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Homesickness in College Students

How to Deal with Homesickness in College

One of the main causes of distress in students is homesickness. According to the UCLA Higher Education Institute, over 30% of college students experience low-level homesickness, and about 69% of first year college students experience severe homesickness.

Homesickness is more than the concept of missing home or missing family — it’s the feeling of longing and feeling out of place. Whether they’re nearby, out-of-state, or studying in a foreign country, college students are not only experiencing a new phase of life, but they’re also at a new school, in a new place.

Although it’s normal to feel homesick, wanting to enjoy a home-cooked meal with family or not wanting to deal with adult responsibilities and academic pressures may quickly make homesickness grow. Homesickness builds in waves and can turn into more serious mental health issues if not taken seriously.

Last year, Assist America worked on a severe case of homesickness, helping an 18-year-old student from Germany who was hospitalized after his homesickness transformed into serious depressive episodes.

In the weeks leading up to his hospitalization, the student had shown increased signs of homesickness, including mentioning that he wanted to go home, a decrease in the desire to participate in activities and social events, and suicidal thoughts.

After a while, his roommates told the university staff about his behavior, and he was later admitted to the hospital. Once he was stable, Assist America arranged for transportation supervised by a medical escort to take him back to Germany.

Tips for Overcoming Homesickness

Some preventive measures can be taken by both parents and students to help overcome homesickness.

For Parents

  • You can help your child prepare for college life by visiting the campus ahead of time so they can familiarize themselves with its surroundings.

  • In the years before college, consider sending your child to summer camps, activities, or to visit family away from home , so they can gradually learn to deal with separation anxiety.

  • Avoid expressing your own anxiety about your child leaving for college in front of them. Instead, talk optimistically and positively about their new experiences to come.

  • Encourage your child to find trusted friends and adults on campus. These relationships will help them build connections in their new community and ease the transition.

  • Consider sending little surprise care packages to your child. Include their favorite cookies or candies, a new book, gift cards to their favorite stores, a letter, and a funny family photo.

  • Make the most of technology. Staying in touch on the phone or through video chat is easier than ever and can help the whole family feel connected.

For Students

  • Stay engaged in campus activities. Many colleges organize welcome week events to help students get used to college culture.

  • Establish and stick to a daily routine, even if it’s difficult to stay on track with exams and events around every corner. Routines are good for dealing with stress and anxiety and will help you adjust to your new community and class schedule.

  • Feeling homesick is normal, as long as you can handle the situation. To help battle feelings of loneliness, keep a family picture on your study table, video-chat often, or go old-school and write letters to family and friends back home.

  • Find ways to reward yourself as you make gains in your new routine. For instance, after submitting an important assignment or taking a big exam, take some time to do something fun or treat yourself with something you like.

  • If campus is only a drive away, you and your parents and friends can plan a few weekends throughout the school year to visit each other on campus, at home, or to meet at a halfway-point.

  • When packing for college, take some of your favorite decorations from your room to make your new room feel more like home.

  • Know what services are available to you to help you cope with homesickness. Too often students don’t realize all the things their college has ready to help them with exactly these issues. Never shy away from seeking advice from a trusted adult on campus about these services. Or you can look into these services privately on your school’s website.

While Studying Abroad

  • Students who study abroad are even more likely to feel homesick since they have to adjust to a whole new culture and lifestyle, learn to speak a new language, and meet all new people from many backgrounds.

  • A challenge while studying abroad is knowing who you can ask questions and how and where to get help. Before leaving, create a reference list with the names, contact details, and roles of people that will be helpful during your stay. Once you arrive, be sure to add anyone important you meet to your list. 

  • Schools often have an international student department who will organize welcome events and get-togethers. Be sure to attend those activities, especially at the beginning of your time abroad.

  • Many international programs also have Facebook groups where former and new students can exchange tips and experiences. Joining these groups to make connections and prepare before leaving home.

  • Make friends with people from the same country as you. When you’re missing home, spend time together. Your shared experience of studying abroad can make you feel a little closer to home.

How Assist America Can Help

Assist America provides useful services that can reassure parents and students studying out-of-state or abroad.

For example, Assist America can help students find where and how they can refill certain prescriptions before they even leave home, so they can plan their departure with peace of mind.

