Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Singin' the Winter Blues

It was the week of finals, and I could find no place to study. The library was packed solid; the coffee shops were noisy and distracting. My room was no longer an option – I just could not focus on studying when my desk was a mess, but I had no time to clean because I had finals to cram for. In the scheme of life’s problems, this was not life or death.
But, in that moment, it was enough to unhinge me a bit.  Or at least put me on edge.  Fortunately, I was able to find a quiet and dimly lit place to study (I have weird study preferences) and thankfully managed to keep my anxiety and restlessness under control.
This month is Health and Wellness Month, which makes it a fitting time to talk about challenges young people face when at college. At this point you may want to ask, “But Nina, what do health and wellness even mean?” Good Question! According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, health is defined as “ the condition of being sound in body, mind, or soul; freedom from physical disease or pain.” Wellness is defined as “the quality or state of being in good health.” Our bodies, our thoughts and our emotions all influence each other greatly. There is never one without the other. Even in their definitions, they relate.
The logical question to follow, then, is what are the biggest hazards to health and wellness in college.
Healthline News addressed this issue with an article titled “5 Biggest Dangers Facing College Freshmen” which you can access here. According to this article the most significant obstacles to wellbeing among college students: stress, prescription drug use, STDs, Alcohol-Related Injuries, and Poor Nutrition and Lack of Exercise. Who knew we had so many issues! I feel like the stress and poor nutrition/exercise thing is something that I can definitely see.
According to “5 Biggest Dangers Facing College Freshmen,” 80% of college freshmen do not exercise regularly. Of course, there is the “freshman 15” phenomena. There have even been a few cases of scurvy, the disease caused by a vitamin C deficient diet that used to afflict sailors and pirates. It is of utmost importance for people to develop good eating and lifestyle habits in college – not only to maintain good sleep habits and grades, but for our physical and emotional well-being here and now.
In many ways, I have felt the stresses of college life first hand. Before freshmen year, I moved from sunny and arid Arizona to Seattle. You can probably image how much of an adjustment that has been for me! A new climate, a new political atmosphere, and many, many people I had never met before. And I absolutely love it! However, with the academic rigor of pursuing a nursing degree, and my personal tendency to take on more than I can handle- I can definitely empathize with the stress that plagues so many college students.
            As easy as it is to get in a rut and feel overwhelmed, I have found in my life that it sometimes the smallest steps taken that help to pull me out. Lately, that has looked like me going into one on of my friend’s dorm rooms and lying on the comfy rug she has on the ground. Not saying anything. Not doing anything. But the thing is, it actually helps! For you, it probably looks different: music, enjoying the great outdoors, even filing papers at work – it can all make a difference.

There are times when these little tricks to deal with stress don’t work, when life builds up and collides and it seems too much. It is OKAY to ask for help. It does not have to be anything large or life changing. I have gone through this many times, and have had good people come alongside me and help support me. You can as well. These small steps may not save lives, not immediately. However, they help us live each minute, each day.
If you feel like you might need someone to talk to about the little or the big things, Teen Link is a convenient and ready resource for you. Teen Link’s number is 1866-833-6546. The cool thing about Teen Link is that it is answered by high schoolers and college students so you get to talk to someone who knows what it is like to go through all of this stuff.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Get Tested!

Knowledge is power and a group of teens at Newport High School work to empower other teens with the knowledge they need to protect themselves against HIV and other STDs.

This group is called ASPEN (AIDS Student Peer Educators of Newport) and they teach STD prevention and HIV awareness lessons in health classes at area high schools on the Eastside.

The focus is to not only prevent HIV transmission but to also tackle the misconceptions and stigma associated with HIV. HIV is only spread through the 5 infecting fluids; blood, semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk and cowper's fluid (which is a pre-ejaculate). This means that HIV cannot be spread by sharing food, kissing, holding hands, hugging, through public restrooms and other avenues of casual contact.

In addition ASPEN fundraises money for the Lifelong AIDS Alliance and commemorates World AIDS Day at Newport. For the past 6 years this group of 26 students have been the top fundraising team at the Seattle AIDS Walk, beating top companies like Starbucks and Microsoft.

They are passionate about the work they do because they realize how real the issue is to their own lives. STD and HIV transmission is very much prevalent among teens, with 2 teens infected with HIV every hour.

There are three main ways of protecting yourself that ASPEN highlights, three secrets to keeping yourself safe.

1. Barrier contraception: The most popular form of barrier contraception is the male condom. Other types include dental dams which are used for vaginal oral sex. A common misconception among teens is that transmission through oral sex doesn't occur, when in fact, almost all STDs can be passed through oral sex.

2. Abstinence: This doesn't just include abstinence from sex, but also other risky behaviors such as shared needle use and oral sex. This is the only 100% way to protect yourself.

3. Getting Tested! This one is the most important. STD and HIV tests are FREE for teens at public clinics such as Eastgate Public Health on the Eastside and most STD tests are as easy as peeing in a cup.  For an HIV test, if you are afraid of needles you can still get tested by simply swabbing the inside of your cheek. Visiting the Teen Clinic is also a great way to get free birth control and free barrier contraception. Encourage your sexual partner should be tested as well, to protect yourself. The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 5 people with HIV are unaware they have it, and spreading it to more people. Getting tested is the only way to slow this disease, and make sure YOU are safe.

For more questions on a teen clinic near you or any questions on HIV and other STDs feel free to call Teen Link! 1866-833-6546.