College,Health & Fitness

How to Avoid Getting Sick in College!

I have been convinced for most of my life that I have one of the worst immune systems of anyone I know. I am constantly getting sick, and always managing to get weird and random illnesses no one else that I know seems to have. In recent years, it’s turned me into a bit of a crazy germ freak…but that’s also kinda been working!
My crazy health tips might be a little bit excessive at times, but they’re also 100% worth it because the number of times I get sick per year has dropped to almost nothing. I only wish I had figured it out while I was still in college, surrounded by thousands of germ-infested common areas and students!
It’s way too easy to get sick in college – especially while you still live in the dorms. Dorms are a literal breeding ground for all things cold/cough/flu/strep related, and everything in between. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some really effective ways to reduce the risk of getting sick and staying healthy all year long, though!
Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over many years of being #PatientZero to help keep you healthy in college!

1. Lots of Antioxidants: This is a trick I really didn’t start trying until after I graduated, and I really regret it now. Whether it’s a smoothie/smoothie bowl, yogurts, or some oatmeal & fruit, fruits packed with antioxidants like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. are filled with powerful antioxidants that boost your immune system and help you fight off diseases and germs (among countless other benefits!)

2. Have the Essentials On Hand: One of the most important parts of cutting an illness off before it begins is treating your symptoms the minute you have them. I personally despise going to the doctor, and avoid it as much as possible; however, I also know how to recognize my symptoms and which medicines are best for which scenarios. I always kept a “first-aid drawer” (aka the pharmacy in my closet, as my friends referred to it) with all of the essentials fully stocked. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Tissues
  • Thermometer
  • NyQuil & DayQuil (or their off-brand alternative)
  • Sinus Medication (Sudafed is my favorite and doctor’s recommendation)
  • Mucinex (If you’re congested or have sinus issues, this is a must)
  • An Over-The-Counter Nasal Spray like Flonase
  • Cough/Throat Drops
  • Hand Sanitizer (although washing your hands is always preferred!)
  • Tea + Honey
  • Emergen-C Packets
  • Allergy Medication (if you’re like me, allergies can lead to other sicknesses easily!)
The last thing you want to do is trek to the nearest pharmacy or a germ-infested student health if you can avoid it, so be sure to have these handy way before the seasons start to change, and you’ll thank yourself later!
3. Become a Germ-o-phobe, and Clean Everything: This is tricky enough to battle when you live in communal areas like dorm rooms or apartments, but every little bit helps. My roommate and I used to keep 2-3 bottles of Lysol Cleaning Wipes stashed around the room, so we could always wipe down common items like doorknobs, drawers, and light switches. We were teased for being over-protective, and then envied when we stayed healthy and happy that winter! 
4. Wash Your Hands > Hand Sanitizer: While hand sanitizer is a convenient fix if you’re walking into a class, or just trying to take extra precautions, but whenever possible it is always best to wash your hands. It’s more effective, and your body can begin to build a bit of a resilience to hand sanitizer. Nothing can ever top good old-fashioned warm soap and water – and be thorough! In my opinion, constant hand-washing is the #1 reason I don’t get sick nearly as often anymore.
Pro Tip – this also includes places like the fitness center. You may be courteous and wipe down your machine after you use it…but are you really sure someone before you did the same? They might have been coughing into their hands all day long! Take an extra second and sanitize before exercise.
5. Stop Sharing! It can be tempting in college when everything is communal, but as often as possible – do not share. Don’t share food, don’t share utensils, cups, drinks, towels, anything! No one is going to think you’re being a bad friend if you’re just trying to take care of yourself. On the flip-side, if you feel like you’re coming down with something, warn friends that might want a sip of your coffee and do everyone a big favor!
6. Take a Daily Multi-Vitamin: I’ll be honest – I’m super guilty of not doing this one as often anymore. In college, I always had the Costco-sized package of gummy vitamins, which made it easy to take one (or three…) every day. You can’t expect your body to fight off all of the germs and illnesses you’re exposing it to if you don’t take care of it yourself!
7. Emergen-C & Vitamin C: Everyone likely knows that Vitamin C is a great immune booster (along with those antioxidants!) but this one is so important I wanted to emphasize it again. If people you spend time with are getting sick, start chugging that Emergen-C before you have symptoms. Preventative steps are more than half of the battle when it comes to staying healthy during the school year!
8. Sleep: It seems to me that the number one time people start getting run-down in college is right about this time of year…everyone has been there for about a month, going out, staying up late with friends, midterms have arrived and late-night study sessions are setting in…and suddenly your body is so run down that it can’t cope. Don’t skip out on the sleep, or all of those other activities will take a much bigger hit when you’re too sick to participate.
Just for laughs, I couldn’t resist sharing this snap I sent to my dad in January of me enduring my first full Chicago winter this past year…and buying my first hat since I was a little kid. (Yes, I was seriously so stubborn that I didn’t buy a single hat in college). Thanks, Gap, for the cozy hat!
Talk about a happy Chicago girl…
Stay warm and healthy!

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  • Reply
    September 26, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    Oh my gosh I thought I was the only one with a super crappy immune system!! I get every stinking cold or virus within a 5 mile radius lol. In addition to your list of "first aid" stuff, I also really love zinc lozenges which are supposed to help shorten a cold. Oh and Sudafed makes a 24 hour version which is great so you're not popping pills every 4 hours. You don't need a prescription but you have to ask at the pharmacy counter for it. Life saver!

    • Reply
      Olivia Tennant
      October 5, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Those are great ideas! I'm so glad you can get Sudafed over the counter now, it was a lifesaver the last time I got sick. You're definitely not the only one, my immune system and I haven't been on the same team for ages it feels like!

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