Students who know they will need to see a doctor while away from home can call us or Assist America for referrals. Assist America also provides emergency trauma counseling for students on the phone, with referrals for follow-up sessions with specialists.

Finally, students going to a foreign country can use the Pre-Trip Information tool on Assist America’s website and the mobile app to familiarize themselves with their destination.

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Beat Stress Tips

Tips to Beat Stress

It was Everybody Deserves a Massage Week, so we helped you take a minute for yourself each day with these tips to beat stress.

If you’ve never had a massage, they’re a great way to relax, relieve muscle tension, and help your immune and digestive systems.

Massage Away Stress

 

Grab some gum. It’s been shown to relieve anxiety and stress and improve alertness while multitasking.

Fighting Strss with Gum

 

Watch a viral video, comedy special, or your favorite rom-com. Laughter can lower stress hormones, reduce inflammation in the arteries, and increase good cholesterol.

Laughter for Your Stress

 

Unplug from your technology, turn off your phone, and shut off the news. Taking a break can genuinely help you beat stress.

Eat a square of chocolate, suck on a peppermint, or sip on hot chocolate. Sweets can stem the production of the stress hormone.

A Dose of Sweetness

 

Try a stress-relieving yoga routine. It’s great exercise, and you’ll feel refreshed and calm afterward.

Stress-Fighting Yoga

 

Learn to knit, cross-stitch, or sew. Repetitive motions have been shown to help sooth anxiety.

Knit Your Way to Peace

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Grocery Shopping Fresh

Grocery Shopping Like a Pro

Even after you’ve gotten ready to head to the store, grocery shopping on a budget for healthy meals can be hard. But there are some things you can do to make it easier.

Stock Your Pantry

Keeping your kitchen stocked with certain key things can make cooking easy. This list has some items that are perfect for this. And this article has some healthy foods perfect for your pantry that only cost about $2.

Add one item that won’t go bad, like a spice, grain, beans, or frozen veggies to your cart each shopping trip to help you build your pantry without dropping a lot of money at once. (These are also good things to buy in bulk when they’re on sale if you have space to store them.)

Having this stocked pantry will help you throw together meals fast, help you save on packaged or premade meals you might’ve grabbed in a hurry, and make shopping easier.

Choosing Your Store

Choosing where you shop can also help you save. Besides the grocery store, some great places to find good deals are:

  • Ethnic markets
  • Dollar stores
  • Retail supercenters
  • Wholesale clubs
  • Farmers markets

At the Store

Once you’re at the store, you should try to shop the outer edge of it as much as possible. The outer edge usually has the fresh produce, like fruits and veggies, meat, dairy, bread, and frozen food. It’s typically the inner aisles that are full of boxed and processed foods.

Fruits & Veggies

It’s recommended that you eat 5 servings of veggies a day, so it’s important to really use that part of the store. With that in mind, fruits and veggies, fresh or frozen, should take up about a third of your cart on each shopping trip.

  • Shop in season 

At the farmers market, you have to buy what’s in season, but at the grocery store, there are lots of choices. But when you buy what’s in season, you can save a lot, and your food will be the tastiest and freshest it can be. This list can help you find what’s in season when.

  • Buy bags at the right time

With certain go-to things your family will always use, like apples, oranges, potatoes, and onions, buying them in the big bags when they’re in season can help you save even more.

  • Stock up on canned and frozen fruits and veggies

Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are picked while they’re in season and tasting best, and they’re good for you, too. So instead of buying fresh peas when they’re not in season, stock up on frozen ones to save and get the best flavor. Plus, they last much longer.

Look for frozen veggies without added sauces or butter. Choose canned fruit in 100% fruit juice and veggies with “low-sodium” or “no salt added.”

Canned veggies and broths are perfect for easy soups and stews, and canned fruit makes great fruit salad and snacks for the kids.

Packaged Goods

Avoid a lot of the packaged and processed foods in the center of the store. Cookies, candy, chips, crackers, and soda are all high in things you don’t want, like sugar, salt, and bad fats, and low in things like protein and nutrients. They’re also expensive.

  • Look for whole grains

Be careful you don’t get fooled by things that just call out wheat. Instead, look for whole grains and whole-grain breads.

  • Find high-protein foods besides meat

Yogurt and cheeses are great sources of protein, as are beans and other legumes, which you can find dried or canned.

