I’m Sick! What do I do now?

I’m Sick!
What do I do now?

 

By Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center

Are you feeling sick, even though you may have followed all the precautions for avoiding illness? You are not alone. Many people are coming down with something this year. In fact, it is one of the worst flu seasons on record. So, here is a list of some actions you can take, now that you may be sick.

Do not assume you are sick, if you have only one symptom.

If you have only one symptom, you might not really be sick, or you may be able to shorten your illness. For example, if you have a sore throat, do not give into the temptation of thinking you are getting sick. Sometimes you will come down with something. However, if you are vigilant about taking care of yourself (e.g. brushing your teeth, drinking plenty of water, sleeping, washing hands, eating healthfully, exercising, etc.), a sore throat may be the only symptom you will experience.

Stay home, and keep your distance from people who live with you.

On the other hand, if you have a fever or cannot contain your coughs and sneezes, just stay home. As you know, there are countless immunocompromised people in the world (the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and people with certain illnesses), and you would not want to be responsible for passing a deadly virus to them! The CDC recommends staying home for 24 hours or more after your fever “breaks” or ends.

Stay home also to avoid infecting classmates. Professors are usually sympathetic toward students who call or email them beforehand when they will miss because of illness. (If you need an excuse note, come and see me, the Hilbert Wellness Center nurse, on duty Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the back of St. Joseph Hall.)

Keep up with your hygiene.

Proper hygiene will help keep germs from multiplying. Brush your teeth and tongue two to three times per day (when you wake up in the morning, after meals, and before bed). Brushing after vomiting is essential to protect your enamel from stomach acid. Brushing your teeth helps you feel better, but it also helps prevent the spread of your illness into your lower respiratory tract. Floss once per day.

Keep clean. Wash your hands often. It is the best way to avoid getting sick! Do not touch your face, nose, ears, eyes, or mouth, with soiled hands. Conversely, do not touch your face with clean hands and forget to wash your hands afterward. Take a warm bath or shower regularly; the moist air will help to clear your sinuses and lungs, and it will help you feel relaxed enough to try to sleep it off.

Keep hydrated (i.e. drink water!)

Since water is responsible for so many functions in our body, and our bodies are at least 60 to 70 percent water, it is crucial to keep hydrated. Try to drink at least 64 to 96 ounces (or more) per day or the equivalent of four to six 16-ounce bottles of water, or eight to 12 8-ounce glasses of water. Another way to measure is to drink 50 to 100 percent of your weight number in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., drink 75 to 150 ounces of water every day. Keeping a bottle of water with you throughout the day is a great habit to adopt! Refill it, as needed.

If you are feeling nauseous, I recommend sipping tepid (room temperature) water. If you try to drink cold water, it could shock your stomach, causing more vomiting. Alternatives to water include unsweetened tea, ginger ale, and Gatorade. (Just remember that anything with sugar in it will require you to brush your teeth.)

Go to bed, and sleep!

Sleeping 7 to 9 hours every night is important. 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 do not fulfill your nighttime sleep requirements.

Lacking sleep undoubtedly compromises college students’ immune systems. When you are sick, it is important to listen to your body, and sleep as much as possible—even during the day.

Track your temperature.

An elevated temperature is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a fever will actually kill off many of the invading microorganisms. The problem comes in when your body overcompensates and starts killing brain cells. It is helpful to know that letting your fever rise is usually okay. According to Mayo Clinic, adults can withstand temperatures up to 103 degrees. (It is a good idea to obtain an oral thermometer as part of your personal first aid kit, but the Wellness Center nurse can also take your temperature, if needed.)

For a fever higher than 103 degrees, call your doctor. He or she may guide you through steps to reduce your fever, such as using cold compresses, taking a tepid bath or shower, or taking an antipyretic medication (one that helps lower your temperature). (Common antipyretics include aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen.) If none of these measures works, the doctor may direct you to visit a local emergency room. However, remember that many illnesses thrive in emergency rooms, and you should use that as a last resort!

Remember to stay in bed, or away from people, for an additional 24 hours after your fever has subsided. A normal temperature is around 98.6 degrees.

Medicines to take

Guidelines for over-the-counter (OTC) medicines vary according to the symptoms you are having and whether you have any problems tolerating them. Some should be taken with food (such as ibuprofen). Others (such as acetaminophen) can easily be overdosed because they are contained within many different products. Always read the label before taking any medication.

If you have just contracted the flu within the last couple of days, you could be a good candidate for some antiviral medication. However, these medications are less effective after three days or more.

(Note: Antibiotics will not work with the flu virus, since they kill bacteria, not viruses. Never accept a prescription for an antibiotic unless you have been diagnosed with a bacterial-related illness.)

