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Self-Care 101

“Self-care” is a term that is frequently found on product ads on social media or casually mentioned when giving advice to a stressed out college student. It is easy to say the phrase, but let’s be real, does anyone have time to balance studying, work, social activities, relationships, to actually spend time on themselves? Many may say no, but reality is that you should.

Have you ever been around a toddler who missed their nap time or has been overstimulated? Trust me, you don’t want to be around them. They are usually cranky, whiny, or crying excessively. If it is crucial for toddlers to nap or have downtime, it should be just as important for adults who lead an extremely busy lifestyle to find ways to do the same. As a nurse practitioner, I have had several students come in displaying physical symptoms of stress and once all other diagnoses are ruled out, I refer them to meet with our counselors. Yes, you read that correctly. Your body can exhibit physical symptoms of stress if you do not spend time to unwind or practice “self-care.”

Physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”
  • Increased frequency of colds
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Jitters
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Anxiety1

A study in 2015 conducted across 108 U.S. college campuses found that three out of every four college student reported at least one stressful life event within the past year (ranging from personal appearance or social relationships to problems with family).2 Twenty percent said they experienced greater than five stressful life events within that same time frame. When asked about suicidal thoughts or attempts to harm themselves, one in five college students said they had thought of suicide, while one in ten actually attempted it. For students who identified as a sexual minority such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual had two to three times more suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts than heterosexual students. Transgender students were among the highest in reported mental health diagnoses and suicidality.2 At Stevenson University, Dr. Linda Reymann, the director of the Wellness Center, has noticed a trend in students who lack self-care or coping strategies. “Lack of self-care can impact friendships. If a student has difficulty caring for themselves, it is challenging to put energy into a friendship. It goes back to the basic analogy, if your tank is empty, it is hard to give of yourself to others. Anxiety and depression are our top two diagnoses and I do believe a lack of self-care can impact the severity of symptoms.” Stress as a college student is very real and it is important to find ways to manage it.

So what exactly is “self-care?” Dr. Sally Bonefas, a clinical psychologist at the Wellness Center, defines it as “any conscious action we take in order to maintain or improve our mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Although the concept of self-care is logical, it is often overlooked in the busy-ness of life. Effective self-care reduces anxiety, raises mood, and improves the relationship with oneself and others. Self-care refuels our energy. It is not a selfish act, as it serves us as well as those around us.”

Here are seven ways to exercise self-care.