  • Be smart about cereal

Cereals are one of the top foods for hidden sugar. Look for ones with little or no sugar. You can always add honey to flavor it in the bowl. Also look for cereals high in fiber to start your day right.

  • Try new things in the bulk aisle

If you want to try a new grain, nut, or dried fruit, the bulk aisle with bins is a great way to taste test. Scoop out a small bag for your family to taste before buying bigger servings.

Shopping Tips

Make the most of your trip by paying attention to how your store organizes things, their price tags, and food labels.

  • Don’t shop at eye level

Stores oftentimes stock the most expensive things right where they’ll catch your eye. Looking at the upper and lower shelves can help you find the best deal.

  • Grab from the back

Stores also stock from the back, putting newer things behind the older ones. Grabbing from the back gets you fresher food with better expiration dates, so your food will be good for longer.

  • Look for store brands

Many stores have their own brands of items, and in most cases, you’ll get the exact same or very similar thing at a much better price.

  • Read the label

Reading the nutrition label can tell you a lot about what’s in a food, if it’s good for you, and help you choose between brands.

  • Pay attention to serving sizes

Some things might seem good for you until you check the serving size. Sometimes the serving size is much smaller than what you’d actually eat in a sitting, which makes the numbers on the label look better.

  • Learn how to read unit price on the price tag

Unit price tells you how much something costs per pound, ounce, quart, or other unit of measure. It can tell you which brands are the most affordable. This guide can help you read or calculate unit price.

  • Have a calculator handy

Whether it’s on your phone or you bring a small calculator along to the store, having one on hand can make it easy to compare labels and costs.

Up Next:

Learn how to read and make sense of nutrition labels to get the most out of your food.

Stop the Tossing and Turning

My Healthy Journey: Finding Time for Sleep

It’s been a busy year for my team at Health Alliance, so I hope you’ve been enjoying Nicole’s Chasing Health series while I’ve been too busy to post!

When life gets busy and stress takes over, the first thing that always goes for me is sleep. I’ve never been very good at getting a lot of it, even though it’s one of my favorite things in the world, especially when stress sets in.

Unfortunately, that’s not doing my health any favors:

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
Image via Mind Body Green

And since stress and being too busy already make some of these things worse, like my mood and healthy eating flying out the window, not getting enough sleep on top of all that is not good.

Not to mention that it’s definitely not helping my work:

What Happens When Your Brain Doesn't Sleep?
Image via Science.Mic

The moral is clearly that sometimes, you have to make taking care of yourself a priority, which is unfortunately easier said than done.

Rally, our online wellness tool, can help by offering missions that help you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, stick to a bedtime, start a bedtime ritual, and sleep better.

As for me, what can I do to get better sleep?

I’m taking notes from this video and this handy list of 27 Easy Ways to Sleep Better Tonight from Greatist.

  • Start a bedtime routine. I used to have one, but that’s all but disappeared the last 6 months. I need to start again, and I’m going to try adding drinking something warm (and decaffeinated) to that schedule.
  • Listen to soothing music. Normally, I leave something playing on Netflix as I fall asleep, but soothing music or a sound machine, without the light, would be a much better idea. Maybe I can make use of Adele’s new album or apps like Rain, Rain, which makes thunderstorm noises.
  • Cut back on electronics. This and making my bed a work-free zone are nearly impossible for me, but I do need to work on cutting back. Setting a curfew when I set down my phone or laptop, like at least a half hour before bed, could really help.
  • Make your bed cozy. I mentioned this in my resolutions for this year, but I’ve just gotten around to digging out my cozy stuff for this winter.

A Cozy Bed

  • Make up for lost sleep. Adding an extra hour when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before could help me with my sleep debt.
  • Don’t toss and turn. I do this a lot, and if I can’t fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, I should try getting up and doing something relaxing (NOT work), like knitting or reading.

One thing I can tell you I won’t be trying off this list? Kicking my pet out of my bed.

While I know this must be a problem for some people, I don’t think it’s a problem for me. And I’m not alone. A new study finds that 41% of people think having their pet in the room helps them sleep better.

I know that I would worry about her if she wasn’t in my room. Plus, cuddling her is about the most relaxing activity in my life. In fact, that’s frequently how I fall asleep now. I mean, how can you resist that?

