ifIknew

ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Filtering by Tag: stress

No one has their life totally together in their 20s - even if their Instagram tells you differently.

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to have everything together in our 20s? Where does that pressure come from and why do we care so much what other people think? I was talking to my family recently about attending high school reunions and my dad, who graduated high school in the 1960s, commented on how he didn't even bother to go to his 5th or 10th year high school reunion; he had noticed at that point in everyone’s lives that people were still trying to impress each other and it wasn't relaxing or fun. He said that the first reunion he wanted to go to was his 20th high school reunion because by then, when most people were older, they were more open to being honest about where they were and what was going on in their lives. Why was that? How come we feel pressure to live up to an idealized version of ourselves in our 20s and 30s? How come we care less when we are older? Is it because we have a lot more exposed vulnerabilities when we’re younger and are still trying to figure out where we want to live, what work we feel moved do in life, and who we want to spend our time with? While speaking with a fellow millennial, Casey, age 25, said, “I believe that we feel more vulnerable in our 20s about sharing where we are in life. We want to look like we have everything together. I even struggle with going back to high school to visit my teachers. I have this completely unrealistic idea of what I want them to see me doing and I am fearful that they will not be proud of me with anything less than that. I know it is ridiculous. It feels like there is so much pressure we put on ourselves that no one else puts on us.” After talking to a few other millennials, I started to wonder if we put pressure on each other partially because of social media.

Tommy, age 23, said, “Social media is like our new makeup. It’s the greatest way to hide pimples, life struggles, and hardships. Instead of showing people what is really going on, we just post cute pictures on Instagram of ourselves on the beach or at a restaurant eating our favorite meal. When I see other people on social media look like they have their life more together than I do, I feel like I have to compete with them.”

The truth is that we are the ones who put the most pressure on ourselves to live up to our own unrealistic expectations. The only thing that ultimately benefits you is being honest with yourself and others about where you are in life. Unrealistic expectations are a distraction from actually experiencing your life. Leave those expectations with your younger self and accept that, while it’s really great if you’re doing something cool, you don’t have to freak out if you aren’t. Cool stuff will happen as time goes on and you don’t need to make stuff up to be the type of person you want to be.

Why Do We Still Smoke?

SmokingSmoking rates have gone way down in the last three decades, for a number of reasons. It’s widely known how terrible smoking is for your health; the government has made a lot of changes to warning labels and availability of cigarettes, and people just know more. So, despite these efforts, why do 19% of Americans still smoke?

  • It still carries some cachet: Despite the fact that as a general rule smoking is not the “cool” habit it once was, it still carries a certain connotation - one of independence and rebellion that we see in movies, on TV, even in books. Smokers are depicted as rogues who scoff at the rules and regulations of society, which can be enticing.
  • Sometimes, it’s still about peer pressure, even for adults. No, it doesn’t necessarily sound like it does in after school specials --“everyone’s doing it.” Peer pressure may be a misnomer. It’s more like group thinking. If all of your friends and colleagues ride their bikes, you are more likely to as well. The hive mentality goes for good things, and not so good.
  • It both stimulates and calms us. Elements in tobacco (not to mention what additives they sneak in there) stimulate - like caffeine, while at the same time slow down our nervous system. The ritual of lighting up provides a “time out.” We can develop an oral fixation for cigarettes while enjoying having something for our hands to do. Cigarettes also make us aware of our deep breathing, therefore relaxing us.

But ultimately there is one major reason why we still smoke that we all know: Smoking is, was, and always will be, highly addictive.  Check out our prior blog on the ins and outs of smoking and stopping. Most hospitals now have outpatient resources to help those wishing to quit. The American Cancer Society has lots of online tools and advice, as does Maryland's SmokingStopsHere.com.

The Power of Feeling Powerless

Stress-270409You know the feeling. You’ve gotten horrible news. You’re standing at the scene of an accident. You were just laid off. A few things may be happening at this moment. You may be feeling the acidic taste of adrenaline in the back of your throat. You might feel a tightness in your chest from the panic. You may also be feeling something else-- the dreaded knowledge and/or fear that you are powerless over the ensuing events. That can be one of life’s most horrible emotions. Part of the reason why is obvious: without power, how can we get out of situations? The other reasons it can feel so crushing are a bit more nuanced. As humans, we are used to being in control. When a person, a situation, or life in general takes power from us, that can lead to sadness, anger, even rage.