  1. Good sleep quality is an essential human function – it allows our brains to recharge and our bodies to rest.3 Slight sleep deprivation or poor sleep is so crucial that it can affect memory, judgement, and mood.2 The Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep for teenagers up to 18 years of age. 4 For 18 to 60 year olds, the CDC recommends 7 or more hours per night. 3 Napping throughout the day can also improve energy levels.
  2. Exercise burns extra calories, but it also releases endorphins and increases serotonin function in the brain.5 Low serotonin levels can lead to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic, and even excess anger6. Exercise has an antidepressant and anxiolytic effect.5 The most consistent effect occurs when regular exercisers perform aerobic exercise (running, jogging, swimming, dancing, spinning, etc) at a level with which they are familiar. 5 Exercising for 30 minutes or more a day three to five days a week can significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. 7 Smaller amounts of physical activity (as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time) may still make a difference. 7
  3. Be kind to yourself. Are you overcritical of yourself? Do you replay mistakes in your head or punish yourself for your failures? Self-compassion is a powerful predictor of mental health. 9 For example, self-compassion reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, neurotic perfectionism while increasing life satisfaction and social connectedness. 9 Self-compassion represents acceptance towards all aspects of oneself including those that are disliked. When practicing self-compassion, you have the ability to face painful thoughts and feelings, without the drama or self-pity.9
  4. Eating well. Self-care means making sure you are well fed. Are you eating food that provides you with quality energy to function?10 Do you make time to eat healthy meals or do you skip meals because you are rushing to class, work, or cramming for a test? I have had several students tell me they eat 1-2 meals a day and snack the remainder of the day due to time constraints. Some students even forget to eat because they are so focused on class work. Eating a balanced breakfast regularly and omega-3 based food such as fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc), chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans have shown to boost your mood.11
  5. Journaling, meditation, and yoga. Journaling helps you process your feelings, ignite creativity centers in the brain and will help you be in the present moment.12 Writing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences allows for healing from stress and trauma.13 It can even boost your immune system.13 Meditation can alter your feelings of stress and anxiety.14 Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude.14 Meditation has also been found to change parts of the brain that becomes hyperactive in people with depression. It also helps protect the hippocampus (the area involved in memory). A study showed that people who meditated for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks increased the volume of gray matter in their hippocampus.14 Yoga encourages one to relax, slow their breathing and focus on the present, causing a shift from the flight-or-fight response to the relaxation response in the nervous system.15 Yogic practices inhibit the areas of the brain responsible for fear, aggressiveness and rage, and stimulate the rewarding pleasure centers creating a sense of well-being, feelings of relaxation, improved self-confidence and efficiency, lowered irritability, and an optimistic outlook on life.15 Consistent yoga practice can improve depression and lead to significant increases in serotonin levels.15 Click Here for a list of recommended apps you can download to start your journey to relaxation.
  6. Unplug from technology. Technology is designed to keep us constantly plugged in, yet never fully satisfied. We are left drained by the constant barrage of notifications preventing us from truly living.15 Personally speaking, I know it is not easy, but taking a step back is the best way to open up the creative space that is necessary as a college student. Research has shown that downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to achieve our highest levels of performance.12
  7. Seeing a counselor at the Wellness Center. If options 1-6 did not help improve your mood, consider seeing a counselor. Sometimes, it can be difficult to share a troubling personal experience with family and friends. You may not realize how traumatic events in your childhood can still impact you as you enter adulthood. Sometimes, you just need to talk to someone nonbiased about your life. You can call (443)352-4200 to make an appointment with our counselor or ask us for recommendations to local therapists.

Be Kind to Your Mind, a mental health and self-care retreat for students will be held on Sunday, November 10th from 1-4pm in the Claire Moore Room. To sign up contact Jenna Womack at


By: Sudin Thomas, MSN, FNP-BC




1American Psychological Association. (2019). Listening to the warning signs of stress. Retrieved on September 26, 2019 from

2Liu, C. (2018). The prevalence and predictors of mental health diagnoses and suicide among U.S. college students: Implications for addressing disparities in service use. Depression and Anxiety, 36(1), 8-17.

3American Psychological Association. (2019). Stress and sleep. Retrieved on September 26, 2019 from

4Center of Disease Control (CDC). (2017). How much sleep do I need? Retrieved on September 26, 2019 from

5Young, S. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience 32(6), 394-399. Retrieved on October 2, 2019 from

6Bouchez, C. (2011). Serotonin: 9 questions and answers. Retrieved on October 2, 2019 from

7Mayo Clinic. (2017). Depression and anxiety: exercise eases symptoms. Retrieved on October 2, 2019 from

8Reynolds, K. (2019). How much does therapy or counseling cost? Retrieved on October 2, 2019 from

9Neff, K, & Rude, S., & Kirkpatrick, K. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality 41(4), 908-916. Retrieved on October 2, 2019 from

10Baratta, M. (2018). Self care 101. Retrieved on October 2, 2019 from

11Magee, E. (2007). Foods to uplift your mood. Retrieved on October 3, 2019 from

12The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center. (2019). Self care activities. Retrieved October 3, 2019 from

13Murray, B. (2002). Writing to heal. Monitor on Psychology, 33(6), 54. Retrieved on October 3, 2019 from

14Harvard Men’s Health Watch. (2018). How meditation helps with depression. Retrieved on October 4, 2019 from

15Pettijohn, N. Why you will be happier if you unplug. (2019). Retrieved on October, 4, 2019 from

hand holding
For those of you who are returning to Stevenson, welcome back! To those of you are new to Stevenson, we, at the Wellness Center, are excited to meet you!