When to call the doctor

Chances are your illness will run its course in a few days to a week or two. According to the Mayo Clinic, call the doctor when your fever climbs higher than 103, and is accompanied by:

  • Severe headache
  • Unusual skin rash that is rapidly worsening
  • Unusual sensitivity to bright light
  • Stiff neck and pain when turning your neck
  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting more than a couple of times
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Abdominal pain or pain during urination
  • Convulsions or seizures

If nauseous…

As previously stated, sip tepid water. Do not force yourself to eat full meals, especially on the first day. Instead, eat as much as you are comfortable eating. Do not stuff yourself. It is even okay to skip a meal or two to let your stomach settle down. Once you are able to handle food again, go easy. Avoid spicy, fatty foods, and opt for the “BRAT” diet. The BRAT diet is an acronym that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. These are all bland-tasting foods, and that is the idea. Stick to foods that have little or no flavor.

Clean and disinfect.

When you are finally out of the woods, a good idea is to clean and disinfect, so others do not catch what you are sharing!

  • Clean. First, wash surfaces with an appropriate cleaner and warm water, to remove dirt and grime. Use paper towels or washable rags. Always disinfect rags or sponges before reusing them, or toss them out. Dust, open windows to ventilate, and open the window coverings to let in the daylight.
  • Disinfect. After cleaning, use a germ-killing solution, such as a bleach or vinegar solution, to sanitize surfaces, such as doorknobs and handles, countertops where food is prepared, faucets, and anything that is handled frequently. Remember to also disinfect your bathroom.
  • Do not share personal care tools (e.g. toothbrush, nail clipper, comb, towels, glasses, cups, utensils).
  • Trash: To reduce odors and discourage the spread of germs, take out the trash.

 

For more information, follow these links:

Hilbert College Wellness Center:
“Steps for Avoiding the Flu,” (https://community.hilbert.edu/2018/01/22/steps-for-avoiding-the-flu/

Hygiene: https://hilbertcommunity.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-winning-health-battles-with-proper-hygiene/

Hand-washing: https://hilberttoday.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/remember-to-wash-your-hands/

Sleep: https://hilbertcommunity.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-the-importance-of-sleep/

Mayo Clinic, Information on Fevers:
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20352759

 

How to Keep Active During the Winter Months

Don’t be a Couch Potato!
How to Keep Active During the Winter Months

by Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center

If you are like me, I keep active during the warmer months, but when the cold hits, it’s difficult to resist cocooning in my space and waiting it out until spring. But, did you know that lack of exercise is one of the biggest causes of mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and physical health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer, and much more?

On the flip side, regular exercise can actually improve your immune system, lift your mood, keep all your bodily systems in order, decrease the incidence of disease, and increase your life expectancy. Physically fit people do not need as many prescription or over-the-counter drugs, and they have far fewer doctor visits. You are not in college to not do well, so it is a benefit to you to take care of yourself, because proper exercise can help you in every area of your life, including your grades!

There are three main categories of exercise. They are aerobic, strength training, and stretching. Aerobic exercise increases your heart rate. Some of the common ways you can achieve this are by walking briskly, jogging and swimming. (During the winter, though, it is difficult to safely go for a walk or jog, and it is challenging to find a swimming pool.) Strength training is usually done by lifting weights or performing “body-weight” exercises, such as push-ups. Stretching is important to increase flexibility and range of motion, as well as increase the blood circulation to your muscles and joints, thus reducing injury.

Here are some ideas to help you pull through the winter months:

  • Find an accountability partner. On days when you just have no ambition to burn some calories, an accountability partner can help you resist the urge to wait until tomorrow. Conversely, you can help your accountability partner in the same area. Pick someone who has the same goals as you do, such as losing 10 lbs. by Easter, or simply because it makes you feel healthier.
  • Visit the gym. On Hilbert Campus, that is located at the Hafner Recreation Center. http://www.hilberthawks.com/sports/2013/9/9/Facilities_0909135001.aspx?tab=weightroom.
  • Do calisthenics in your dorm room. Youtube has many exercise videos available, but you can start out with one like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHyGqsPOUHs.
  • Run up and down your dorm stairs for 20 minutes, 3 times per week.
  • Park on the far side of the parking lot, and walk the extra distance (provided your footwear has good treads to tackle icy conditions).
  • Take up a winter sport, such as cross-country or downhill skiing, snowshoeing or sledding.
  • When the conditions are good, you can still go for a brisk walk. 20-30 minutes, three times per week is a good start.
  • Extend the warm-weather sports you enjoy, but wear a couple extra layers of clothes.
  • If you can’t make it to the gym, invest in some dumbbells, and use them in your dorm room. Or you can use ordinary everyday objects, such as water bottles.
  • Jumping rope is a great aerobic activity. Here is a good beginner video you can try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NIvRAaOdlQ
  • Use an exercise ball. An exercise ball is large enough to be used in place of a desk chair, so sitting on it will improve posture. Plus, there are many great strength-training exercises you can learn. Many people swear by these for keeping their core strong.
  • Perform crunches, lunges, chair dips, push-ups and more in the privacy of your dorm room.
  • Take a yoga class. Yoga combines strength and stretching exercises, and many swear by it for its calming effects.
  • Use an exercise app. Most smart phones come with one of these. Find out how to use it, and it will help you set and meet your goals.
  • Finally, don’t overdo it. If you feel pain, just stop! Pain is a warning sign that you will injure yourself, and an injury is counterproductive to further fitness.