So what to do? Can we take the power back? The short answer is often no, but there are ways to manage the frustration. In an emergency there are certainly steps to be taken, whether it’s calling 9-1-1 or staying clear of danger. In a more personal situation, where no one is in imminent danger, it’s often best to rely on old stress-relief tactics: steady breathing, a quiet place, and the comfort of a loved one.

Navigating your new relationship with your parents now that you are a grown-up

We all grew up differently. Some of us had married parents, some divorced. Rural, urban, only children, or one of many.  Some of us had lots of independence, some were nearly smothered.  No matter who you were or how you grew up, at a certain age there is a shift in the parent/child relationship. That is, when the child of this scenario becomes an adult, but the parent is still a parent.  Can you navigate that without anger, hurt feelings, confusion, and miscommunication? Well if there was an easy answer to that, we all would have heard it by now. It can be tough dealing with parents.  Maybe they let go a long time ago and you are still feeling lost.  Maybe you were independent from the moment the clock struck 18 (or 21 or 16 or, or, or…), and your parents are having a hard time letting you go.  The only consistent problem seems to be communication. Sometimes one party has a harder time admitting and accepting that kids grow up and often move on or away.

What to do? Talk about it.   Allow your new status as an adult to give you the confidence to approach your parents.

Make sure you’re honest about where you are in your life.  Show them that they are still such an important part of that life that they deserve to know about it. Career, relationships, milestones are likely to be important to them too, and they may bask in your successes and have sage advice for your struggles.

Speaking of advice, it may be more valuable than cash.  If you are having financial trouble (or any other kind), ask them what they think before you ask to borrow. Not only will they appreciate being used for their wisdom more than an ATM machine, you may even get something more valuable out of it.

Set boundaries. Both parties need to know what’s appropriate in your new dynamic, and this is different with every family. Try to tell them one thing about your relationship that you love for everything that you have an issue with. Be honest and direct, but kind.

Thank them. Profusely. Just do. And mean it.

Unhealthy expectations won’t help you succeed

inner_voice_bubbleThere is a little voice inside of us that loves to torture us. And in many cases, there is a part of us that loves being tortured. The voice loves to tell us how badly we’re doing, how other people are better, richer, smarter, thinner. The voice is a punk. The voice will try to convince you that it is ambition talking, that it is trying to make you better so that you can have all you want in life. The voice is lying. Ambition is not feeling perpetually behind. Ambition is not a constant berating of your current status. Ambition makes you feel good, not terrible. Ambition doesn’t want to make you better than others, it makes you want to be a better version of you.

The voice is a trickster. It will tell you that it’s only trying to help, that it wants to see you succeed by making you feel less than. The voice is manipulative because if we are not careful, the voice inside our heads that tells us we are not good enough will start to come out of our mouths. Then the voice will turn on our friends, our children, our partners.

In order to be the happy and healthy versions of ourselves we deserve, we should have ambition. We should strive for excellence and be wary of complacence. We should also give ourselves room to grow, and to falter. The clearest sign of a person with a future of success is not if they never make a misstep, it’s how they handle the constant missteps and how they treat others. The voice doesn’t know that.

Beating the Stigma of Being the “Odd One Out”

Can we be frank? Young adulthood can suck. It can be wonderful and perhaps the best years of our life, but that doesn’t make them easy. This is the age we can so easily be trapped between the rules of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s easy to get excited when school is a thing you look back on, but without the safety and structure of the institution of a high school or college, playing by society’s rules can be tricky. We live in a world where statistics play an incredibly important role in assessing our self-image. We hear about them all the time. An article recently hit the media stating that the amount of money a person should be making per year is equal to their age in years, and if you are “good” at what you do, you should make double your age. Is that what we measure ourselves against?

Another recent study says that the average age of marriage continues to rise for young men and women. Another notes the rise in couples who cohabitate before marrying. Again, are we pressured to conform to the “average.”

The problem with these statistics is that it’s incredibly easy to read them and feel out of place.

Perhaps you are unmarried in your mid-twenties, and are feeling like the only single person in your peer group. Perhaps at 27 you are making $25,000 per year.  Perhaps you and your spouse did not live together before tying the knot. Statistics are meant to help us better understand our society, and the needs and characteristics of the people in it. But when you pin down an “average,” statistics do a funny thing: they make anyone outside that small bubble feel like an outsider, and anyone inside the bubble feel ordinary.