A new school year means a new beginning, new faces, and new relationships. The first blog of this school year addresses the latter.

Healthy Relationships

At Stevenson, our diverse students come to campus from various cultural backgrounds and experiences. Throughout our lives, we have learned how to build, maintain, and sometimes lose, relationships with family members, friends, partners, classmates, teammates, neighbors and many others. In fact, there are thousands of books, movies, songs, and blogs about this topic that may come to mind. So what makes a healthy relationship?

  1. Healthy Communication – Open, honest and safe communication is the backbone of a healthy relationship.1 Understanding each other’s needs and expectations is important to building a relationship. This means you have to talk to each other! A few tips to maintain healthy communication include:

· Speak up. If something is bothering you, it is best to share rather than hold it in.1

· Respect Each Other. Your partner’s thoughts and feelings have value, and so do yours. It is important to address your partner and let them know you are making an effort to keep their ideas in mind.1

· Compromise. Disagreements are a natural part of a healthy relationship, but it is important to find ways to compromise.1

· Be Supportive. Relationships thrive when each member is kind, accepting, encouraging, and empathic.1

· Respect Each Other’s Privacy. Being in a relationship does not require you to share everything and always be together. Healthy relationships require space.1

  1. Healthy Boundaries – Creating boundaries is not a sign of secrecy or distrust. It ensures a healthy relationship by expressing what makes you feel comfortable and what you want/do not want in the relationship. This includes physical, emotional and sexual boundaries. Remember, healthy boundaries shouldn’t restrict your ability to go out with friends without your partner or not have to share passwords to your phone, email, or social media accounts.1

Sexual Relationships

The CDC estimates that youth ages 15-24 account for HALF of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STI) that occur in the U.S. EACH YEAR.2 The providers at the Wellness Center diagnose many students with STIs every semester. STIs are diseases that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, oral sex or skin-to-skin contact). These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis (“trich”), genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, and HIV. Many of these STIs do not show symptoms for a long time which is why we encourage ALL students who are sexually active (even those in a monogamous relationship) to use barriers such as condoms AND to get tested for STI at least once a year. Most of these diseases can be tested through a simple urine test.

At the Wellness Center, you can make an appointment to be seen by a healthcare provider where we will ask you a few questions, perform an exam if necessary, and send the urine to a lab for analysis. The STI test can be processed through insurance or you can pay out of pocket. We usually receive the results in 2 days (depending on the day of the week). If you require treatment, we dispense some of the medications at the Wellness Center. The visit, lab results, and treatment remain confidential.


If you are taking contraceptive (birth control) pills, injection, patch, vaginal ring, or IUD, please understand that these DO NOT prevent STI transmission. We have FREE condoms at the Wellness Center. They are in a basket by the door so you do not need to schedule a visit to receive them. Please stop by and grab a few (or more)!



1National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2017). Healthy relationships. Retrieved on August 28, 2019 from

2Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Adolescents and young adults. Retrieved on August 29, 2019 from

3Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). CDC Fact Sheet: Information for teens and young adults: staying healthy and preventing STDs. Retrieved on August 29, 2019 from

Healthy Summer

We are continuing our series on summer tips for a healthier YOU. Here is part 2 covering the three remaining tips! (If you missed part one Click Here!)

3. Protect your mind

We think of summers as a time of relaxation, however, as college students, many are busy and stressed with summer internships and jobs, summer school, or studying for certifications. Even vacation plans can become stressful due to complex relationships or
from photo-shopped images of “body goals” bombarding your social media.

What can you do about it?

