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Chapter 3: Staying Safe and Healthy

staying safe and healthy in college

As you make the transition to college life, you will experience many stressful changes and come accross new situations. Some of these changes and situations could negatively affect your health and safety. Understanding some of the different risks that could impact your college experience may help you to take better care of your health and to avoid risky or unsafe situations.

Personal Security

While a college campus can have an energetic atmosphere, there are inherent dangers that students must be aware of. You may have heard news stories in the past about attacks on campus that have resulted in injuries or worse. Sexual attacks are also unfortunately a serious issue on some campuses. Your school may have provided you with thoughtful safety tips that can help you improve personal security. Take these tips to heart, and keep them in mind throughout your college years. You can also follow a few other safety tips to stay safer on campus.

  • Educate Yourself About Self-Defense Techniques. Even when you take every precaution to be safe, you may find yourself in a position where you are confronted by an attacker. Self-defense techniques can help you to ward off your attacker or even to disable him so that you can get away.
  • Tell People Where You Will Be. College is a time to be independent and free, but someone should be always know where you are and when you should return. This may be your roommate, a close friend or a family member.
  • Stay Alert. Whether you are venturing out on campus alone or walking with a friend, be observant of your surroundings at all time. When possible walk in well-lit areas at night. Steer clear of areas where an attacker may hide, such as behind a hedge of shrubs.
  • Use the Buddy System. The buddy system may sound outdated to college students, but it is an effective way to stay safe on campus. Get in the habit of always finding someone to walk with you. This is especially important at night.
  • Carry Personal Protection Devices. Self-defense devices are products that you can use if you are being threatened. Carry one of these products with you any time you venture out on campus.
  • Workout in the Daytime. Walking or jogging alone at night can be dangerous. You may not realize it, but working out at the school’s gym at night also may not be the safest idea. It is best to avoid these activities. If you do them, find a friend to join you.
  • Update Your Phone’s Contact List. All emergency numbers that you may need should be stored in your phone. This includes campus police and any other emergency contacts that could help you in a time of need.
  • Plan Ahead. Parties can be dangerous, and this is especially true if you are intoxicated. Always go to parties with one or more friends. Ensure that you leave with the same group of people.
  • Keep Your Dates Public. Until you know a person very well, you should always keep your dates in public.
  • Watch Your Drink. Your drink should remain in your hand at all times. If you place it down and walk away from it, do not drink it.
  • Ask For an Escort. On many campuses, the campus police may provide an escort for you when you cannot find a buddy to walk with. Some campuses also have volunteers who provide this service.

Dorm Security

Before moving into a dorm, come up with a plan to protect yourself as well as your personal property. By following a few tips, you may be able to improve your security and safety in your dorm.

  • Lock Up Your Room. Each time you leave your room, the doors and windows should be securely locked. This includes even if you are just going down the hall for a minute.
  • Hide Your Valuables. It is generally best not to bring valuables to your dorm. If you do bring expensive items, secure them in a hidden place.
  • Invest in a Security System. If you are very concerned about security, you can purchase a small, cheap security system with a camera. This can help you to deter crime, and it may help you identify criminals if they do break in.
  • Understand Your Dorm’s Guest Policy. Never let someone into the dorm if you do not know them personally. It may seem rude to avoid opening the door for someone standing just outside, but this dorm policy can keep you and others in the dorm safe from harm.
  • Know Your Dorm’s Security Procedures. During orientation, you may have received instructions regarding evacuation procedures. You should know where the closest exits are to your dorm room as well as to other rooms that you may spend time in.
  • Hang On to Your Keys. If your keys are lost or stolen, you should immediately request that your locks get changed.
  • Don’t Give Out Your Student ID. With a student ID, another person could learn a considerable amount of information about you. They may also be able to access money for your meals and other expenses. Never lend your ID card to someone else.
  • Make Friends. It is great to have friends in the dorm for social reasons, but it is also important to have friends in the dorm for safety reasons. These are people who can help you if something happens.
  • Get Insurance. You may not realize it, but you can buy insurance for your rented dorm room. This insurance will pay to replace any items that are damaged by certain events or that are stolen.