What does the nurse do for fitness? With smart phone in pocket (so I can track how far I went), I take my dog for a walk around the neighborhood for half an hour when the weather cooperates, and I use an elliptical for the days when I cannot face the elements. Every morning I stretch before I do anything else. Strength training will be the next adventure for me. I did not develop these habits overnight, but they have become part of my healthy “couch-potato-less” lifestyle. If I can do this (at my age!), then you certainly can, too!

For more information on keeping active during the winter months, click on these links:

Everyday Health, Exercises you can do anywhere anytime:
https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness-pictures/exercises-you-can-do-anywhere-anytime.aspx?pos=1&xid=nl_EverydayHealthWomensHealth_20180129

WebMD, Lack of Exercise is More Deadly than Obesity:
http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20150114/lack-of-exercise-more-deadly-than-obesity-study-suggests#1

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Benefits of Physical Activity:
https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm

Money Crashers, Strength Training without Equipment:
http://www.moneycrashers.com/strength-training-exercises-women/

Mayo Clinic, How to Stretch:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/multimedia/stretching/sls-20076840

WebMD, Exercise Ball Moves:
http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/10-fun-moves-to-reshape-your-body-with-exercise-ball-workout#1

How to beat the winter blahs

Lacking Get-up-and-go?
How to beat the winter blahs

by Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center

Winter is here, with her cold, snow, freezing rain, and short daylight hours. If you are like me, I feel like going into my cave and hibernating until spring. But I am not a bear, and neither are you. When the blahs of winter seem to overcome you, here are some ideas to consider:

Are you following a healthy lifestyle?

A healthy lifestyle consists of many components, including eating healthfully, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, sleeping, personal hygiene, community, socialization, spiritual endeavors, and more. If any one of these factors is missing from your life, you may need to diligently and purposefully work on changing that.

Healthful eating includes having a balance of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, bread and cereals, and milk and dairy products. Staying away from junk food and sugary snacks, and reading labels is a good idea to consider. It’s best not to skip meals, and breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day. Drinking enough water (64 to 125 ounces per day) is also important for all your bodily systems to function. Dehydration is often the number one cause of feeling listless, and drinking enough water may be the only boost you need!

Exercise improves health and mood. The lack of exercise will lead to poor physical and mental health. In the winter, you can get enough exercise by going to the gym, running up and down your dorm stairs for 20 minutes, or putting on your parka and boots and going outside for a walk. Going outside will also help with fresh air and vitamin D.

Sleep hygiene is important, as always. The proper amount of sleep varies from individual to individual, but the general recommendation is 7 to 9 hours per night. Make certain to wind down each night and keep a bedtime around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.

You can tackle your community, socialization and spiritual needs all in one setting, by attending worship services regularly. People who keep themselves in isolation or ignore their spiritual health are more apt to develop depression.

Are your symptoms more severe than usual?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) runs rampant this time of year, but there is help. For more information, see my recent article on SAD: https://community.hilbert.edu/2017/11/10/how-to-handle-the-dark-days-of-late-autumn-and-winter/.

Are you using your critical thinking skills?

Gaining perspective by changing your environment is often helpful. Drive to the Botanical Gardens in Lackawanna, study in a different location, such as a local coffee shop, or visit Chestnut Ridge Park for a hike in the woods. Lake Erie, though usually frozen this time of year, is also a great destination. You never know what you will see there! Budget your time, so you can include fun in your schedule.

Pamper yourself, especially if you have achieved a personal goal, such as doing well on a test, or resisting the temptation to skip your daily exercise. Pampering yourself could include anything that you like to do, like calling a friend, going to a movie, watching a sporting event, doing your nails, or anything else that takes your mind off feeling blah.

Taking a break from social media and going for a walk, visiting a friend, or reading a novel, are great ideas!

Think about the future. Spring will be here before you know it. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Give yourself positive self-talk, and tell yourself you will make it.

 

For more ideas on beating the winter blahs, visit these Web Sites:

WebMD depression quiz:
http://www.webmd.com/depression/risk-developing-depression

The Huffington Post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-passage/5-tips-on-beating-the-win_b_6581542.html

World of Psychology:
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/12/03/5-ways-to-beat-the-winter-blahs/

 

Steps for Avoiding the Flu

It’s Influenza Season!
Steps for Avoiding the Flu

By Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of January 13, New York State’s reports of flu monitoring are “high.” There is a reporting rate of more than 10 patients per 100,000 population, in almost every county of the state, which is considered “widespread.” Though this is concerning, and nobody wants to come down with the flu, there is no need for alarm. There are ways you can avoid contracting it, and spreading it to others.

