Health Topics

Mental  and Sexual Health. Nutrition. Self-Care. Resilience. Alcohol, Tobacco, and other drug use.

Health Promotion is a resource you can use to get information about these and other health topics.

College constitutes a major life transition. Many students need support to help balance these new demands and responsibilities that range from scheduling classes, to sleep and nutrition, to choosing social and recreational activities.

Are you having trouble sleeping or relaxing? Concerned about your mental well-being or that of a friend? Having questions about sexuality or gender identity? Perhaps you are struggling with substance abuse. Health Promotion offers relevant information about many health issues and strategies to address them.

Explore these health topics and learn how to identify when you or someone you know might need support and how to get it.

We envision a safe, and healthy campus community that is free of the possible negative and tragic outcomes that are often due to irresponsible alcohol and drug use.


College is a time where students face new challenges and experiences. One being the exposure to alcohol and other drugs. This happens for a number of reasons, but we can look at no longer living with parents and having classmates that are legally allowed to drink alcohol as being factors. At Oberlin our goal is to equip you with the skills to navigate spaces where substance use may occur. That starts with knowing the facts about alcohol use in order to make responsible decisions.

Myth vs. Reality

  • Myth - Everyone in college drinks.
  • Reality - Survey data shows that at Oberlin and other colleges, roughly 70 percent of college students have used alcohol within the last 30 days. Also, the vast majority of drinkers use alcohol in a responsible fashion as defined by less than 5 drinks in a single outing.
  • Myth - Alcohol use on college campuses is no big deal.
  • Reality - Alcohol use, but mostly irresponsible alcohol use, is one of biggest public health issues on college campuses. Each year 2,000 students die, 600,000 are injured, and roughly 25 percent of dropouts among other outcomes are attributable to alcohol use.

Learn more about alcohol and drug use at and or attend a workshop by Oberlin Bystander Intervention. Attendance at the workshop Substance Safety 101 and 102 is required of all students.

Tobacco Use

Oberlin College became a Tobacco-Free Campus July 1, 2016. This policy prohibits the use of tobacco products by students, staff, faculty and visitors on campus property. The intent is to promote a healthy, safe, and aesthetically pleasing work, educational, and living environment. This policy applies to smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, clove cigarettes, and hookahs, as well as smokeless tobacco including dip, chew, or snuff. Portable electronic vaporizers such as e-cigarettes are not considered tobacco products under this policy. Use of portable vaporizers are permitted for outdoor use at least 30 feet away from campus buildings.

Need help quitting smoking? Refer to Tips to Quit .

Other Drugs

There are a wide variety of prescription and illegal drugs. Oberlin prohibits the use of unlawful use of drugs; however, they want the community to be educated about the impact these drugs can have on their bodies and on campus. Visit to learn more about the broad range of drugs, both legal and illegal.

Why is Healthy Eating Important?

Your brain is always working (even when it feels like it isn’t) and to keep working at its best, your brain needs healthy fuel. Eating the appropriate amounts of nutrients in all food groups will help your brain operate at peak efficiency so you can ace that test or write that paper. Getting all your vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will protect your brain from damaging free radicals that are produced when you use oxygen. On the other hand, eating a diet high in refined sugar can actually hurt your brain by stressing it out and causing inflammation that can damage brain function. However, what you eat also affects your mood. In conclusion: eat well, be well.

How to Eat Healthy

What is a serving size?

  • Vegetables: 1 cup raw leafy greens such as spinach, ½ cup cut  vegetables (cooked or raw), or ¼ cup vegetable juice
  • Fruit: 1 medium sized piece of fruit such as an apple, ½ cup of cut fruit, ¼ cup fruit juice, ¼ cup dried fruit 
  • Grains: 1 slice of bread, 1 small tortilla, 1 cup dry cereal, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, or ½ cup popped popcorn
  • Dairy: 1 cup milk or yogurt
  • Meat, Poultry, and Eggs: 3 oz. meat, 1 whole egg, or 2 egg whites
  • Fish/Seafood: 3 oz.
  • Nuts, Seeds, Beans and Legumes: 1 tbsp. nut butter or ½ oz. nuts or seeds

How many servings should I eat?

  • Vegetables: 5 per day. Try to eat at least one or two servings of vegetables per meal. This could mean adding a side salad, trying a vegetarian option, or just grabbing your favorite vegetables from the salad bar. Stock up on your favorite vegetables at DeCafé and keep them in your room or backpack for a quick and healthy snack. Vegetables going bad before you can eat them? The longest lasting vegetables are: peppers, onions, squash, cabbage, carrots and beets.
  • Fruit: 4 per day. Eating a piece of fruit or drinking juice with your breakfast or as dessert is a great way to make sure you’re getting all your servings. You can also stock up on fruit at DeCafé and keep them in your bag for a healthy snack on the go. Fruit always going bad? Apples, watermelon, and citrus fruits will last the longest.
  • Grains: 6 per day. Grains and carbs are often overlooked, but they’re part of a healthy diet—remember a portion size is smaller than you might think. For example, one sandwich contains two servings of grain. Having a serving or two of grain at each meal is fine, just remember your portion sizes. High iron foods such as oatmeal are both healthy and filling.
  • Meat, Poultry, and Eggs: 8-9 per week. You should aim to eat one of these as part of your meal once a day. They are chock full of protein and will keep you energized for longer.  
  • Fish/Seafood: 2-3 per week. This is another great way for you to get protein and important Omega 3s, but is best in moderation. Treat yourself to a fish or seafood dinner no more than three times a week.
  • Dairy: 3 per day. If you don’t eat meat, this is an important way to get the protein that your body needs. Add a cup of yogurt, a glass of milk, or some cheese to each meal to make sure that you’re getting the protein you need to keep you full and fueled.
  • Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Legumes: 5 per week. Don’t eat meat or dairy? This is the best way for you to get protein. If you’re vegan, or just don’t like meat and dairy, make sure that you eat these about once a day, or keep some nuts and seeds in your bag for a healthy snack. Even if you do eat meat and dairy, it’s important to eat these a few times a week as they contain important oils and nutrients that will help fuel your body.

