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Early Lesson for Freshmen: Learn to Handle Stress

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College freshman have been away from home for several weeks, and while everything feels new, ``the college experience'' may be starting to lose some of its appeal.

Five classes, a three-hour lab, double the reading from high school, a sloppy roommate, tests next week. The stress builds. You start skipping meals and living on M&Ms and pizza. And today you learned the girl who lives next door has mono.

Will you be next?

You know you need to be more focused, healthy and happy in order to achieve that 3.5 grade point average. The question is how, when you need to stay up late studying, make new friends and discover how to live without your parents and their home-cooked meals?

Terri Kersch, a health educator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, advises seeking a balance of wellness, studying and playing.

In other words, don't do what Erin Gulczinski, a senior at RPI, did her first few years. She skipped lunch and drank coffee - all the time. ``I always carry a water bottle now,'' says Gulczinski, a biomedical engineering major.

While Gulczinski has developed better eating habits, started playing rugby and even lost 40 pounds, she still can't seem to break her habit of drinking coffee late at night. Coffee seems to be everywhere at RPI, she said. She recalled her ``one horror story,'' from the end of the spring semester.

I had a mechanical design and dynamic systems project both due the next day,'' she said.After rugby practice, I started drinking it at 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning. I ate muffins the whole night and skipped breakfast and lunch the next day because I was so sick.''

For Jena Gregware, a sophomore at Russell Sage College, eating is a social activity for her and her friends.

`Everyone is likewe're going to eat now' and whether you're hungry or not you go,'' she said.

And when no one is around to tell you to go to bed, well, you don't, said Gregware.

``We'd stay up until 1 or 2 just talking,'' she said.

Students should try to get eight to nine hours of sleep every night, said Deborah Dittner, a nurse at Russell Sage. This is because young adults are still growing until they are in their early 20s. Some students thrive on being away from home for the first time. Among them is Kerwin Low, an RPI freshman, who makes sure he gets his three meals each day, and not all of them include pizza.

``Every one is different,'' said Low.

Low also takes vitamins and goes to the gym at least twice each week to exercise and lift weights. ``At RPI, the food is ready for me. I didn't used to eat three meals at home in Brooklyn,'' he said.

Kersh said that it helps if new students make an effort to set up healthful routines from the beginning. One of the most important things to do is to rediscover who you are and what your needs are,'' she said.Health needs to be important to us.''

A sign of strength is asking for help when you need it,'' Kersch said.This can be anyone students have made a connection with at school.''

If health becomes too low a priority, students are more at risk of getting sick, particularly if they are under stress, said Susan Lasker, director of health services at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. ``Students get worn down.''

Siena students, now in their third week, have already started to catch mononucleosis - a viral infection, Lasker said. Signs of mono include fever, sore throat, headaches, swollen glands and fatigue. Mono is found in saliva and mucus and is usually passed from one person to another through kissing, although in rare cases it can be spread in other ways, such as through coughing.

Two other viruses that Lasker advises being aware of are the upper respiratory infection and gastrointestinal illness.

Siena's health center strongly recommends that students get flu and meningitis vaccines.


(The Albany Times Union web site is at )

c.2003 Albany Times Union

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