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. 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.

Follow these Precautions. The following are steps you should take to make certain you do not contract the flu or give it to anyone else.

  • Wash your hands often. Did you know that 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.
  • Carry hand sanitizer. 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 exist when hands are visibly soiled, or you have already used hand sanitizer several times.)
  • Do not touch your face without clean hands. Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after you touch your face.
  • Get a flu shot. It is not too late for a flu shot. There are pluses and minuses for attaining a flu shot. On the minus side, it may or may not contain the specific virus that is going around, it takes up to two weeks for it to protect you, you can still get sick from viruses not in the vaccine, and there is a minute chance you could get a reaction to the shot. On the flip side, the flu shot is inexpensive; it very well could protect you against exactly what is going around, and when populations are vaccinated, the incidence of flu-related deaths decreases.
  • Stay away from sick people. The flu can spread through droplets in the air up to six feet away!
  • Stay home if you are sick. If you have a fever or cannot contain your coughs and sneezes, just stay home. There are many immunocompromised people in the world (the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and people with certain illnesses), and you would not want to be responsible for passing a deadly virus to them! The CDC recommends staying home for 24 hours or more after your fever “breaks” or ends.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue, and then wash your hands. The popular advice given today is to cough and sneeze into your elbow, and this would be good advice if all elbows were large enough to stop every emission from your cough or sneeze. In my opinion, some of the spray does end up going around your elbow, ending up in the air. In addition, your elbow now needs cleaning! It is better just to have a tissue ready, and cough or sneeze into that. You could even cough into your bare hands (imagine that!), as long as you go wash them with soap and water, promptly!
  • Call the doctor. Chances are your illness will run its course in a few days to a week or two. However, when in doubt, a quick call to the doctor will help you sleep better by reassuring you that your symptoms do point to the flu, and you may be a candidate for some antiviral medications. (Note: Antibiotics will not work with the flu virus, since they kill bacteria, not viruses.)
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is simply taking good care of your body and mind. Ways to do this are by getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly, exercising at least 3 or 4 times per week, drinking plenty of water, avoiding pop and too much caffeine, eating healthfully, avoiding junk food, not smoking or vaping, not overdrinking, getting fresh air, spending time with positive people, following your faith, and more. If you do not follow a healthy lifestyle, you will be among the aforementioned immunocompromised people!

The flu is going around! If you take these steps, you will have a much higher likelihood of stopping it in its tracks.

 

For more information about the flu, visit these resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report Map:
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm#ILIMap

How Flu Spreads:
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm

How to Prevent the Flu
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/prevention.htm

Everyday Health
How long does the flu last?:
https://www.everydayhealth.com/flu/guide/how-long-does-the-flu-last/

 

 

 

Keep it “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

FROM THE HILBERT COLLEGE WELLNESS CENTER
How to Stay Healthy on Winter Break!

by Kirsten Falcone, RN

It’s mid-December, and you are looking forward to your semester break. Congratulations! However, because of the considerable stress most students endure at the end of the semester, they are often more susceptible to illness during the holidays. It is a bummer to be sick during the best time of the year. Here are some tips to help you fight off holiday illness:

  1. Maintain proper hygiene by washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and covering your sneezes and coughs.
  2. Drink enough water. Try to drink at least 64 to 96 ounces (or more) per day or the equivalent of four to six 16-ounce bottles of water, or eight to 12 8-ounce glasses of water. Another way to measure is to drink 50 to 100 percent of your weight number in ounces. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., drink 75 to 150 ounces of water every day.
  3. Manage your stress by not over-scheduling, sticking to a budget for gifts and entertainment, and avoiding negativity, e.g., watching too much TV news, letting a negative relative influence you, negative self-talk.
  4. Catch up on your sleep by going to bed at the same time each night. After all, you will not have to study for any tests! Try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
  5. Stay warm and dry, and dress in layers.
  6. Eat healthfully, and avoid too many sweets. It is okay to take only one cookie or to save room for your favorite dessert, and forego having a slice of each one. Also, when you are consuming a large meal, eat your veggies first.
  7. Exercise wisely. It might be safe to go for a walk each day, but then again, there could be ice or snow in your way. Use proper footwear, or exercise indoors. Even in the winter months, exercise is important to maintain a healthy body and brain, and it keeps your immune system strong.
  8. Do not smoke or vape. Smoking exacerbates respiratory illnesses, and it lowers resistance to illness and disease. Even though vaping does not contain the tar in a traditional cigarette, it is still a danger to your health. If you smoke or vape, it is pertinent to your long-term health to quit now. You will never regret that decision!
  9. Be wise when drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol is generally not healthful. In fact, the only alcohol recognized as beneficial is one glass (five ounces) of red wine per day for women (two for men). If you do happen to drink beyond what is considered healthful, here are some guidelines to follow: One drink per hour is all your liver can metabolize. One drink is defined as five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or one ounce of liquor. In order to maintain fluid levels, drink eight ounces of water per hour also. (In addition, this will help ward off a hangover the next day.) Don’t binge drink, which is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as imbibing five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, in a two-hour period.
  10. Down time. Make certain this involves praying, listening to music you enjoy, thinking positive thoughts, a hobby you love, and/or spending time with someone you enjoy.
  11. Be a blessing to others. Remember, holiday time is not all about you. The more you give of yourself, the more blessed and healthy you will be. Therefore, go caroling, visit an old friend or a nursing home, smile at and hug your negative relatives, and go to church. Do something good for someone else. Spiritual health and physical health are not two separate entities; they complement each other.

