Feeling Disconnected? How to conquer homesickness while away at college

FROM THE HILBERT COLLEGE WELLNESS CENTER

Feeling Disconnected?
How to conquer homesickness while away at college
By Kirsten Falcone, RN

Are you, or someone you know, feeling a little blue lately? It isn’t difficult to imagine that this is a common problem across college campuses right now. The excitement of being away from home and the novelty of new classes have worn off, and reality has set in. This is hard work! Plus, you miss your family, friends, and even your pets! Everything is a little overwhelming, to say the least. Sometimes it is easy to fall into a brief pit of depression.

It is, therefore, helpful to know the difference between depression and homesickness. Depression has these signs and symptoms: feeling down, hopeless, worthless, helpless, irritable, restless, disinterested in activities you formerly enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions, disturbed sleep patterns, weight gain or loss, and sometimes thoughts of death or suicide. Homesickness usually exhibits milder symptoms and is accompanied by longing thoughts of people and places left behind, and a feeling of loss, especially loss of real connection.

If these feelings are new to you, perhaps you indeed do have a bit of homesickness. You are not alone! Homesickness is normal! Even seasoned college students have this feeling from time to time. The good news is homesickness can be only temporary, if you make some adjustments. Here are some ideas:

  • Sleep. Make sure you are getting the right amount. Seven to nine hours of sleep at the same time every night does wonders for the mood. It is also crucial for good health.
  • Exercise. Just a brisk half-hour walk three times per week is enough to change your outlook, especially if you take a friend. On Hilbert’s campus, Don Vincent leads a group on runs or walks on Wednesdays at 3:15 p.m., meeting out back by the service road in between the soccer fields.
  • Fresh air. A dose of fresh air can lift your spirits. Go outside!
  • Sunshine. Besides improving our moods, sunshine actually has a reaction with your skin that produces vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D could lessen the symptoms of depression.
  • Vitamin D Supplements. You can also supplement with vitamin D. However, since your body uses fat to absorb vitamin D, you may want to consult your doctor before taking large doses. The best bet is to add food rich in vitamin D to your diet. Some foods that have vitamin D are salmon, swordfish, mackerel, tuna, sardines, egg yolk, beef liver, and fortified cereal and milk.
  • Proper nutrition. Skip the sugary pop, junk food and fried food, and opt for some fresh veggies and a lean piece of meat. Add vitamin D fortified milk (see above) and some whole grains, and you will feel human again.
  • Hydration. Drinking enough H2O is actually energizing. It increases a sense of well-being by helping to maintain almost every chemical reaction in your body. In fact, depression is one of the symptoms of dehydration.
  • Socialization. This is what you especially need right now. One idea is to attend religious services. Mass on Hilbert campus is Sundays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 8:00 a.m. in St. Clare Chapel. There are also numerous churches in the area who will welcome students warmly. Other ideas are joining a club, attending social events on campus, and becoming a volunteer. Hang out with new friends. Be patient if you don’t connect with everyone you meet on the first try. Just don’t spend too much time alone. Be selective, and choose positive people.
  • Talk therapy. Go talk to someone who is trained to help walk you through. Sometimes having an expert there to hold your hand is just what you need. At Hilbert College, that expert is Psychologist Phyllis Dewey, who is located in St. Joseph Hall. Phyllis is eager to help all students with this and any other issues that crop up. Phyllis’s phone number is 926-8930, and her email address is pdewey@hilbert.edu.
  • Avoiding alcohol. Alcohol is a known depressant. Overdrinking on a regular basis can cause brain damage and change your brain chemistry. Currently, the only alcohol considered healthful is five ounces of red wine per day for women and 10 ounces per day for men.
  • Antidepressants. Use these only as a last resort after you have made lifestyle changes, and only if you experience long-term depression. There is no “happy” pill. In fact, these drugs take several weeks to take effect. Antidepressant medication has side effects that are…well…depressing! Their dosage also needs regular fine-tuning. However, some people do show improvement on these drugs, and physicians prescribe them quite regularly.
  • Perspective. Get off-campus once in a while. Plan to go home for the weekend occasionally, if possible. (But, ideally, not every weekend!) Try something new, or go see a movie. Drive to Lake Erie to watch the sunset. Visit downtown Buffalo’s waterfront. Take a trip to a museum, or visit a local park. Do something to take your mind off your homesickness.
  • Keeping organized. Write down all your assigned work, classes, and events in an agenda. The Student Life office, in Franciscan Hall, has free Student Handbooks with an academic calendar contained inside. Writing everything down will increase your sense of control, thus reducing your homesickness.
  • Journaling your feelings. Vent your concerns safely in a journal or diary. This will help you become more aware of your feelings, so that you can move forward.
  • Play music. Listen to upbeat music. Make certain its message is positive. You might even want to sing along, which can help move oxygen throughout your body and brain. If you can play an instrument, go ahead and serenade your roommate!
  • Calling home. Give yourself permission to call home as much as you need to, right now. A phone call is better than a text or an email (or even snail mail!) because your voice inflections can be heard, and you can hear theirs. One useful suggestion is keeping a picture of your loved ones handy to remind you how much you are loved.
  • Focusing on the positive. “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”—Woody Allen. So, just show up. Don’t miss class, even if you don’t feel motivated. Get involved in campus activities, even if you doubt yourself. Invite a new friend to go to lunch with you, even if it feels awkward. Remember, everyone else feels that way, too, even if it doesn’t appear that way. Ask your R.A. for advice. But most of all, give it time. Give yourself a break. Take a deep breath. Things will get better!