  •  Take several 5 minute breaks throughout the day.5 You do not have to be at home in a quiet room to complete this exercise. Examples include:
  • Take a short walk away from your work station.
  • Stand up and stretch or walk in place WITHOUT looking at your computer.
  • Get out of your chair whenever you take phone calls at your desk.
  • Have a drink of water or eat a light snack.5
  • Download one of the following apps for stress reduction, mindfulness, and relaxation Click Here

4. Protect your body

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. adolescents.6 Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, and distracted driving are among the most common causes of death.

Driving Under the Influence

  • In 2016, 58% of drivers aged 15 and 20 who were killed in motor vehicle accidents after drinking and driving were also not wearing a seat belt.6
  • In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • Marijuana users were about 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use.7
  • In 2017, the highest percentage of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes were between the aged of 21 and 24 (27%).8 

What can you do about it?

  • Avoid drinking alcohol if you plan on driving.
  • The average person metabolizes alcohol at the rate of about one drink per hour.8
  • Only time will sober a person up. Drinking strong coffee, exercising or taking a cold shower will not help.8
  • Buckle up if you are in a car (as a driver, front passenger, or in the back seat)!

No Texting

Distracted Driving

  • Distracted driving is not a term that was created to discourage drivers from using their cell phones. It involves ANY activity that diverts attention from driving such as eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the car radio, navigation or entertainment system, and talking or texting on your phone.9
  • Your performance while driving when on the phone (phone call, texting, checking email, updating your Insta) is equivalent to being legally drunk.10 Even when using hands-free devices, scientists found that talking on the phone distracts us to the point where we devote less brain power to focusing on the road.10 A MIT researcher found that the moment in which a driver hears a ringtone or social media notification and decides to pick up the phone is when the driver loses the most situational awareness and become vulnerable to crashing.11
  • Maryland law states you are not allowed text or use a hand-held phone when driving.12

What can you do about it?

I’m sure we all know how to resolve the issue of distracted driving – just avoid it! It may be easier said than done since we have become accustomed to multitasking and have an unhealthy obsession with our cell phones. However, here are a few tips to help manage some of the most common distractions.

  • Turn your phone off or switch it to silent before you get in the car. Then stow it away so that it is out of reach.13
  • Record a voicemail that tells callers you’re driving. If you have an iPhone (with iOS 11 and later), select the “vehicle” icon to use the “do not disturb while driving” feature.13
  • If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe area first.13
  • If you’re using a GPS, enter the destination before you start driving. 13
  • Remain focused on driving. You are saving lives just by doing that.

5. Protect your health

With time off over the summer, don’t forget to get your annual physical! It’s time to ditch the pediatrician and find a family (or adult) primary care provider. While you’re at it, don’t forget getting your teeth cleaned every 6 months and your annual eye exam with an optometrist!

Drink Water

Making Healthy Choices

  • By now, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “eating healthy,” but what does that really mean? Check out this link to learn more about how to include variety of foods and beverages from each food group to build healthy eating styles.
  • Avoid dehydration by drinking WATER instead of sugary drinks. Did you know symptoms such as headaches and fatigue could be due to dehydration?
  • You need to drink half your weight in ounces to meet the bare minimum water requirement that your body needs to function.14
  • Only 22.9% of U.S. adults aged 18 to 64 met the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise between 2010 and 2015.15 Adults should exercise at least 150 (2.5 hours) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity.15 You should also include muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
  • Adolescents aged 15-24 account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STI) that occur in the U.S. each year.16 If you are sexually active, use latex condoms correctly and consistently. If you have latex allergies, it is important to note that synthetic non-latex condoms have higher breakage rates than latex condoms. Natural membrane condoms are not recommended for STI prevention. Finally, be sure to get tested for STIs at least once a year.16


By: Sudin Thomas, MSN, FNP-BC






1American Academy of Dermatology. (2018). Skin Cancer. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from

2Environmental Working Group. (2019). What’s wrong with High SPF? Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from