So how do we go about our lives and think of statistics as what they were intended to be? It starts with the way we view others. Freeing ourselves from negative judgment when encountering peers who don’t fit into a box designated as “average” helps us connect and be more considerate. If most of your friends don’t have kids, but a close friend is a new mom, consider her feelings before planning a last-minute trip for all your friends.  If you’re getting married as a friend is divorcing, recognize the challenges he may face at your wedding. The kindnesses will be remembered when you are the odd one out.

Perhaps when that newly divorced friend makes twice as much money as his age, he’ll pick up the next dinner check.

Going Home for the Holidays? How to keep your cool...

You walk in the door and your mother nags you about your hair.  Your father comments on your lack of drive.  Your uber-successful big brother rubs his new car in your face.  Sound familiar?  Why is it when we go home we somehow become a kid again?  We resume our childhood roles –the older responsible one, the rebel, the baby.  How can we get through the holidays without letting our family drive us crazy?  The first thing to remember is that families install and push each other’s buttons.  Don’t take things so personally.  Parents are parents and it’s a job that never stops.  Mothers especially have a language all their own.  It’s their job to turn us into productive members of society.  Think of the National Geographic shows where the mother lioness cuffs her cubs.  It’s the same thing.  If we think of nagging as a mother’s way of saying “I love you,” it takes the sting out of it.

Try non-reaction.  We can’t change our family but we can change how we react to them.  When we stop reacting, things change.  When we don’t engage and let our buttons be pushed, the roles tend to change naturally.   Like a radio station, try a 10 second delay.  Before you react to something, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  You’ll be able to react more like an adult and less like a kid.

The Perfect Gift

No need to drive yourself crazy about presents. The holiday season hits and something comes over us.  We spend money we don’t have on presents no one probably even needs and stress ourselves out running from house to house or event to event.  We get angry when dinner burns or Uncle Ron gets drunk.  Why do we do it to ourselves?  Even Hollywood understands that the perfect holiday doesn’t exist.   

For one thing, our expectations get the best of us.  Perhaps if we know that something could happen to throw a wrench in things, we won’t be so upset when it happens.  It’s easier to go with the flow when we’re less rigid and when we remember the reason we are celebrating the holidays. “Holiday” comes from the words “holy days” as in, to make the day sacred, special, and peaceful.

The other thing is that we think that presents will let others know that we care-even if we can’t afford them.  Your presence is the best gift of all.  Instead of running around grabbing the last minute gifts or stressing over the money you don’t have, ask if you can help decorate, cook, bake, or set the table.  Ask about their childhood, holiday or other special memories.  Engage with those who are there.

Twenty years from now, no one is going to remember the gifts.  They will, however, remember the time and attention you spent with them because it will strengthen our family bonds and show others that we really do care about them.

Home for the Holidays – Sound Off

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and I am thankful for all the support they have provided over the years. Regardless, they constantly drive me up the wall. And between the crying children and my aunt’s smooches and all the awkward small talk, Thanksgiving dinner can make me feel as though I’m losing my head. So how do I cope with the holiday season? One strategy I’ve used is to avoid alcohol. I find that when myself or others around me are in a drunken haze, it is much more difficult to have meaningful and fulfilling conversations. Additionally, I am much more prone to spilling something embarrassing about my boyfriend or guilty pleasure CD collection that I wouldn’t normally want my second cousin to overhear. Being sober also enables me to guide the conversation. By asking my family members questions about their lives, I am able to avoid the awkwardness that comes from being put on the spot. Last, I always make sure to establish an escape plan before dinner begins. One year, I made a deal that I would text my best friend S.O.S. if I needed her to call me so that I had an excuse to step outside. Another year, I planned to step into the living room to watch some football if I was finding dinner overwhelming.

Since I’ve begun employing these strategies, I’ve been able to calm down and appreciate my family members. What do you do to remain cool and collected during the holidays? Sound off below!

R.L.

Sleeping with our phone under our pillows

We don’t want to miss anything.  Checking our phone is the first thing we do in the morning and the last thing we do at night.  I wonder if part of the uptick in anxiety and depression is related to our nervous system being bombarded increasingly from attention-seeking, sensory stimulating, electronic sources. as opposed to the more passive and subtle features of the natural environment. This tension – this hyper attention--- is intensified by the 24/7 incoming stream of news of traumatic events and images from all over the globe, as if this were happening in our front yard. Because of this flow of alarming information, our brains are constantly bathed in adrenaline and cortisol, the stimulants that ready the nervous system for dangers, real or imagined.