For additional information, visit these Web sites:

WebMD general information:
http://www.webmd.com/depression/tc/topic-overview-depression

Focus on the Family
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/emotional-health/depression/depression

Allegheny College:
http://sites.allegheny.edu/deanofstudents/wellness-education/todays-topic/suggestions-for-coping-with-homesickness/

 

Bert on an Island & HAWK Radio’s 24-Hour Broadcast

Listeners of HAWK Radio and the entire Hilbert College community came together to donate over 600 personal items to support Compass House, a Western New York based not-for-profit, which provides young men and women shelter, counseling, and other services.

Hilbert College’s mascot, Bert the Hawk, was relegated to a small island on the campus pond while the college’s web radio station, HAWK Radio, collected donations of personal items for homeless youth as part of a 24-hour live broadcast to celebrate College Radio Day 2017.

Flu Shots are on the Way!

From the Hilbert College Wellness Center

Roll up your Sleeve:
Flu Shots are on the Way!
By Kirsten Falcone, RN

If you have not received your flu shot yet, here is good news! There are two dates approaching on which you may be able to attain your flu vaccine on campus in the West Herr Atrium. Mark your calendar for:

Wednesday, October 11 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or

Wednesday, November 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Here is what you need to know about the flu vaccine:

What is the flu? Influenza (flu) is a contagious infection that spreads most easily each year from October to May (flu season). A virus causes the flu, and coughing, sneezing and personal contact are the ways it spreads. Everyone is susceptible to the flu virus, but symptoms can vary by age and immunity status. Typical symptoms are fever with chills, sore throat, achy muscles, unexplained fatigue, coughing, headache and a runny or stuffy nose.

The flu causes thousands of deaths in the United States every year. Many more are hospitalized. Most of these people are immunity challenged, such as infants and young people, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and others with compromised immune systems.

How can I prevent contracting the flu? Even if you are not immunity challenged, one of the best ways to stop the virus from spreading is by attaining a flu vaccine. A flu vaccine can also keep you from contracting the flu, or it may help make your symptoms less severe. Because there is no “live virus” in the vaccine, a flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. (As always, remember hand washing is the ultimate way for you to prevent the spread of viruses.)

Can I still get the flu if I get a flu vaccine? Yes. A flu vaccine contains only those strains of the virus thought to be most prevalent for the year in question. The flu vaccine offered on campus will be “trivalent,” meaning it will protect against three common flu strains. (There is also a “quadrivalent” flu vaccine available many places, upon request.) It is possible to contract a rarer strain of the virus. Further, because the vaccine takes approximately two weeks to become effective, you may still become ill within that two-week window of time. However, once immunity is established, it will protect you for the entire flu season.

