stressed out college student cramming for final exams

How to Help With Stress in College Students

This post was written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original post here.


The next two weeks are the most difficult time of year for college students. The end-of-semester demands they face are unrealistic and can lead to unbearable pressure. How our children cope with stress in college can have a devastating impact on both their physical and emotional health.

For those of us who can say “been there, done that,” it is not a rite of passage we would wish on anyone — especially our own children.

Stress in College Students

An estimated 15 percent of the 20 million young people attending college in the U.S. are diagnosed with depression. Those who do not have a clinical diagnosis of depression still experience stress and may suffer in silence or resort to inappropriate behavior.

The biggest risk is the threat of suicide.

A recent study reveals half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts. Tragically, 1500 of them are successful each year, according to Dr. Victor Schwartz, a psychiatrist and medical director of The Jed Foundation. The mission of this non-profit organization is to “promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college and university students.”

Here is just a partial list of what college students face this time of year.

End of Semester Stressors

  • Cramming for finals
  • Writing term papers
  • Completing projects
  • Making presentations
  • Studying for Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Applying for Internships
  • Preparing resumes
  • Scheduling job interviews
  • Packing up and moving out

Any one of these “added demands” is reason enough to need help with stress. The year-end stress for college students is heaped on top of their on-gong concerns about paying off loans, changing roommates, declaring a major, traveling abroad, finding off-campus housing, dealing with relationships, and so much more

When forced to try to deal with it all, students may “self-medicate” as the pressure builds.

Inappropriate Coping Strategies

  • Depression – abuses of “uppers,” such as speed, cocaine, crack, Ecstasy
  • Anxiety – abuse of “downers,” such as marijuana, hash, codeine, heroin
  • Rage or Anger – abuse of alcohol in the form of binge drinking
  • Sleep deprivation – abuse of caffeine from energy drinks, pills, espresso and coffee drinks
  • Meal skipping – over-eating high foods high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Dehydration – inappropriate use of medications for headaches, dizziness, lethargy

The American Psychological Association provides an online tool to test your knowledge about stress. Telling your child about it may be a good way to help him or her recognize what is happening and encourage them to take advantage of campus support services.

Unfortunately, stress doesn’t end after graduation. Learning how to cope with it while in college is a life skill that will pay off for your child no matter what career he or she pursues.

And for your high school graduate who may be starting college in the fall, check out my Tips to Prevent College Weight Gain adapted from my book, Fighting the Freshman Fifteen.

Shingles pain can last for months after the initial outbreak.

Living in Fear of Shingles Pain

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read it here.


If, like me, you have a low pain threshold, then shingles is on your radar. It’s described as one of the most painful conditions you can be cursed with, often accompanied by the word “excruciating.” As if that weren’t bad enough, there is no cure. Some people experience “severe” pain that can last for years. Being a wimp, I made a point to learn everything I could about shingles.

Risk of Getting Shingles

The biggest factor that raises your risk of developing shingles is having had chicken pox. With it comes a 10% to 30% lifetime chance you’ll get shingles because the varicella-zoster virus that causes chicken pox remains dormant in the body after chicken pox have healed.

As we age, the risk increases due, in part, to a weakening of the immune system. By age 85 the risk increases to 50%.

About 1 million cases of shingles are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of them are in people over the age of 60.

Diseases that weaken the immune system, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, make us more vulnerable, along with immune-blocking treatments, such as chemotherapy and the anti-rejection drugs used after organ transplants.

The only good news here is that you cannot catch shingles from someone who has it, but if you never had chicken pox, you can get them from being around someone with shingles.

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles

The first sign is a tingling or burning sensation on the skin, much like a mild sunburn that makes the skin sensitive to touch. Within a few days a red rash will appear on one side of the body, the neck or face. A few days later the rash will be covered with fluid-filled blisters. After 3-4 days the blisters dry up and crust over, but the redness remains.

The whole episode can last from 3-5 weeks from when the rash first appears.

Prevention and Treatment of Shingles

The CDC recommends those age 60 and older get the shingles vaccine, called Zostavax. It is given as an injection and can protect the body from reactivation of the virus, much like getting a tetanus booster.

It is still possible to develop shingles once you’ve had the vaccine, but your case may not last as long or be as severe compared to people who were not vaccinated.

If a rash does appear on your body and there is no other logical explanation for it, see your doctor immediately so you can be diagnosed and begin treatment, if it is shingles, before the blisters appear. Early use of anti-viral medication, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir, can help prevent the shingles from multiplying, speed the drying of the blisters, and reduce some of the pain.