Physical Health

Many people have heard about the infamous “Freshman 15,” but you may not realize how significantly your lifestyle habits can affect your physical health and well-being. Gaining weight is just the tip of the iceberg for some people. It is important to pay close attention to your physical health on a daily basis.

When you lived at home, you had parents telling you when to go to bed, what to eat and more. These instructions were designed to keep you healthy. Unfortunately, they often fall to the wayside for many college students. Dietary habits, sleep habits, high levels of stress and more can take their toll on your physical health. Focus your attention on these points to improve your health in college.


Your body needs adequate nutrition every day for optimal health. Many areas of your body can be negatively affected by malnutrition. You need to focus on eating healthily to avoid weight gain as well. College students have easy access to fast food, other types of junk food, alcohol and other items that could ultimately lead to weight gain. Eat natural foods, and avoid excess carbs and sugars. Stay away from processed foods, sugary foods and beverages and high carb foods.


Exercising regularly can be a challenge for busy college students, but it is important to find time for it. Exercise can help you to reduce your stress level, maintain an ideal body weight and improve cardiovascular health. Ideally, you should get a good workout at least three times per week. You may visit your school’s fitness center. Some schools even have group fitness classes for yoga, kickboxing, cycling and more. An alternative to the gym is simply to head out on campus for a nice log walk. It may be wise to begin each morning with exercise, such as yoga or a jog. This will help you to feel more energized throughout the day.

Sexual Health

Casual sex is common on college campuses, and sexually transmitted diseases are a real concern. Remember that STDs and pregnancies can happen even in a committed relationship. Birth control methods should be used to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to prevent the spread of STDs. Your school’s health center can help you to explore birth control and safe sex options.


You may have heard numerous stories over the years about alcohol-related deaths from binge drinking, driving under the influence crashes and more. Alcohol is also linked to many cases of date rape, attacks and more on college campuses. Remember that you may not yet be an experienced drinker, and this means that you may not know when you have reached your limit. Excessive drinking can result in blacking out, vomiting, choking on your vomit in your sleep and more.

It is best to avoid drinking. If you do drink, eat before you start drinking. Place a limit on the number of drinks you will have up-front. In addition, have a designed driver, and only go home with the friends who you went to the party with. It can be a challenge to manage your academics if you are constantly partying, so find a happy medium between your social life and your school work.

Mental Health

There are many major stressors that can negatively impact your mental health during your first year or two of college. For example, you may be challenged by living alone and managing your life on your terms. The stress of trying to make good grades, to manage your work schedule with school work and more can get to you. Understanding some of the common mental health issues that you may develop in college is important.


Many college students deal with a lot of stress: the academic stress that has them worrying about maintaining a good GPA, the financial stress of worrying about paying back their college loans and finding a job after graduation, and even daily stress of making their own decisons, fitting in and finding new friends.

If you are feeling stressed, you can consider exercising to relive stress. You can also step outside, get some fresh air and relax. Try setting up a routine and balancing your workload. Eating healthy foods and creating a supportive network of friends are also great ideas. If all else fails, your college counselors are there to help you.


Depression may sneak up on you, and you may not realize that you are depressed until a friend or family member points it out. Signs of depression include sleep disturbances, lack of  interest in things that you once enjoyed, weight gain or weight loss, irritability and feeling groggy or slow. Other symptoms include moodiness, constant worrying and trouble concentrating.


You may not think that homesickness is a real illness, but the reality is that many college students who are away from home for the first time do experience homesickness until they get settled into their new space.

If you are feeling homesick, try to get out of your dorm and do something fun. Placing photos of loved ones in your room is a great idea, and you may also call them or email them as desired. Do your best to participate in campus activities so that you can more easily make this transition.

Sleep Issues

It can be difficult to fall asleep in a dorm. You may be kept awake by noises or by your own stress and anxiety. Remember that sleep disturbances may be caused by depression and anxiety. In addition, sleep disturbances and related exhaustion can contribute to depression.

It is important that you focus on developing healthy sleep habits. Give yourself a set bedtime that enables you to sleep at least eight full hours. To promote better sleep, get some exercise during the day, and choose healthy meals and snacks.

There are many factors that can affect your health and well-being in college. The good news is that there are numerous steps that you can take to ensure your health and safety. In the next chapter, we will deal with the topic of financial management in college.