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.

exercising and eating right are part of a healthy lifestyle

10 Ways to Improve Your Health

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 the post here.


With all the talk about who should pay for healthcare we sometimes forget the most important way to lower healthcare costs is by taking good care of ourselves. While some illnesses are unavoidable, most are preventable. Use these 10 Ways to Improve Your Health as your premium payment for the best health insurance policy money can’t buy.

1. Curb Excesses – If you have an addiction or compulsive behavior, such as smoking or drinking excessively, it will deplete your physical condition and your bank account. Investing in professional help to treat them now will reap returns in improved health and wealth for the rest of your life.

2. Express Yourself – Everyone needs an emotional outlet to relieve the normal stresses of everyday life. Don’t be afraid to cry when you hurt or laugh out loud when something strikes you funny. Some people turn to writing their thoughts in a journal to express themselves, while others use creative outlets like music, art or even cooking.

3. Maintain Your Smile – Not brushing your teeth properly can be as damaging to your health as not brushing at all. Bacteria in the mouth that is not removed by good oral care may contribute to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. And since the health of your teeth is directly connected to the quality of your diet, the effort pays off in more ways than one.

4. Take Precautions – Accidents are the fifth major cause of death in the United States. Basic safety measures can prevent many of them and reduce the severity of the injuries that may occur. Make sure you always wear a seat belt, drive within the speed limit, wear sun glasses and sun screen when outdoors, use the right sports gear, and are careful around ladders and water.

5. Eat Well – Focusing on health instead of weight when making food choices pays big dividends with every bite since good nutrition is the best preventive medicine there is. Even if you can’t lose all the weight you should, it’s worth eating well to reduce your risk of chronic diseases, including many types of cancer.

6. Make Face Time – Connecting with family and friends on Face Book and other social networks is fine, but should not replace face-to-face meetings. A small but close circle of people you can spend time with is more valuable to your quality of life than having hundreds of friends you never see or talk to.

7. Move More – Instead of thinking about all of the exercise you’re supposed to be doing, just try to get up out of your chair to stand, pace or put your body in motion whenever you can. The goal is to decrease the number of hours a day you spend sitting. Medical experts found women who sit more than six hours a day are 94% more likely to die than those who are not inactive for long periods of time.

8. Check-Up + Follow Up – Just like birthdays and anniversaries, routine dental and medical check-ups should be permanent dates on your calendar. If you keep these annual appointments with your primary care physician and dentist you will have fewer unscheduled visits to treat pain and problems that could have been prevented.

9. Stretch Often – The benefits of routine stretching include improved circulation, stress relief, more flexible joints, and better balance so fewer falls. A good time to do some total body stretches is before getting out of bed in the morning or after a shower when the muscles are warmed up.

10. Sleep Enough – Something as basic as sleep is difficult for the millions of Americans who suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep deprivation increases the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, lowered immune response, accidents, depression and early death. Treating sleep as a necessity, not a luxury, is an important way to prevent illness and prolong life.

Healthy living tips for the 50+ brought to by Crest & Oral-B ProHealth For Life.

Surgery being performed on a properly prepped patient

Lower Risks of Surgery With Pre-surgery Diet

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 the post here.


Although some surgical procedures are called “elective,” I have a hard time believing anyone ever really elects to have their body cut open so repairs can be made inside. What people are really choosing is when to have their surgery. No matter when you schedule it, it’s still pretty scary.

Even if you pick a date and get through the procedure, the risks of surgery don’t end when you’re all stitched up. The chances of an infection after surgery and other post-operative complications, such as hemorrhaging, blood clots, and pain, are very high.

Knowing how to reduce those complications is definitely an option I would elect. And a new study suggests that our pre-surgery diet may hold the key to a better recovery.

Reducing Surgical Stress

As important as surgery is to repairing the body, it is also a form of trauma. The more surgeons know about how to minimize surgical trauma, the better the recovery process is for their patients. Most of their attention has been focused on protecting vital organs and blood vessels, but now scientists are looking at how fat responds to stress.

Fat is a major component of the body and contrary to popular opinion, is viable, active tissue. Cutting through it during surgery is a source of trauma, or stress. Early evidence suggests that the trauma to fatty tissue in the body results in a change in the chemical balance of our fat cells that can negatively impact recovery time after surgery.

The Pre-Surgical Diet

In a study using mice, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found surgical trauma rapidly affected the fat tissues located both close to and distant from the surgical site. By changing the diets of the mice before surgery, they were able to affect inflammation, infection and wound healing in the mice.