Sleepy Tootsie

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Sleep Awareness

Sleep Awareness Week

This week is Sleep Awareness Week, just in time for the Daylight Savings Time change, so we will be giving you tips and info about getting a healthy amount of sleep each day.

Approximately 30% of Americans suffer from some insomnia symptoms, and 10% have issues functioning during the day because of it.

37 million people regularly snore, and many who snore have sleep apnea, where they stop breathing while sleeping. Sleep apnea hurts your daytime activity and is tied to more serious health problems.

Living with Snoring

 

Try keeping a sleep diary to monitor how well you sleep. This will be especially helpful if you visit a doctor for the problem. Devices like a Fitbit also keep detailed info on your sleep patterns.

Keeping a Sleep Diary

 

Stop drinking caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bed to fall asleep more easily.

Cutting Back Caffeine for Better Sleep

 

Don’t exercise 3 hours or less before bed. Exercise wakes up your system and can make it hard to fall asleep.

Exercise and Your Bedtime

 

If you have trouble sleeping, wind down before bed with calming activities, like taking a relaxing bath or reading.

Relaxing to Sleep Better

 

Turn off devices at least an hour before you go to sleep. The light from your TV, phone, and tablet screens can mess with the hormones that help you sleep. Machines and apps that recreate sounds like rain can make noise without the light.

Turning Off Devices

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Lemon Water for the Holiday Season

My Healthy Journey: Fighting the Holiday Season

While I think most people find the holiday season the hardest to stick to their healthy plans, I’m actually feeling really ready to kick off the new year the right way.

I haven’t exactly decided on my resolutions yet, I’m sure that is coming in the next few weeks, but I have found it much easier to stick to my guns now that the Halloween candy and Thanksgiving leftovers are out of my house.

I have also started using the MyPlate app. It asks you a series of questions, and then it calculates what is probably a healthy number of calories for you to be eating each day for your weight and your goals.

My favorite thing is how easy it is to track food with it. You can scan barcodes or search by names and brands to find all the things you ate. And I mean all the things. Did you eat a piece of candy? Cream in your coffee? It can help you track every detail.

Is it probably accurate down to the calorie? No. Is it controlling your portions? No. But it does make it really easy to put a real number on how many calories you’re eating in a day, a thing I had never done before.

It also helps remind you what a proper portion is, which you don’t always think about just because the package is in your hand. Did you know you can have 7 pixie sticks for 60 calories? Yeah, I didn’t either.  And while I’m not endorsing you eating pure sugar, with my sweet tooth, I’m not going to completely cut it out of my life forever. So now, I actually know what a serving is and what it costs me out of my day.

And while I’m usually within or close to my calorie goals without making changes, the app does a really good job of making me think about how wildly my diet swings. One day I’m 300 under, the next I’m 200 over. Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world, but it does make me a lot more aware of the fact that I’m 200 over because I had a Coca-Cola that day. Now the mental downside that I’m trying to stay away from is when I’m 300 under, saying “Oh, what in my house can I eat because I’m under!”

And even though it’s just an app, having to check in every little thing I ate does make me want to eat healthier; like if I’m embarrassed to document it, I probably shouldn’t eat it.

It also gives you a breakdown of how much protein, fat, and carbs you’re eating, which I love. If at dinner, my diet has been mostly carbs that day, it’s no wonder I’m hungry, and I try to up my protein.

It also has a place where you can track the ounces of water you drink in a day. I am unfortunately still failing dismally at drinking enough, but having a place I look at everyday with a glaring empty if I don’t drink water unbelievably does make me want to drink more. There’s something about the satisfaction of that bubble being colored in, like a mental check, that gives me the drive to actually strive for results. (I like mine with just a squeeze of fresh fruit juice, so I feel like I’m drinking something tastier.)

I wouldn’t say it’s giving me concrete weight-loss results, but I actually love the feeling of control and monitoring it’s giving me, and I do think it could become a significant tool in my healthy journey progress. And, it’s on my phone, which makes it so easy to do any time.

As for the plank challenge, I really enjoyed this one! It’s almost over, and I think I might actually keep doing it. It takes very little time out of your day, literally a few minutes, and I have felt the improvement. Now if I can just get my flexibility up, I think 2015 could be my year to actually take on yoga!