No wonder it feels to us like times are so tough, though we are living in the lap of relative luxury. Maybe we are so stressed because we are so wired?

Knitting Behind Bars

At the end of a long day, you just need to kick back and relax and forget your troubles... at least until tomorrow. Watch TV, have a glass of wine (if you’re 21, of course), or maybe just stare at the wall until it’s time to leave the house again. Next time, before you start that next episode of Hoarders or grab that second drink, consider trying something else to unwind. Even inmates at a Maryland men’s prison have found an alternative to take their minds off their worries.  If you can believe it: they are KNITTING! Good Magazine’s reporter Jillian Anthony profiles Lyn Zwerling, the mastermind responsible for “Knitting Behind Bars,” a program that brings volunteers into the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, MD.  Zwerling says knitting is “more than a craft.” In fact, “It has the ability to transform you.”  The prison’s assistant warden says, “It’s very positive because you can see … the dynamics of their conversation [are] very calm, very soothing.”  So the next time you need some R&R, consider handwork like knitting! It’s therapeutic, affordable, practical, and fun. What could be better? And you may even end up with something beautiful that you can use or give as a gift.  Read more about the Knitting Behind Bars project in "How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts."

If you feel good, you... well, feel good!

It’s no secret that our day-to-day lives can take a toll. Nothing’s worse than getting stuck in a funk, and it’s not always easy to pull yourself out. Even worse, these funks can set in at any time, even in the middle of a busy day. As a full time college student with a part-time job—I know what it’s like! BUT FRET NOT. With this short list from Psychology Today, you can find some easy ways to feel great, most of which you can do anywhere, any time.  If these moods are not helped by these self-help techniques, there are many competent therapists around to offer support and guidance. Life is too short to stay too long in a funk, and you’re worth it.

Find resources for stress and emotional health here.

Financials Freaking You Out?

Student loans... Almost as common as the latest fashion trends, except no one really wants them. As an undergraduate student in psychology and women’s studies, this is something that’s been creeping up on me for a while. As my father likes to say, “Psychology is code for ‘graduate school.’”  He’s right.  I will have to go to graduate school, and someone’s going to have to pay for it. And guess what? It ain’t cheap! Unless I win the mega-million lottery in the next year and a half, student loans seem like the best way to go. So what happens when I get my master’s degree?  Can you see it now?  I look at the statement to see how much I owe and I nearly drop dead.

But that’s where you’re wrong! I’m a sensible, emotionally stable woman, and I’ve got myself together. My advice?  If you’re a student with loans, remember this: you took out student loans for a reason! Student loans are an investment for the future. You took these blasted loans to pay for something worthwhile. You made an investment in yourself that’s sure to benefit its stakeholders in the future. And if it doesn’t... well, that’s another blog.

Some other things to remember: Banks aren’t totally evil. They know that students need time to pay off their tuition, so student loans have comparatively low interest rates. Loans can also boost your good credit score, as long as you pay them off. And lastly, there are several loan forgiveness programs offered specifically to students who are unable to pay on time.

So, what can you do now? Make yourself a financial plan. Don’t let yourself be surprised by the amount of money you owe when you graduate.  Making a budget will help you keep track of your expenses and will ensure that you’re living within your means during your college years. There’s even online software that can help you track your spending.

Take advantage of your school’s resources.  Most universities offer some kind of counseling, whether it’s for career and financial needs or emotional ones. Even better—these services are included in tuition! This way, you can manage your financial business as well as your stress. Ahh, I feel better already.

So don’t freak out about your student loans! Take a deep breath and consider what is stressing you and what good things can come out of this situation.  Do some research and use the resources available to you.   You’ll come to see that you don’t have to handle this all by yourself. It’s going to be all right.

For more ideas and resources on this: Go Ask Alice http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/looming-student-loans-emotional-distress

Regardless if it’s half full or half empty, after a while it gets heavy to hold

A young lady confidently walked around the room while leading and explaining stress management to an audience.  She raised a glass of water, and everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question, “half empty or half full?” ….She fooled them all… ”How heavy is this glass of water?”, she inquired with a smile. Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter.  It depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem.  If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm.  If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance.  In each case it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”  She continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress.  If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.”

