Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy At College

November 27, 2018
9 min read

Lisa Langer, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Roslyn, NY, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Zucker-Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, and the Founder of PRACTICE Body Mind Soul Company, a wellness center in Roslyn, New York, that was acquired by the Northwell Health System under Katz Women’s Institute as the system’s first-ever Center for Integrative Wellness.

Dr. Langer received her PhD at the Derner Institute/Adelphi University and completed her Clinical Internship and Fellowship training at North Shore University Hospital Manhasset. She is a 200-hour trained yoga instructor and holds a 3-year certificate in Gestalt psychotherapy. Dr. Langer has a 30+ year history of training in mindful meditation and body practices and is certified to teach the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course (MBSR) through the Mindfulness Based Training Institute at the University of California – San Diego School of Medicine Center.

Lisa creates and teaches mindfulness based living programs for individuals and community organizations as well as the 8-Week Mindfulness –Based Stress Reduction Course. She is published in Thrive Global and the Huffington Post.

Lisa is also the proud mom of two daughters, her oldest is a freshman in college this year.

Blue-prynt had the chance to talk to Dr. Langer about what to do when you get sick at college and how to stay healthy in the winter months.

First things first — when you wake up sick at school, what do you do?

First is to figure out what is going on (sounds simple but it’s important). Is is a stomach ache, cold, possible sinus problem, headache, or flu?

I suggest taking your temperature. 98.6 is normal (some kids may not even know this) but even a temperature of 99.0 is within the normal range. A temperature of over 100.o is a fever. With a temperature of 102.0-104.0, you are sick and you will feel it.


Should students utilize their university’s health center or seek other medical attention from Urgent Care centers or practicing doctors nearby? What are the pros and cons of these options?

Students might want to begin with the University Health Center (UHC) if it is within normal business hours. If they have a high temperature or feel sick, they might want to visit a nearby Urgent Care center (UCC) (which I would suggest they locate early in the semester if they’re a freshman). Sometimes the University Health Center doesn’t have available appointments that day (I know, hard to believe if a student is quite sick), and in that case, they may want to visit the Urgent Care Center.  The UCC can help the student decide if they need to see a private physician or a specialist. Of course, the student will most likely ask his or her parent and they can help them in this decision as well.

Pro: The University Health Center is on campus and close by. The health practitioners at the UHC will also know which illnesses the students are experiencing on campus at that time, what’s “going around”, and so might be able to best put the students mind at ease quickly about a cough or a stomach ache.

Con: This con for the UHC is a pro for the Urgent Care Center. The UHC is not generally equipped to handle more serious medical issues so if the student thinks they are sick, an Urgent Care Center may be the best place to be triaged. Although the UCC is not on campus, with the ability of students to take an Uber it shouldn’t be difficult to find.

A private specialist may be necessary if it is determined either by the UHC or the UCC that the student needs a more extensive medical work up.


What constitutes an illness serious enough to skip a class?

An illness that constitutes skipping a class would be an illness that is contagious (for example, even pink eye is contagious if it hasn’t been treated with antibiotic drops for a full day), or an illness such as a cough that is interruptive to the class for example.

If the student is ill with a fever, it’s more than likely they will have difficulty paying attention in class. In this case, skipping class makes the most sense.

Of course, they should always email their professor and let them know about their absence.

Should students skip class for an illness or should they power through so they don’t fall behind?

The answer to this question is “it depends.” The student needs to determine whether attendance at a certain class at that point in the semester is crucial. Perhaps skipping a class early in the semester is less important than when finals or papers approach. This decision must be on a “to be determined” basis.


What is your stance on staying home to keep the other students healthy?

Stance on staying home to keep other students healthy is a bit tricky. For the most part, by the time a student comes down with a cold, for example, they have been contagious without knowing it for several days. If a student has a more serious illness like the flu, it is probably better to stay home since they won’t feel like attending class and this will naturally keep other students from getting sick. I described pink eye as an example of an infection that is contagious and untreated can infect other students.


What are the best over the counter meds and remedies students can rely on while they are sick at school?=

Some of the best medicines and supplements may be as follows: Vitamin C and Echinacea pro bolster the immune season and prevent illness. I would also highly recommend a flu shot for all college students.

For fevers, aches, pains, PMS and inflammation: Motrin, Tylenol, Aspirin.

For colds: Cough Medicine, Soothing Cough Drops. Vicks Ointment is terrific rubbed on the throat, chest and under the nose to clear sinuses if the student has a cold.

Some homeopathic remedies can also be found in whole foods or CVS that help alleviate fever, headache.

A steam air filter can also be very helpful to have in the room to keep the air in the dorm room fresh. Also, spraying with old fashioned Lysol in the room on pillow cases and door knobs is also a great habit to get into with students living in such close quarters.

When is it time to seek medical attention?

A student should seek medical attention if their symptoms worsen instead of getting better. They should also seek medical attention if their fever increases over a period of several days after taking some over the counter medicine and getting rest. This might indicate the need for a prescription antibiotic or a stronger medicine that can only be prescribed at the UHC or UCC.


What is the easiest way to to pick up prescriptions on campus?

There are generally pharmacies such as CVS or Walgreen’s located near a college campus.

The UHC can help direct the student about prescriptions and will often call in the prescription to the pharmacy for the student. It is generally convenient for the student to walk to the pharmacy and pick up the prescription themselves.


Do you have any tips for students to stay healthy and avoid this altogether?

The key is to keep your life at college, with classes, studying, social activities in balance and pay attention to developing life-long habits in this area.

  • Get rest and sleep (don’t burn candle at both ends.)
  • Eat healthy and try not to skip meals.
  • Wash hands and use Purell when possible.
  • Get exercise, either on campus or at local classes such as yoga, SoulCycle, or Orange Theory. This is very important.
  • Don’t drink or smoke to excess.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Drink lots of water.

What can students do to become healthy again once they have fallen ill?

If you’ve fallen ill, it’s important to take care of yourself in the ways discussed above, and to take it a bit slowly when re-entering activities. This is important, especially if the student has had the flu or another more debilitating sickness so they prevent a relapse.


What should parents do, is there is anything they can do, from so far away?

This is an important and challenging issue for parents, what to do when your child is sick and at school. I have known parents who have flown or driven to be with their child/student at college and help them seek appropriate medical care.

For a, less serious illness, I think it’s important that parents stay in close touch with their children and make sure they feel supported and are getting the right care (if it means a prescription filled, taking the necessary medicines, etc.)  FaceTime makes it easier to look at your child/student and decide whether you, as a parent, need to be more involved.


How can students ensure their roommates don’t catch whatever illness they have?

To take precautions against a roommate who might catch what as student has, it’s important to maintain good hygiene in the dorm rooms. Change pillowcases and sheets that might have become filled with germs, use Lysol wipes on all contact surfaces (door handles, lights, communal furniture, etc.) and I would highly recommend spraying original Lysol several times a day in the room.

Do you have more advice for students to stay healthy, or what to do once they become sick, especially during the winter months?

We haven’t talked about a student’s mental health but friends, low stress, a healthy routine (as discussed eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and rest) and overall balancing one’s study/work/class and fun schedule is key for students to stay healthy.

Being sick can bring on or exacerbate a low mood or tendency toward worry, depression, and anxiety and students should be alert to their own emotional/mood states throughout the semester as well. All college campuses have mental health clinics and counselors that a student should take advantage of if pressures of stress of being at college become overwhelming.


More questions? You can contact Dr. Langer at or visit her website

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Warby Parker