A high fat diet before surgery produced the worst outcomes, while mild food restriction produced the best results. The researchers concluded that changing the pre-surgery diet may be an effective and inexpensive way to reduce the stress of surgery. The next step is to test their hypothesis on human subjects.

The study was published in the April 2013 issue of Surgery.

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?

Stress can be removed from holiday traditions so original intent can be enjoyed

Don’t Let Stress Become a Tradition at Holiday Meals


The biggest family meal of the year is just a week away, and that can trigger a big jump in the stress levels of everyone at the table. Traditions are supposed to provide a reassuring foothold in otherwise uncertain times. But that can only happen when everyone shares a common memory of how and why the tradition started. Once the memory of those origins fades and expectations change, anxiety sets in.

Of course, any six year old can tell you the story of the first Thanksgiving meal shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. Or at least the version taught in schools. Yet somewhere along the way the tradition that evolved from that event got side tracked into debates over who bakes the best pie and disputes about how the kids are being raised.

Family and friends who don’t get together often may indeed have different expectations about a lot of things. But Thanksgiving is not the day to express our differences. It’s about a tradition of giving thanks, no matter what is on the menu or who is winning the football game.

Here are some suggestions to help make your day less stressful and a whole lot more enjoyable for generations to come.

  1. Smile – It’s the quickest way to relieve tension. The change in countenance on your face does wonders for you and anyone around you. Try it, you’ll be amazed!
  2. Breathe – Take a deep breath, hold it a few seconds, then exhale fully. It’s called a “sigh of relief” because it has the power to relieve what worries you.
  3. Refocus – Stop fretting about the crumbs in the carpet and look at the faces of those in the room and what each person means to you. When you stay focused on the big picture, the little stuff won’t matter.
  4. Love – Give and get it as often as you can. Find a small child to hug or a furry pet to pet. Look into the eyes of someone dear to you and tell them how much you really love them. The expression of unconditional love is powerful antidote to all that ails you.
  5. Forgive – First be prepared to forgive yourself if everything is not perfect. Then be willing to forgive others who have been thoughtless so you don’t have to feel the burden of that resentment.
  6. Simplify – Take some short-cuts, scale back, do less. Remember why you’re together.
  7. Help – As in “I need help!” No one knows you need it until you ask.
  8. Stretch – Give yourself a mini-massage by tightening and relaxing individual muscle groups, working from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Close your eyes while doing it and visualize a peaceful place.
  9. Listen – Find someone in the group you haven’t seen in a while and ask them to tell you what they’ve been up to. Offer praise for their accomplishments and they will be immediately uplifted, and take you along on their high.
  10. Smile Again J – If this can lead to a good belly laugh, all the better!

Wishing You All A Traditional Thanksgiving Day Without Any the Stress!

Eating regular meals provides a way to slow down a busy day.

Being Busy Interferes with Eating Regular Meals

Eating regular meals provides better nutrition and an antidote to busyness

When I was growing up, no one I knew had an appointment book. The families in my neighborhood all got a free calendar from the bank at Christmas time and it hung inside a kitchen cupboard. The boxes for each day of the week weren’t that big, but it didn’t matter since people didn’t have much to keep track of then.

Today people have calendars on their walls, desks, computers and phones to stay on schedule, and get electronic reminders to tell them what to do next. When people say “time flies,” I think what they really mean is they are too busy being busy.

One of the most dangerous effects of being so busy is its impact on our meal patterns. You remember meals, don’t you? When you were a child they probably involved daily rituals like washing your hands before coming to the table, saying grace before eating, not talking with your mouth full, being excused when you finished what was on your plate, and taking turns washing and drying the dishes.

In addition to feeding us and providing a means to transfer family values, regular meal times serve as the anchors in our day. A time to regroup, while we refuel. Meals provide the perfect antidote to busyness.

When not eating meals people tend to snack and graze their way through the day. No rituals, no table manners and certainly little attention to nutritional needs. Just one more gulp and go day in an eat and run world.

Diet plans and nutrition information may change over time, but meals remain the same. Here’s all you need to know:

  • Sit down to eat
  • Share the meal with others
  • Eat foods from at least three different food groups
  • Use eating utensil, not your hands
  • Disconnect from the outside world – no television or texting at the table

Think about it, is that really too much to ask? And what have you got to lose but another appointment in your PDA?

Bon appetit!