“As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again.  When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden-holding stress longer and better each time we practice.  So, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night…pick them up tomorrow.

“Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment.  Relax, pick them up later after you’ve rested.  Life is short.  Enjoy it and the now ‘supposed’ stress that you’ve conquered.”

Study, Don't Cram!

If you’re one of the millions of students who has trouble studying come finals season, don’t fret.  Every year during finals and midterm season Twitter and Facebook are bombarded with comments like “Drinking coffee to help me stay up and study all night for my 8 a.m. Midterm...I’m screwed.”  It doesn’t have to be like that.  Other students have turned to dangerous prescription drugs such as Adderal and Vyvanse which are used to deal with symptoms of ADD.  It doesn’t have to be like this either. While schools pile the students with mounds and mounds of information, most students are never taught one of the most essential skills of learning: how to study. Help is here so you can pass this finals season without the use of drugs, sleepless nights and excessive coffee. Here is a list of effective and healthy ways to study. 1.            Study in Chunks: Don’t try to study everything at once. Break up the test into sections and chapters and study 30-50 minutes at a time. For best results try to break up the whole test into a week’s worth of studying.

2.            Switch study locations: A change in study locations has been proven to improve retention of information. If you cannot switch locations at least move around the room.

3.            Form study groups:  Study groups are extremely helpful. When you may not be in the mood to study, one of your peers will be there to motivate you. Additionally, when studying in groups, each member usually has his/her own devices to help memorize material, and sharing those can be extremely helpful. Warning: groups are for studying; do not allow the groups to distract you.

4.            Exercise:  Exercise and cardio exercises in particular have been proven to help memory. In addition a little exercise will help take your mind off your work for a little while and help with attention deficit disorders.

5.            Make your study information interesting: One way to help retain knowledge is to create mnemonic devices that relate to something you are interested in, whether it be sports, music or movies. Give the characters names or create a song out of your study information.

6.            Make a schedule: Make a schedule beforehand for all your studying. It is important to adhere to your schedule.  This will allow you to study a few chapters each day of each topic and will help you avoid cramming.

Using any combination of these methods can be very helpful. There are plenty of other methods that may work as well, but cramming the night before should never be one of them. Study hard, stay focused and Good Luck on your finals!

Check out our blog piece, "Not Your Study Buddy."

Information drawn from a Huffington Post study.

On Being a Twenty First Century Young Adult

I’m a textbook example of a twenty first century young adult.   I live my life on-the-go, juggling a hectic forty hour work week, family responsibilities, an education and, on the weekends, a social life. It’s no wonder I’m constantly stressed! Sometimes, I actually find stress to be somewhat of a beneficial force that fuels me through all-nighters and public speaking engagements.  But, more often than not, stress feels toxic - literally. The morning after a particularly stressful day, I almost always feel a bit ill.  Often, it takes me a couple of days to go back to feeling like my normal, active and engaged self.

Why is it that, as we have gotten older, we start getting sick after the last final or that major presentation? Well, science can provide an answer. When we feel stressed, we go into “fight or flight” mode and our pituitary gland sends signals throughout the body to increase the amount of hormones released in our bloodstream.  In response to the brain’s signal, our adrenal gland releases cortisol and adrenaline to increase strength and agility while also speeding up our reaction time.

In short term situations, this can push us to work harder or avoid dangerous situations. But, on the flip side, when the body releases more hormone than usual, our whole equilibrium is thrown off. If this process continues at a constant level due to continual and repetitive stress, our body never fully recovers and rests. Some of the short term side effects of constant stress include decreased stomach acids (which slows the metabolism and makes us more prone to illness), increased blood pressure, upset stomach, and chest pain.  In the long term, stress is a major contributing factor to obesity, cancer, depression, heart disease, lung ailments, cirrhosis of the liver and autoimmune diseases.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to manage stress effectively. It’s what we have heard – oh, so many times before: eating a healthy diet, sleeping eight hours a night, meditating, and exercise.  Half an hour of yoga or stretching in the mornings drastically increases the quality of our day and helps us get through some of the most anxiety-provoking situations.

What steps do you take to manage stress? Sound off in the comments section below!