Prescription pain medication may also be needed and antibiotics if blisters become infected.

Complications From Shingles

Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a serious complication that strikes about 1 in 5 people with shingles. It causes debilitating pain that can linger for months or even years in the area where the rash first appeared. The unrelenting pain of PHN can lead to depression, sleeplessness and an inability to carry on normal daily activities. In these cases, other medications may be needed to more aggressively treat the pain and disability that goes with it.

There is a risk of the blisters becoming infected, so it is important to keep that area clean and free from exposure to irritants.

Shingles that develops on the face can be critical if it spreads near the eyes, and may cause blindness.

Hearing loss, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain are also dangerous complications.

If you have pockmarks from your childhood case of chickenpox, let them be a reminder to keep your immune system strong and get vaccinated to prevent shingles.

Tips for dealing with depression brought on by seasonal affective disorder (sad)

Feeling SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder & The Winter Blues

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can view it here.


We’re two-thirds of the way through winter, and I’m SAD. Not in a way that means I’m unhappy to see winter coming to an end, but the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) kind. I get the winter blues when I don’t get enough sunlight.

This condition is most common in places where there are big differences in the amount of daylight from one season to the next. Being an outdoorsy person, I notice those things. If you’re dealing with depression caused by too many clouds and not enough blue sky, you may have the winter blues, too.

Women are more likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder than men, and it typically begins in the teenage years. If you have a close relative with SAD, your chances of having it are higher, but the older we become the lower the risk is of getting it for the first time.

Fortunately, Daylight Savings Time begins on March 10th this year, so the days will soon start getting longer.

If you’re in a funk for no particular reason, I have some strategies to brighten your outlook. They don’t require hopping a plane to a tropical place, but by all means take the trip if you can! Instead, I’m going to show you how to beat the winter blues with a trip into your own kitchen.

Change the Scenery

Hit the Winter White Sales to get a colorful new tablecloth, placemats, towel set, seat cushions, window valance, or area rug. Hint: I took down my old valance to replace it and never put the new one up when I realized how much more light streamed into the room without it. The point is to turn your kitchen into an oasis, a welcoming place to come home to each night.

Alternate Appliances

Dust off those little-used small appliances you have tucked away in closets and read the user manuals for inspiration. Your culinary repertoire and mental outlook can be revitalized just by switching from a slow cooker to a wok. I know I’m ready for a sizzling shrimp stir fry made with perfectly julienned vegetables using my mandolin slicer.

Unclutter the Cupboards

Buy some new shelf paper and use it to line the shelves and reorganize what you put back in. Give away odd mugs, unmatched glassware, and unused baskets that are taking up space. Sort and toss any plastic ware without its proper lid. Clean out the junk draw and be sure to identify what all those power cords belong to so you can label them before winding them up and putting them back in.

Bring on Spring

You don’t have to wait until the ground thaws to have edible plants in your home. Start a window sill herb pot for instant flavor in a pinch, sprout some beans for added crunch on sandwiches and salads, force some flowering bulbs with edible petals, such as tulips and daylilies, or make a centerpiece from pansies and violets and snip the flowers for edible garnishes.

Cook Out Often

Your kitchen can take on the tastes and smells of summer by just lighting the barbeque grill. Marinate some chicken, toss a potato salad, grill some vegetables and squeeze some lemons for fresh lemonade.

And when it snows, be sure to have extra burgers on hand to grill for the crew doing the shoveling.

Plan a Luau

Let everyone wear a Hawaiian print shirt and put on some music from The Beach Boys. There’s plenty of tropical fruit in the stores, so you can start with a halved and hollowed pineapple filled with pineapple chunks, kiwi and banana topped with toasted coconut. The rest of your menu can be as easy as some take-out seaweed salad and a sushi platter or easily prepared fish tacos and oven-baked sweet potato fries. And don’t forget to stop at the party goods store for the little cocktail umbrellas!

Older people have an added danger of dehydration when symptoms are misdiagnosed

Hidden Danger of Dehydration for the Elderly


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

Staying properly hydrated in hot weather is important for everyone, but the danger of dehydration in the elderly is of special concern. Not only do older adults become dehydrated more easily than younger people, the warning signs are often mistaken for something more serious.

Anyone who lives alone and has limited mobility is at risk of dehydration. The use of multiple medications increases the risk. Now add all those people being cared for by others who cannot communicate clearly and the count gets higher.