There are illnesses that look like flu, but are actually other illnesses. This may explain why some people have claimed that the flu vaccine caused them to contract the flu. This is really not the case.

Should some people forgo the flu vaccine? Yes. People who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or someone not feeling well, should not get the vaccine. In the past, people with egg allergies could not receive a flu vaccine. However, now only a very small percentage of those people ever have any kind of reaction. If you have a history of a severe egg allergy, you should still get your flu shot in a medical setting, and be monitored for 30 minutes.

For otherwise healthy people, side effects of the flu vaccine can be rare or mild. But, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), they may include skin soreness around the area of the vaccination; hoarseness; itchy, sore, red eyes; cough; muscle aches; fever; itching; fatigue; and headaches. These mild effects usually last one or two days, but they are a much better alternative than contracting full-blown influenza. Most health professionals agree that the flu vaccine is a worthy effort in keeping healthy through the winter months. So go ahead and roll up your sleeve!

 

For more information, visit these Web sites:

Medline Plus
https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/flu.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/egg-allergies.htm

Rite Aid Flu Shot Information
https://shop.riteaid.com/info/pharmacy/services/vaccine-central/immunization-information/flu?gclid=CPmw–7xocgCFZeaNwod2VIPmQ&gclsrc=ds

 

 

Understanding the Importance of Sleep

From the Hilbert College Wellness Center
by Kirsten Falcone, RN

Getting Your Zzzs:
Understanding the Importance of Sleep

Sleep deprivation is in the news again this week, for good reason. A well-known sleep scientist has proposed that robbing yourself of sleep will shorten your life. (See link below.) The impact of consistently obtaining a good night’s sleep can never be overemphasized, especially on a college campus. On the other hand, chronic sleep deprivation seems to be at an all-time high. The following is a review of the importance of sleep, and how to acquire it.

A recent statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that 1 in 3 adults doesn’t get enough sleep. According to the CDC, sleeping at least 7 hours each night is required “to promote optimal health and well-being.” Most health professionals recommend 7 to 9 hours.

Conversely, sleeping less than 7 hours per night puts you at risk of:

  • Developing a chronic condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, frequent mental difficulties,
  • Developing a disease, such as cancer or Alzheimer’s,
  • Lowering your immunity to common germs, such as cold and flu,
  • Elevated stress hormones,
  • Mood swings,
  • Slower response time,
  • Confusion, and lack of focus,
  • Poor decision-making, and
  • Unnecessary risk-taking.

In our everyday lives, these could translate to poor job performance, grades, relationships, and also driving or operating machinery.

The number of sleep-deprived adults can be considerably higher in college communities. As the nurse in the Hilbert College Wellness Center, most of my sick patients are sleep-deprived, acquiring fewer than six hours per night. There are many excuses for this, such as living with a loud roommate, studying for a test, going out late at night, working at a night job, or just not being that motivated or self-controlled. Many students are unaware of how important sleep really is.

Sleep is probably THE most important health practice! Here are some reasons. While you sleep, your brain is forming pathways for learning and storing memories. Your body is building up its immune system and healing damage caused throughout the day. Hormones called cytokines, which are produced during the night, are crucial for your immune system to fight infection and inflammation. During the day, a compound called adenosine is built up, and it is only broken down again by getting enough sleep. If you miss a few nights of sound sleep, the adenosine will build up and cause sleepiness during the day. Another substance, a hormone called melatonin, makes you naturally feel sleepy at night, but that can be reversed to daytime sleepiness, if you don’t fulfill your nighttime sleep requirements.

Going to bed at the same time every night, say 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., allows your body to cycle through sleep stages, each with a specific purpose. The four stages must be experienced in chronological order for sleep to do its job. In addition, the beginning of the night presents longer stages than the end of the night. For example, non-REM deep sleep, considered the “restorative” stage of sleep occurs mostly in the first half of the night. Knowing this makes it clear that going to bed at the same time every night is crucial to maintaining good health.