We mistake mistakes for failure

You and I both know nobody’s perfect. How many times have we heard that? The idea has been drilled into our heads since we arrived here on Earth. As kids, we’re told that making mistakes is necessary for personal growth and learning, it’s the thought that counts, “A” for effort, Blah, Blah, Blah.  This is all well and good, but despite all these truisms, the reality is that it isn’t merely our effort that’s valued but rather, a perfect result. What’s up with that?!  Not only is this message extremely confusing, but the drive for perfection can be very damaging.

We’re naturally inclined to favor information that confirms our beliefs and ignore information that challenges them. But when we’re unsure what to think, many of us keep quiet rather than risk asking a stupid question. This can lead to blindly believing information that may be limited and unreliable.

We place more importance on intelligence than on learning. Children receive good grades in school for getting the right answers- not necessarily for learning or improvement. And in the professional world, employees are punished for errors.  So naturally, this creates anxiety, which causes us to avoid taking a risk that may lead to failure, which means avoiding things like innovation and creativity, which is exactly what people expect of others.

So where does this leave us? We’re all trained to avoid mistakes, and then we become scornful toward others who make mistakes. We therefore perpetuate this faulty cycle of mistake-making logic. And THAT makes us all guilty of making a mistake one way or another… shoot.

Not your study buddy

College was challenging, to say the least. My friends and I struggled to juggle our classes alongside work and extracurricular activities responsibilities. We became desperate to make the best use out of every second in the day. While I resorted to sipping coffee to get through my evenings, some of my friends were drawn to the underground illicit trade of prescription pills.  To be frank, this wasn’t exactly an underground phenomenon at my college. Adderall and Ritalin were purchased in the hallways of our dorms!

At first, non-prescription drug usage was so common that few entertained the notion that it could be potentially dangerous. In my psychopharmacology classes, though, I learned about some of the many ways in which stimulants affect the body. Adderall and Ritalin, when used incorrectly and by those who don’t medically need them, have been shown in some cases to cause increased blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, seizures, hair loss, and even sudden death!

After a few months of taking these pills, addiction is almost inevitable: the brain re-structures itself and becomes increasingly tolerant to that drug’s effects. As a result, that person has to consume a higher dosage to feel similar effects and then crashes when he doesn’t get it, leaving the person dragged out for days on end.

Addiction to amphetamines completely changed my friends who got into using them. They were miserable most of the time and very irritable. They would do pretty much anything to get these pills. Some attempted to fake symptoms of ADHD so that doctors would write them their own prescriptions. Others began selling them and other drugs so that they could afford their own habits.

The irony was that addiction made these friends struggle even more in school. They were no longer able to sleep at night and, as a result, could not concentrate on their assignments. Their health began to deteriorate and they began missing classes.  Some even had to take leaves of absence or drop their classes so that they could enter recovery programs to address their addictions.

Watching friends struggle with addictions has reinforced our belief that illicit drug use is not the way to go. Our advice to college freshmen; avoid these illicit stimulants. It’s better to fight your way through exhaustion than wind up with a serious health problem! - R.L.

Read more about prescription drugs or stimulants. To find help for yourself or a friend, check out these resources.

Beware the All-Nighter!

It’s almost winter break which means only one thing – finals! This is the time of the year when many of us stay up in a desperate attempt to finish our twenty page papers while simultaneously cramming in last minute studying. Staying up until four a.m. or pulling an all-nighter often seems like the obvious thing to do when you need to get your work done. But scientific research shows that sleep deprivation is, in fact, counterproductive if you are looking to ace your assignments. Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on cognitive performance. In one 2003 study, a University of Pennsylvania researcher assigned dozens of people in a major sleep study to three different groups. One group would sleep four hours a night, others six, and others eight. Every two hours during the day, the researchers would test the subjects’ level of alertness through a psychomotor vigilance task in which they would sit in front of a computer and press the space bar if they saw a flash of numbers. Delayed responses would suggest a lapse into sleepiness.

Both the four and the six hour subjects’ performances quickly declined over the two weeks. In fact, by the end of two weeks, the subjects who slept six hours per night were just as impaired as subjects who had been sleep deprived for 24 hours straight. This is the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk!

In addition to impaired cognitive performance, sleep deprivation has been linked to a slew of other health problems including health attacks, diabetes, increased blood pressure, depression, and obesity. And, according to three large population-based studies in the journals Sleep and the Archives of General Psychiatry, people who get five or less hours of sleep per night have a 15 percent greater risk of dying [prematurely]! Clearly, getting eight hours of sleep per night is your best bet both for succeeding in school and for living a healthy life!