Stop the Sniffles: Healthy Hints for Winter

It’s that time of year again. Starbucks peppermint mochas, twinkling lights in frosted windows, your favorite cashmere scarf … Kleenex, NyQuil, fevers of 102 degrees? Sometimes it seems like all these things go hand-in-hand with the holidays, but nothing curbs your seasonal chic like swollen glands and nasal spray.

As college students, we’re at an especially high risk for spreading and picking up cold and flu germs. Living in close quarters, our eating, sleeping, working and partying habits aren’t exactly what a physician would call “ideal.” It’s even worse during the winter months, said University Health Center Marketing Manager Beth Blew, when she sees a large increase in the number of sick students who come to UHS for some relief.

Before you – literally – cough up the cash for the appointment fee, try a few simple prevention methods to keep you out of the doctor’s office all winter long.

Paws off
Keep your hands away from your face. We touch thousands of surfaces a day without realizing it, many of them public desks and door handles, so most of the germs we pick up are on our hands. Avoid unnecessary touching of your eyes, nose and mouth. Soap up after touching any damp surface, which is where germs thrive.

Frequent hand washing, Blew said, is key.

“We’ve actually started a hand-washing campaign because sometimes people don’t realize how important it is,” she said. “We always recommend washing as long as it takes to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice.”

Skip the scotch
Nobody likes to hear it, but going out and drinking is an immune-system killer. Not only does excessive consumption of alcohol weaken your ability to fight off infection, but the unhealthy food you eat when you’re out, the minidresses in 20-degree weather and the out-of-whack sleep habits are also detrimental to a healthy lifestyle. Sharing drinks at parties, especially with drinking games and shot glasses, Blew said, is a breeding ground for the spread of germs. “If you’re not feeling well, do yourself a favor and stay in.”

Shots, shots, shots, everybody
UHS offers the flu vaccine to students for a mere $21, and you can’t put a price tag on peace of mind and protection against a nasty flu all winter long. Keeping all immunizations up to date – which you can track through the UHS website – is an important way to stay healthy all year long as well.

Under pressure
With school work, extracurriculars, social obligations and part-time jobs to balance, we’re dealing with some serious stress overload. Anxiety, fatigue and insomnia due to elevated adrenaline levels that build up throughout our crazy day takes a toll on our minds and bodies, making us more susceptible to illness. Studies show that setting aside just 45 minutes a day for “you time,” whether it be taking a jog or kicking back with a magazine, can make a world of difference, not only in your mood but in your health as well. Tap into resources provided by UHS – its “De-Stress Zone” was made to help students relax. It features two iPod stations with stress reduction and brain-massage audio tracks. Two “biofeedback programs” allow users to practice exercises that “reduce heart rate variability, leading to an increase in positive emotions and reduced stress,” according to the UHS website. They also may improve attention, alertness and memory.

Many of these common-sense preventive measures, often overlooked by busy students, can contribute to a happy, healthy semester – even in the face of a State College winter. So bundle up, take it easy and take care of yourself. Happy Holidays!

Photo by Ann Sciandra

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