If you know you have gotten off-track, here are some ways to improve your sleep habits:

  1. Get enough exercise and fresh air during the day, so you are sleepy at the right time. Make sure this is not within two hours of your newly established bedtime, though.
    (https://hilbertcommunity.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-dont-be-a-couch-potato/)
  2. Eat healthfully. When you fuel your body properly, it just runs better overall. Also, don’t eat any large meals just before bed. Indigestion may wake you up!
  3. Use caffeine only in the morning. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it will disrupt your sleep.
  4. Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol may help put you to “sleep” at the beginning of the night, but it has been shown to cause lighter, less fitful sleep, and it actually interrupts sleep halfway through the night, as well as causing dehydration. Nicotine (in cigarettes) is a stimulant that leads to lighter than normal sleep.
  5. Establish a “bedtime” again, and stick to it. Your parents were right to enforce this, and now you know why.
  6. Don’t take a nap longer than 20 minutes, or past 3:00 p.m. This may make it more difficult to wake up fully, and then to go to sleep at your predetermined time.
  7. Wind down at night by dimming lights, turning off the TV and electronics (including your cell phone!), and taking a hot shower or bath before bed. Have a comfortable bed and pillow, and keep the room temperature cool.
  8. Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door, if you live in a community that stays up late.
  9. Wear ear plugs, if necessary.
  10. For chronic insomnia, see a doctor who can help you determine the cause of your sleeplessness.
  11. Avoid sleeping pills. These are habit-forming, and should be used only as a last resort and only occasionally.
  12. Don’t rely on sleeping in on the weekends. This may erase some of your sleep debt, but not all of it. It will also make it much more difficult to get to sleep at the proper time on Sunday night.
  13. Learn how to manage time. Ultimately, going to bed at the right time, rather than studying for that test until the wee hours, will help you do better on your test the next day. It would be even better to schedule study time during the daytime.

Remember the words of Ben Franklin, “Early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Sweet dreams!

For more information, visit these Web sites:

The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/24/why-lack-of-sleep-health-worst-enemy-matthew-walker-why-we-sleep

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/index.html
http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Guide to Healthy Sleep:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf

WebMD: “Sleep Deprivation, a Serious Threat: Expert”:
http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20170926/sleep-deprivation-a-serious-threat-expert

 

 

It’s Cold & Flu Season – Wash Your Hands!

From the Hilbert College Wellness Center
By Kirsten Falcone, RN

Cold and flu season has begun.
Remember to wash your hands!

There is always something “going around” as soon as people get back to school. Hilbert campus is no exception. To avoid becoming sick, please review the following procedure for washing your hands.

Did you know washing your hands is the best proven way to reduce the spread of illness? Wash your hands before and after touching food, after using the bathroom, after contact with another person (such as shaking hands), and after they are soiled. You can also wash your hands as soon as you walk in the door of your dorm room or home, to keep your roommate or family from catching anything you drag in with you. Hands can become “soiled” even if they do not appear that way. Some ways this can happen are by touching your face, touching common surfaces that may contain microorganisms, or from poor hygiene.

Not everyone knows the proper technique for washing hands. Here it is:

  1. Ready a paper towel before you turn on the water.
  2. Using tepid or warm (not hot) water, wet your hands and then lather up with soap, while the water runs. (Antimicrobial soap is not necessary; any hand soap will do.)
  3. Lather and rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds (long enough to sing the Happy Birthday song twice).
  4. Make certain to wash under your nails, between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and even your wrists. Rinse these areas well.
  5. Dry your hands on the paper towel.
    (If you must use a cloth towel, have a separate cloth towel for each roommate or family member, and replace often.)
  6. Finally, turn the water faucet off with a dry paper towel or clean cloth towel. Exit the bathroom by turning the doorknob with a paper towel, also.
  7. Dispose of the paper towel in a proper receptacle.

If you are not able to wash your hands, using a gel hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative. Use enough to wet the entire area, and rub it in until the gel is dry. (Two exceptions are when hands are visibly soiled, and when you have already used hand sanitizer several times.)

 

For more information, please visit these Web sites:

 

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html

 

WebMD:
http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/tc/hand-washing-topic-overview