crimes & Sexual Assault." Affordable Colleges Online. 2016. Web. 22 Feb 2016. 
    9. Boyington, Briana. "10 Questions Every Parent, Student Should Ask About Campus Safety." U.S. News and World Report Education. 9 Sept 2014. Web. 22 Feb 2016. 

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    • Managing Your Mental and Physical Health. Authored by: Laura Lucas. Provided by: Austin Community College. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

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