For more information on managing your health during the holidays, visit these Web sites:

CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
http://www.cdc.gov/family/holiday/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA):
http://niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/college-drinking

Activebeat.com:
http://www.activebeat.com/diet-nutrition/10-tips-to-help-you-stay-healthy-this-winter/

Realsimple.com:
http://www.realsimple.com/magazine-more/inside-magazine/your-words/give-during-holidays

The Wellness Center wishes you a very healthy and happy Holiday Season and New Year!

Don’t Let Deadlines Make You Sick!: How to Manage Stress

FROM THE HILBERT COLLEGE WELLNESS CENTER

by Kirsten Falcone, RN

It’s that time of the year again. School projects are in full swing, and finals are on the horizon. Many students are stressed, and most are losing sleep. Some have caught a “bug” and are now feeling behind. Stress is, according to Dictionary.com, “a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” But, according to WebMD.com, it is more simply “what you feel when you have to handle more than you are used to [handling].” Does that sound familiar? If so, read on.

Certainly, some stress can be a good thing. But did you know stress also plays a role in most illness? That is because when we are constantly stressed, an overabundance of epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) and cortisol (stress hormones) prevent many bodily systems, including the immune system, from functioning at full capacity. Even busy college students can take the time to benefit from some key lifestyle changes in order to ward off the effects of stress. Some of the ways you can lower stress are:

Get enough sleep. Go to bed at the same time every night, and sleep at least seven to nine hours.
(For more information on sleep, read a recent Wellness Center article here: https://community.hilbert.edu/2017/10/01/understanding-the-importance-of-sleep/.)

Make a list each day, and put the most important items at the top. Check them off as you go.

Don’t procrastinate. Get your homework or important task done right away, so you don’t prolong the worrying and the nagging in the back of your mind. Even just getting started on a long project will lessen the impact of the work that lies ahead.

Don’t skip meals, and keep healthy snacks, like fresh fruits and vegetables and low-sugar granola bars in your backpack. Conversely, don’t overeat or load up on junk food. Give your body the fuel it needs. (Here is the link to last year’s article on what to eat at the campus cafeteria: https://community.hilbert.edu/2016/12/07/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-how-to-avoid-the-freshman-15/.)

Drink enough water. This can range from eight 8-ounce glasses per day to an ounce for every pound you weigh. Drinking enough water will also help drive off the munchies, and it will increase your energy level almost immediately. (For my article on dehydration, visit this link: https://community.hilbert.edu/2014/10/31/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-dehydration/.)

Stay away from alcohol and drugs, and stop smoking and/or vaping. These put even more stress on your body by lowering your immune response. (Follow this link for my article on vaping: https://community.hilbert.edu/2016/10/06/from-the-hilbert-college-wellness-center-vaping-is-risky-behavior/.)

Exercise. Take a brisk walk around campus twice, or work out in the campus recreation center. Do this at least three times per week. Look for any special programs that may be open to all students. (For my recent article on exercise, visit this link: https://community.hilbert.edu/2017/10/31/exercise-the-forgotten-pharmaceutical/.)

Humor yourself. Find the humor in situations. Subscribe to a joke page on social media. Ask your friends if they know any jokes. There is scientific evidence that making yourself smile actually increases your happiness. It is true that laughter is often the best medicine.

Talk to a good friend or counselor. Bottled-up emotions come out in other ways. Venting with a friend also helps your friend connect with you.

Some other ways to manage stress are, in no particular order:


Journaling

Reading for leisure

Crafting, or following a hobby

Breathing exercises

Aromatherapy

Guided imagery

Progressive muscle relaxation

Positive thinking

Singing or playing uplifting music

Volunteering in the community

Caring for a pet

Relaxation time

Taking a nap

Worship/Reading the Bible

Massage

Bathing or swimming

Prayer

 

 

For more information on stress, check out these sources:

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
http://www.cdc.gov/bam/life/butterflies.html#short

WebMD:
http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/default.htm

Mayo Clinic, Healthy Lifestyle Stress Management:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-basics/hlv-20049495?p=1

Mayo Clinic, Stress Management In-Depth:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

 

Essential Oils: How “essential” are they?

