7 Tips To Avoid Getting Sick In College

close up of hands holding a bottle of hand sanitizer. Killing germs is how to avoid getting sick

College students have super busy schedules and lives. Between going to classes, studying, working, seeing friends and family, and hobbies, getting sick can add more strain to an already stressed student’s life. However, getting sick is bound to happen but there are some things you can do to try and avoid it.

Below are 7 tips for anyone worried about getting sick or just wanting to build their immune and keep those pesky germs that get you sick away.

1. Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands should be a given. But sometimes we all need reminders to do the things we know we should do. Proper handwashing is the number one way to keep germs from spreading and is the best way how to avoid getting sick. Numerous studies have shown that proper handwashing with soap greatly reduces the transmission of illness. 

When you are going to classes and hanging out around campus, you are constantly touching door handles, desks, books, toilets, drinking fountains, and other surfaces. These surfaces can get contaminated with germs that can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, or other illnesses.  When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can be passed from student to student. This is how you get sick. It is important to wash hands throughout the day because you may have germs on your hands and then touch your eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it.

Proper Hand Washing

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply plain soap
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinse your hands well under running water
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air

If you can’t wash your hands be sure to use an alcohol-based gel hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes by killing germs on the skin. This can help stop the spread of germs.

2. Clean Your Space Often

In addition to washing your hands frequently, you should also clean the spaces you spend the most time. Especially, “touch points” which include frequently touched items like wall switches, and door and refrigerator handles. Appliances like coffee maker, microwave, and toaster. Cold, flu, and other germs that cause illness can thrive on hard surfaces for days or even weeks at a time.

If someone in the house is sick go through the entire house cleaning “touch points” and other spots like the remote control, computer keyboard, phone, etc. You are trying to kill germs not just clean so be sure to use a good disinfectant that has bleach in it. This can be a spray or wipes.

3. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is essential to our overall health. Many college students do not drink enough water each day. Additionally, college students often consume drinks that do not hydrate. Beverages such as soda, alcohol, coffee, and energy drinks are not hydrating and if you drink these you need to consume more water daily. Since our bodies are mostly water, when we don’t stay hydrated we can get headaches, eye strain, and dizziness.

Staying well-hydrated creates a strong immune system. Our immune system uses nutrients that are in our bloodstream to stay strong and impenetrable. If we are not drinking enough water and staying hydrated, our bloodstream can not properly transport nutrients throughout our bodies which will make it hard to fight off infection. Hydration also is vital for detoxification. If your lymphatic system can’t move and drain it can’t flush out foreign invaders and other waste materials.

Keep a refillable water bottle in your backpack. Sip water throughout your day and make sure to refill your bottle to ensure you stay hydrated. Many campuses have water fountains and water bottle refilling stations, making access to water easy. By drinking water and avoiding drinks that do not hydrate you can boost your immune system which will help you avoid getting sick.

4. Eat A Balanced Diet

Good nutrition is vital to building strong immunity and preventing illness. Eating well is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. There’s always a bug going around campus, so a strong immune will help you stay healthy. When a body is healthy it can fight off infection, and you won’t feel run down nor will you miss classes. A balanced diet also increases energy, helps with focus and concentration, and increases your immune system. Conversely, an unbalanced diet can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration, moodiness, depression, and an endless cycle of being sick.

College students have hectic schedules and often unhealthy foods are easier and quicker options. Some students may skip meals due to getting distracted or busy which is just as bad. Eating a balanced diet doesn’t need to be difficult. It requires some planning but is an investment in your health, so it is worth it.

Keep healthful snacks in your backpack. Nuts, seeds, trail mix, granola bars, and some energy bars contain good nutrition. Toss in some fresh fruit and vegetables that travel well, like apples, bananas, oranges, mandarins, baby carrots, celery sticks, and cherry tomatoes.

For college students with meal plans be sure to read What You Need To Know About College Meal Plans for more information about how to plan to eat healthful food in college.

5. Create A Bedtime Routine

Students tend to not get enough sleep because they stay up late and wake up early. The recommended hours needed to function properly is 8 hours. Sleep is crucial to allowing the body time to rest and recover and can make a difference in fighting off illness. Additionally, sleep is essential to being alert and it is directly correlated with academic performance. Creating a bedtime routine is important and consistency is key. 

To create a bedtime routine you can set an alarm or notification on your phone to remind you. The goal is to train your body to sleep at a specific time. Take a little time to wind down and relax before bed each night. You can do this by, creating a bedtime playlist, reading a book, taking a warm shower or bath, having a cup of tea, or even doing a little stretching or yoga. Meditation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises are also good ways to ease into sleep. Two great apps for this are Insight Timer (I personally use it) or Calm.

Be sure to turn off all electronics, the light from these devices makes it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid caffeine and alcohol several hours before bed. Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule to avoid disturbing the circadian rhythm that regulates wakefulness.

6. Exercise Is A Great Way To Avoid Getting Sick

Exercise has several benefits and is important for keeping your body in shape and your immune system strong. Working out releases endorphins that boost mood, making it a great form of downtime from school. Working out doesn’t need to be intense cardio, circuit training, or weight lifting. There are also gentle forms of exercise like yoga, swimming, or cycling. Find what works for you.

If you don’t have a workout routine, start walking around campus to get your body moving. Not only does exercise help you avoid getting sick, but it can also be a great way to connect with friends and other students. Reach out to your friends and plan to go for a walk, to the gym, a hike, or play a light game of pickleball. Most campuses have gyms that college students pay for as part of the college’s fees. Check out the gym to see if there is any equipment, classes, or amenities that interest you.

a group of people doing yoga in a studio. How to avoid getting sick, is to take care of your body

7. Stress Affects The Immune System

From busy schedules, deadlines, personal responsibilities, and financial obligations, college students face more and more stress and pressure. Being under chronic stress and pressure can have serious consequences and lead to a host of issues, including getting sick. Managing stress needs to be a priority for college students.

Stress creates a hormone in your body called cortisol. Cortisol can suppress your immune system’s effectiveness in fighting off viruses by reducing your lymphocyte level. Lymphocytes are the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses, including the common cold.

With so many students feeling the effects of stress, it’s important to recognize the difference between managing and escaping. Escaping whether it be through drugs or alcohol can provide temporary relief from stress, but it’s not a permanent solution. Learning stress management will help with long-term coping skills that will last far beyond college. Once you graduate your stress doesn’t just disappear, it’s replaced with new stress, having the skills to manage it will be very valuable.

See How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health As A College Student for tips and resources for managing stress.