You feel it all around you: hacking coughs, sniffly noses, raspy voices and more.
In college, it’s not uncommon to go through these ubiquitous sick stretches. Maybe that is because common tips for getting better (and staying healthy), such as eating well, sleeping enough and staying in when you’re under the weather are just about antithetical to the “traditional” college experience.
When we don’t get enough sleep, it isn’t just our grades that show it—our bodies do, too. A 2015 study in the Journal Sleep found that participants who slept less than six hours a night were four times more likely to catch a cold than those who caught plenty of zzzs.
The cycle’s only propagated by stress, which students have in no short supply. While a little stress can be good, too much, naturally, is not. It can even weaken our immune system. A nasty negative feedback loop arises: We can’t sleep because we’re stressed, then we get sick, then we stay sick because we can’t miss out on the work, school, and social commitments which stressed us out in the first place…
It can leave us feeling perpetually unwell.
What’s more, these last few weeks have been like a shock to the system; for many of us, this is the first time that we have been around so many people after a summer spent with family and friends. With these factors in mind, it’s no wonder we’re all sick, and so soon into the semester.
But we should not treat sickness—even something as common as, well, a common cold—as status quo.
Combatting the constant contagion requires a shift in both our habits and our empathy for one another. There can be a stigma to sickness, especially in the fast-paced environment of a college campus.
Though our bodies (and our doctors) tell us to stay home, recuperate, and take it easy when fighting a cold or a bad headache, our busy schedules tell us otherwise.
There’s something to be said about that resilience; deciding that, even when everything sucks, you’re going to get up and go to class, because it matters. Still, that shouldn’t be our only recourse when we feel under the weather.
Self-care is on everyone’s minds today: books, blog posts, and friends rightfully tell us to take time to ourselves and strive for sound mental health.
But physical health—the good-old-fashioned upkeep of our many systems including our immune system—is equally important, and we should be careful not to shove this most basic tenet of self-care under the rug.
Of course, it’s one thing to recommend rest and a sick day or two—another thing entirely to actually find a school or workplace that encourages this practice of self-care.
While many professors at the school will be understanding in the event that you’re sick and have to miss class, to actually codify this “sick day” thinking in a syllabus—to explicitly say “stay home if you’re sick, even if you don’t have a doctor’s note for your cold…”—would send a message that our well-being trumps deadlines and assignments, any day, so long as they’re made up later on.
Sure, to some students a sick day policy might seem like a free pass—but if even a handful of good-intentioned students use it to get some rest, and keep their germs at home, it would be worth it.
Such understanding is especially important for those new to the college routine. At home, our parents knew when we were sick, and were usually the ones tasked with calling in our absences to school.
But beyond their watch, it’s up to the school to take on that role, in part, and look out for students’ health and well-being. An institution can’t quite keep tabs on us, or cook up hot soup for those sick days, but it can, at the least, create an environment that encourages self-care for students who are still learning its ins and outs: from the importance of rest to the art of scheduling a doctor’s appointment.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.