From the Hilbert College Wellness Center
By Kirsten Falcone, RN

You may have heard of the trend toward using alternative medicine, such as essential oils, chlorophyll, wheatgrass, crystals and other “natural remedies.” Is there any solid footing here, or is it just quackery? As a registered nurse, educated with an “evidence-based” mindset, I am skeptical. So I set out to perform a little unscientific research of my own.

If you attended the recent Hilbert College Wellness Fair, you probably met Jill Chiacchia, of the “beHealthy Institute,” in Hamburg, New York. According to Jill, there is much testimonial and anecdotal evidence to the benefits of essential oils, in particular. “Whether essential oils are used for household cleaning, aromatherapy or reviving a stuffy nose,” says Jill, “most would agree that using something derived from nature is preferred over using some of the synthetic, environmentally unfriendly products currently available on the market.” Jill came in to the Hilbert Wellness Center to demonstrate to me some of the essential oils she has in inventory at her store. One of the benefits she mentioned was the effect on the human nervous system. I took a whiff, and my first observation was, yes, some of the smells were calming, some stimulating, and a lot in between. I have a sensitive nose, so my second observation was, a little goes a long way!

Research supporting the idea that essential oils should be part of a medical regimen is sparse. Therefore, I am inclined to rest on the notion that much of the current fervor is based on the placebo effect. The placebo effect is the idea that if you believe it will work, then it is more likely to work for you. And, that is a valid approach with some people. Many outcomes in life are affected that way.

Considering more closely, though, there may be some scientific reasons that some people find relief with essential oils and other natural remedies.

Conquering Dehydration. You can supplement water with certain essential oils, according to Jill. We all know that drinking water is good for you. Water is essential in just about every chemical reaction in the human body. If you are dehydrated, adding flavor to your water may help you drink more water, thereby keeping you hydrated. This is also true for drinking chlorophyll and wheatgrass shots. They are both loaded with water. Maybe that is why they are also touted as a hangover remedy. Good idea!

Smells are very closely associated with memories. You might have noticed this already. Somebody in your past may have worn a perfume that, if you sensed it now, you would remember a great deal about that person. For example, the scent of lilacs always brings me back memories of my grandmother, and the smell of balsam makes me long for family Christmases. The sense of smell is closely linked in the brain with memory and emotions, more so than any other sense. Smelling something that brings back positive memories, for instance, would probably help lift your mood.

Smells can help you remember. This is a good point for students to know. Studying with a particular scent, perhaps on your sleeve, may help improve your recall on tests. Also, test scores have been shown to improve when you study in the same environment as the one in which you will take your test. So, if you want to do well on your test, it might help to pick an essential oil fragrance you like, apply it to your sleeve, and go study in the room in which you will take your test (or one similar to it). Then use that scent on test day, and voile’! Jill recommends using peppermint oil to keep you perky.

Smells can help you relax. Is an upcoming project or test stressing you out? Are you losing sleep because of it? Many smells, including those offered with essential oils, can be soothing. Lavender has traditionally been recommended for this.

Alternative to taking medicine. All medications have side effects. It does not matter which one you are taking. If a natural remedy helps you avoid caffeine (a stimulant), assists you in attaining sleep without sleeping pills, clears your sinuses during a cold, or improves your mood without expensive depression medication, then those are benefits! However, even essential oils can have side effects. Be sure you do your research, and test just a small amount before you plunge in head first.

Even though essential oils and other natural remedies hold a great deal of possibilities, as a registered nurse, I am still inclined to recommend proper nutrition, adequate sleep, enough hydration, exercise and fresh air, socialization, and other lifestyle changes before I recommend using essential oils.

Both Jill and I agree there could be a good deal of untapped potential in the “natural” and “alternative medicine” world. We need more studies done. In the meantime, you can do your own unscientific “study” and try out some products on your own. The beHealthy Institute (located only three miles away from Hilbert College, at 40 Main Street, Hamburg, New York) offers goods and services ranging from fitness and cooking classes, living well seminars and clinics, to essential oils and nutritional supplements. The beHealthy Institute will honor Hilbert College students with a 10 percent discount on any class. Try your first class FREE, up to a $15 value. For questions, please contact Jill Chiacchia at this link: www.beHealthyInstitute.com.

 

For additional information on essential oils, visit these Web sites:

beHealthy Institute, Hamburg, New York:
www.beHealthyInstitute.com

WebMD, Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils:
https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-essential-oils

Easy Health Options, 8 Essential Oils for Health and Wellness:
https://easyhealthoptions.com/8-essential-oils-health-wellness/

National Institutes of Health, “Essential Oils: New Perspectives in Human Health and Wellness”:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4090492/

Los Angeles Times, What are essential oils good for?
http://beta.latimes.com/health/la-he-essential-oils-20160116-story.html

How Stuff Works, Smells and the Brain:
https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm

Brainscape, How smells might help recall on tests:
https://brainscape.com/blog/2011/06/smells-study-efficiency/

Holiday Food! Making Wise Choices During the Holiday Season

From the Hilbert College Wellness Center
by Kirsten Falcone, RN

How to Avoid the Holiday Bulge:
Making Wise Choices During the Holiday Season

With the Holiday season upon us, many college students are already regretting the “Freshman 15” (as well as the sophomore, junior and senior 15) they already added to their weight this year. But now, here come the Holidays, with their usual amount of irresistible snacks and food, and fewer chances to get outside and burn off the calories. It would be easy to just give up and buy a larger clothing size!