3FDA U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2011). Questions and Answers: FDA announces new requirements for over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen products marketed in the U.S. Retrieved from

4American Optometric Association. (2019). Adult vision: 19 to 40 years of age. Retrieved from

5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Five minutes or less for health weekly tip: Take a break. Retrieved on May 1, 2019 from

6Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Teen drivers: Get the facts. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

7Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Impaired driving: Get the facts. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

8MADD. (2019). Stats. Retrieved from

9National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.) Distracted Driving. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

10Hamilton, J. (2008, October 16). Multitasking in the car: Just like drunken driving. National Public Radio, Inc. Retrieved on May 16, 2019 from

11Roeder, A. (2018, May 2). With multitasking increasing behind the wheel, experts ponder how to keep drivers’ eyes on the road. Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved on May 16. 2019 from

12MVA Online. (n.d.) Distracted driving. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

13Governors Highway Safety Association. (2013). 10 tips for managing driver distraction. Retrieved on May 16, 2019 from

14Elkaim, Y. (2013, September 13). The truth about how much water you should really drink. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

15Gray, S. (2018, June 28). A shocking percentage of Americans don’t exercise enough, CDC says. Fortune. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

16Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). How you can prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Retrieved on May 14, 2019 from

Tips for a healthy summer- part 1

The summer is just around the corner, but before you rush out to the campus bookstore to sell your books back and plan to sleep in until 3pm, let’s talk about summer safety!

Part 1 of our 2 part series will cover two summer health tips!

1. Protect your skin

Incidence rates

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer daily.1 Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of color. People with skin of color are prone to skin cancer in areas that aren’t commonly exposed to the sun such as palms of hands, soles of feet, the groin, inside the mouth, or even under their nails.1

Risk factors

Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet (UV) light is a risk factor for all types of skin cancers. Even one episode of sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma.1


What can you do you about it?

  1. Use sunscreen products:
  1. When purchasing sunscreen products, look for the words “broad spectrum” which means the product protects against both UVA and UVB rays.2-3 UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are harder to block with sunscreen products.3 UVA rays suppresses the immune system, contributes to skin cancer, and can cause early skin aging.3
  2. The higher the SPF does NOT mean the better the protection. Getting a higher SPF exposes you to more chemicals and may provide a false sense of security. SPF 30 blocks nearly 97% of UVB rays, SPF 50 blocks about 98%, and SPF 100 blocks about 99%.2
  3. Use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating. Reapply the water resistant sunscreen every 2 hours or more often if swimming or sweating.
  1. Limit time in the sun, especially between 10am and 2pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest.3
  1. Perform regular skin self-exams. Here’s a great video providing the steps in how to do so.
  1. It’s never too early to see a dermatologist for a skin exam. They can decide how often you will need to be examined based on individual risk factors, history sun exposure, and family history.3


2. Protect your eyes


We discussed how the sun’s rays are bad for our skin, but did you know they are just as bad for our eyes? UV rays, as well as blue light from our beloved electronics and LED lights, can damage the retina (processes light and sends signals to the brain for visual recognition).4

What can you do about it?

  1. Sunglasses are not only a great fashion accessory, but can help decrease the risk of developing cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens that can blur vision). Look for ones labeled “UV400” that can block out 99 to 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation and screen out 75 to 90% of visible light.4
  2. Wear a wide-brimmed hat or cap.4

Stop by the Wellness Center to pick up a free pair of Mustang sunglasses!


Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Summer Health Tips series!


By: Sudin Thomas, MSN, FNP-BC



1American Academy of Dermatology. (2018). Skin Cancer. Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from

2Environmental Working Group. (2019). What’s wrong with High SPF? Retrieved on May 5, 2019 from

3FDA U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2011). Questions and Answers: FDA announces new requirements for over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen products marketed in the U.S. Retrieved from

4American Optometric Association. (2019). Adult vision: 19 to 40 years of age. Retrieved from

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