Why? They simply don’t drink enough. The primary causes of dehydration for the general population are vomiting, diarrhea, heavy sweating, uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes, infections, high fevers, and burns. But for those who can’t, won’t or don’t drink all that they should, dehydration is a dark secret.

Why Some Seniors Don’t Drink Enough

  • Fear of incontinence, especially if taking diuretics
  • Unable to get up out of a chair or bed alone
  • Too difficult or exhausting to walk to the bathroom
  • Difficulty toileting alone – undressing, sitting on commode, cleaning themself, redressing
  • Inability to get food or beverages for themselves or get enough
  • Don’t feel thirsty, especially if inactive
  • Trouble holding a glass or cup to drink for themself
  • Unable or unwilling to ask for help
  • Depression

The danger of dehydration for the elderly is heightened when the symptoms are not addressed because they are so similar to age-related dementia or senility and Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of getting the fluids and assistance with using the bathroom that they need, they may be viewed as incompetent. That is why it is important to monitor fluid intake and excretion in someone with the symptoms below before taking other steps.

Mental Signs of Dehydration

  • Headache
  • Dizziness, especially upon standing
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Irritability
  • Forgetfulness

Physical Signs of Dehydration

  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Thick saliva
  • Dry, inelastic skin – doesn’t relax if pinched
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low tear production
  • Low sweat production
  • Unexplained weight loss

Functional Signs of Dehydration

  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Tired or sleepy
  • Nauseas
  • Constipated
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine

Both foods and beverages can provide the fluids our bodies need each day. Fruits and vegetables are very high in moisture and may be easier for some people to consume than another glass of water, juice or tea. You can also rely on flavored gelatin, pudding, yogurt, ice pops, sherbet, and soup for added fluids.

Catch up on more news about aging and hydration with these other posts:

Constipation is a sign there may not be enough fiber in your diet.

Which Foods and Fibers Can Prevent Constipation?


You know it if you have it, but to get a proper diagnosis of constipation you must experience two or more of these problems for at least three months:

  • Two or fewer bowel movements a week
  • Hard stools more than 25% of the time
  • Straining or excessive pushing during bowel movements more than 25% of the time
  • Incomplete emptying of the bowels at least 25% of the time

What Does a Healthy Colon Do?

The colon is the last 5 feet of the intestinal tract. It is also known as the large intestines in contrast to the other 20 feet which are referred to as the small intestines. The functions of the colon are to:

  • Serve as a storage area for the waste material from within our bodies and from undigested food
  • Extract excess water from the waste material
  • Expel the waste material as a soft mass on a regular basis

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation can happen to anyone occasionally and usually does not require any treatment if it lasts just a few days. If constipation is a reoccurring problem or persists for several months, then medical attention is recommended. The most common causes of constipation are:

  • Inadequate fluid and fiber intake
  • Inactivity or immobility
  • Some medicationsantacids with calcium or aluminum, strong pain medications, antidepressants, iron supplements
  • Lack of or changes in your daily routine
  • Over use of laxatives or stool softeners
  • Other medical conditions – irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, colon cancer, depression, eating disorders, pregnancy, stress

How Can Dietary Fiber Help?

By definition, dietary fiber is all of the non-digestible parts of the plant foods we eat. Since anything that we cannot digest must be eliminated, the more fiber-rich food we consume, the more likely our bowels will empty on a regular basis.

The Institute of Medicine set the Adequate Intake (AI) for total dietary fiber at 25 grams a day for adult women and 38 grams a day for men.

One of the best sources of dietary fiber to prevent constipation is wheat bran. Every gram of wheat bran eaten generates about a 5 gram increase in fecal weight due to the water it binds. A half-cup serving of All-Bran®cereal contains 10 grams of wheat bran fiber, so it could increase fecal weight by 50 grams or 1 ¾ ounces.

Whole grains are another important source of dietary fiber. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that half the grain foods we eat should be whole grains. For adults that means at least 3 servings of whole grains a day, which supply another 6-12 grams of fiber.

Beans are the best source of dietary fiber in the vegetable kingdom. One half cup of cooked beans has 6-7 grams of fiber. Most other fruits and vegetables have between 2-3 grams of fiber per serving. Making sure you eat 3 cups of beans per week and the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day will provide all the rest of the fiber you need.

What changes can you make to increase the high fiber plant foods you eat each day?