But wait! Before you devour that second piece of pumpkin pie and suck down the eggnog, here are some great tips that may help you to avoid the bulge this year, and not have to make losing weight part of your New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Eat your vegetables first. Your plate should be half-full of vegetables, more than a quarter grains and rice, and less than a quarter protein. If you eat the healthiest part of your meal first—your vegetables and fruit—you will have less room for fatty and calorie-laden foods.
  2. Keep your protein lean. If you are eating turkey, remove the skin. Don’t dump on lot of extra gravy. With fatty meats, cut back on your proportions, skip the breaded selections, and trim off the fat.
  3. Skip the fat. (See above.) If your table is like mine, everything on the table is bound to be loaded with fat. Be aware of choices between buttered broccoli and green bean casserole. While we all love green bean casserole, with its mushroom soup and crunchy deep-fried onions, the broccoli is a much better choice, even with some butter on it. Also, instead of au gratin potatoes, settle for mashed or baked.
  4. Skip the salt. Most likely, the cook already added plenty of salt to your meal. Before you pick up that salt shaker, sample your selection first. Your cook will thank you, and so will your blood pressure!
  5. Skip the sugar. Sugar has long been linked with diabetes, as well as obesity, high blood pressure, cancer and inflammatory diseases. But now there is new evidence pointing out that it is actually worse for your arteries than cholesterol. There is an amazing difference between sweet potatoes with marshmallows and sweet potatoes baked and served whole. Choose the latter. Instead of two slices of pie, have only one, or ask for a “sliver” of pie. Take it easy with the whipped cream!
  6. Go for a walk. After dinner, instead of napping, as many are prone to do (no pun intended), go outside for a walk. It may be a challenge if the weather isn’t cooperating. If so, try and remain active inside. Help clean up, run up and down stairs, play some active games, and don’t be a couch potato. On non-feast days, exercise for a half hour every day or every other day. This will help burn calories, as well as increase your sense of well-being.
  7. Resist the temptation to snack. As difficult as that sounds, with plenty of temptation around, give yourself permission to have one small snack per day. Stick with it.
  8. Eat only half of what you would normally eat. On the days between feasts, this is a great idea! If you are eating at a restaurant, it is OK to eat only half. Restaurant portions are not usually healthful, anyway. (If you are afraid to waste food, ask for a doggy bag.)
  9. Use a smaller plate. It tricks you into thinking your portion is larger than it is. (And don’t go back for seconds!)
  10. Liquid calories count! Be aware that a large percentage of the meal’s calories can be hidden in the beverage, so always opt for healthful choices, such as skim milk, unsweetened tea, or just plain water.
  11. With alcoholic drinks, choose wisely. If you must imbibe in alcohol, be smart. Most college students are not of legal drinking age. That aside, also know that the only healthful alcoholic drink is five ounces per day of red wine for women, and 10 ounces for men. Beyond that, you are taking your chances. If you choose to venture into this territory, be aware that a serving of beer is 12 ounces, and a serving of liquor is one ounce. Your liver cannot process more than one serving per hour. If you damage your liver, contrary to hearsay, it does not always grow back to normal. (Think fatty liver and cirrhosis.) With all this knowledge, however, the liquor stores are still in business. As far as calorie content, generally you should choose wine over regular beer, and Champagne over eggnog. Drinking alcohol can also lower your inhibitions and cause you to succumb to tempting snacks, so drink in moderation.
  12. Skip the caffeine, if possible, or limit it to the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day. Caffeine can be found in chocolate, tea, soft drinks, and other foods. Consuming too much can cause headaches, heart palpitations, shakiness, disturbed sleep patterns, and dehydration.
  13. Take the proper amount of time to eat, since the stomach will not usually register it is full until 20 minutes afterward. Slowing down to savor your favorite Holiday food will also decrease heartburn and gastrointestinal issues.
  14. Keep hydrated. One of the current recommendations for how much water to drink involves doing a little math: Take your weight in pounds, and drink from half that amount to that whole amount in ounces every day. For example, someone who weighs 150 lbs. should drink 75 to 150 ounces per day. This seems like a lot, but all the liquid from your diet adds up. Sometimes when we think we are hungry, we are really just dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water before you eat will cut down on how much you eat.
  15. Be wise. Remember that these are the Holidays. If you follow some healthful guidelines, you will be able to enjoy yourself. As the late Oscar Wilde is often quoted, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

For more information, try these sources:

National Institutes of Health (NIH), Healthy Holiday Foods:
https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/nov2016/Feature1

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Choose My Plate:
https://www.choosemyplate.gov/

WebMD Low-Calorie Cocktails:
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/low-calorie-cocktails#1

MedLine Plus on Caffeine:
https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html

 

How to Handle the Dark Days of Late Autumn and Winter

How to Handle the Dark Days of Late Autumn and Winter:
Lifestyle remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
by Kirsten Falcone, RN
Hilbert College Wellness Center

According to experts, even though we gained an hour of sleep, the time change may have had an overall negative effect on many people’s moods. In fact, as the daylight grows shorter, you may be feeling as if the walls are closing in on you. This is not uncommon. Terms frequently used for this feeling are “cabin fever” and “winter blues,” though health professionals have actually recognized it as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Typical symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed, 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.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms even just a little, it is reassuring to know that there is hope, and there are lifestyle changes you can make to get through it. Some helpful ideas to try are:

  • Exercise. Exercise increases the chemicals in your brain called “endorphins.” These endorphins are thought to decrease your perception of pain and increase your happiness, giving you a natural high. So, take a walk to the gym, or do calisthenics in your dorm room. Park on the far side of the lot, and walk the extra distance. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or, when it finally snows, take up a winter sport, like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or sledding. If the snowfall isn’t as deep as you’d like, you can still go for a brisk walk. (I don’t recommend jogging due to the stress it puts on joints.) Or you can extend the warm weather sports you enjoy, only with a couple extra layers of clothes!
  • Fresh air. Yes, you may have to bundle up. But a dose of fresh air can lift your spirits. You may also want to open your dorm room windows for a few minutes to let the fresh air in!
  • 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. If you can’t find any sunny rooms in which to hang out, or if it’s cloudy out, you can supplement with vitamin D. But, since vitamin D is absorbed by fat and is stored in your body, 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. We can’t give our bodies the wrong fuel and expect it to operate correctly! Skip the pop and the junk 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. Even though you are not sweating a lot, as you do during the hot summer weather, drinking enough H2O is actually energizing, plus it helps combat the dry winter air.
  • Sleep. Make sure you are getting the right amount of this. Seven to nine hours of sleep at the same time every night does wonders for the mood.
  • Socialization. Yes, you need this. Go to church. Hang out with your friends. Go on a date. Take an elective class. Just don’t spend too much time alone. Be selective, and choose positive people.
  • 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.
  • Light therapy. Because of the shortened daylight hours in the winter, some people do well with light therapy. If you think you would like to try it, ask your doctor to recommend a treatment.
  • 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.)
  • Antidepressants.  These should be used only as a last resort after you have made lifestyle changes, especially in the areas of exercise and nutrition. There is no “happy” pill. In fact, these drugs take several weeks to kick in. Antidepressant medication has side-effects that are, well, depressing! Their dosage also needs regular fine-tuning.
  • Get some perspective. In many other countries where daylight is short, the frequency of SAD is lesser than in the United States. In Norway, for instance, the people have a different mindset. Instead of rejecting the darkness and cold, they embrace it! Winter is a time to get outside and enjoy themselves, or to snuggle closer to the fire with someone they love. Another way to get perspective is by leaving campus every now and then. Also, try reading a book just for fun. You deserve it!
  • Take up a craft. Some new studies have shown that spending time crafting improves mental health. Some of the crafts on the list are knitting, drawing and painting, cooking, photography, music, cake decorating, and even doing crossword puzzles. Experts believe that doing such activities increases the brain’s level of the natural anti-depressant dopamine.
  • Stimulate your senses. Wear a light scent that reminds you of something positive in your life. Buy a fresh bouquet of flowers for your room. Put on some music with a positive theme, or listen to classical music. Redecorate your room to make it appear more pleasant. Have a piece of dark chocolate to reward yourself for a job well done. Get a massage, or curl up in a soft, comforting blanket. Put on a fuzzy pair of slippers. All these things stimulate your senses, and may lift your mood.
  • Laugh! Have you heard, “Laughter is the best medicine”? Well, sometimes that is all you need. Whether it is joking around with a friend or watching your favorite comedy on television, try to include laughter in your life. Also, try to avoid the opposite of laughter. Turning off the news channel is a sensible idea these days. Learning what your triggers are is a great way to avoid depression and sadness.

The idea to take away is there is always hope. This year the winter solstice (the day with the least daylight) will occur on Thursday, December 21, at 11:28 a.m. After that, the daylight will lengthen again!

For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder, click on these links:

MedMD
http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/seasonal-affective-disorder#1

MedLine Plus
https://medlineplus.gov/seasonalaffectivedisorder.html

MedicineNet.com
http://www.medicinenet.com/seasonal_affective_disorder_sad/article.htm

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

Mother Nature News
http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/why-crafting-is-good-for-mental-health