Trouble Eating?

Having a regular eating schedule is just as important as getting all your servings of fruits and vegetables! If you find that you forget to eat, set a reminder on your phone or ask a reliable friend to send you a text when it’s time to eat.

Some medications can reduce your appetite, but it’s still important for you eat, even if you don't feel hungry because your body needs the nutrients and energy. If reminders don’t work for you, plan meals with friends, even if it’s just a quick half-hour lunch in DeCafé. Having a plan and someone to rely on will help to ensure that you make the time to eat. Plus, you get to spend some time with your friends; it’s a win-win!

Sometimes you might feel as though you don’t have time for a full meal, and it’s OK if you can’t make the time as long as you still remember to snack. Carry healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, or nuts for healthy food on the go. Here at Oberlin you have the ability to be proactive as you plan out your meals.

Visit Campus Dining Services to see what meals have been planned out for the week at dining facilities on campus.

How to Manage Mental Health Challenges 

The first step in addressing mental health is recognizing when it's becoming a challenge.  Oberlin College has partnered with ULifeline to provide an online resource for college mental health.  Information, resouces, and a self-evaluation for common mental health issues can be found at the ULifeline website at the URL below.

Mental health is one of the top wellness concerns on college campuses. This is usually in the form of stress, anxiety, and depression; all of which can negatively impact how you perform in the classroom. Here we will provide you with tips for managing your mental health.

  1. Address the Stress! -  It‘s important not to try to ignore mental health challenges or assume they will go away. Often this can make the mental health challenge worse. Address stress in a positive and constructive way to ensure your overall well-being.
  2. Relax and Unwind - Even with a heavy course load and other obligations, it‘s important to make time for fun. Make time in your schedule to do things that you enjoy, such as listening to music, watching TV, and socializing with friends.
  3. Get Organized and Manage your Time Wisely - A clear space creates a healthy mind. Having an organized living space and schedule can be helpful in alleviating stress.
  4. Physical Activity - Embrace the mental health benefits of exercise. It helps muscles release tension, burn off stress hormones, and improves mood. Find a physical activity that you enjoy at Philips Physical Education or Shanks Health and Wellness Center. It‘s recommended that you try to fit in some form of physical activity at least three day per week. If you have trouble making it to Philips or Shanks, try incorporating simple things such as going for a walk between classes or taking the stairs instead of an elevator to incorporate exercise into your day.
  5. Eat Healthy -  Food provides the energy to help our bodies and minds function. Healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly.
  6. Sleep - Sleep helps to consolidate memory and learning, increases your ability to process new information, and boosts mood and energy levels. You need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to perform at optimal levels.
  7. Seek Help - The Counseling Center is a resource you can use to help address your mental health. Stop in or schedule an appointment. 

How to Help a Peer with Mental Health Challenges

Seeing a friend struggling with mental and emotional health concerns can be difficult. It‘s hard to know what to say and do, and you may be left uncertain and second-guessing yourself. Here are some tips to be more supportive.

Know the Signs

With the omnipresence of stress on college campuses, it can be difficult to tell whether a friend is dealing with manageable levels of everyday stress or is facing a larger, more forceful issue like depression or an anxiety disorder.  

These are some signs that your friend may be dealing with a more serious emotional or mental health issue, especially if these symptoms last for more than two weeks and or escalate in severity over time:

  • Sleeping difficulties. This may present itself as trouble falling asleep, inability to sleep through the night, and or exhaustion and fatigue throughout the day.
  • Significant change in eating habits or appetite  
  • Unusual bouts of anger and irritability 
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Increase in alcohol and or drug consumption
  • Expressing thoughts of harming themselves or others
  • Isolation
  • Reduced interest or joy in activities they used to like

What Can you Do to Help?

Talking with your friend about their mental health can be a daunting task. While you may feel awkward or uncomfortable discussing personal, private concerns, doing so is the first step in helping them. If you are worried about or don’t feel comfortable with having a direct, one-on-one conversation with them, you may want to bring your concerns to a trusted third party (such as your RA) so that they can intervene or suggest further steps for you to take. It may also be helpful to use walk-in hours at the Counseling Center to get insight on the best way to approach it.

Remember: your role as their friend is to provide support and motivation. You are (presumably) not a mental health professional and you should not attempt to provide medical advice. If clinical intervention proves necessary, encourage your friend to reach out for professional help. The counseling center is open weekdays and provides crisis walk-in hours every weekday along with after hours telephone support.

“Backing Off”

There is always the chance that your friend will react negatively to your attempts at reaching out. Some may refuse to believe that they are struggling and instead insist that they do not need support; others may be aware of the issue but are determined to “deal with it” on their own.  Either way, the message becomes clear to you: “back off.”

However, it is important to continue to support your friend in any way you can and help in whatever ways they allow. Here are some things you can do.

  • Don’t enable them. Your friend is an adult and can make their own decisions, but so are you. Avoid participating in activities with them that function as unhealthy coping mechanisms (such as excessive alcohol consumption) and do not “cover” for their missed obligations.
  • Follow through on your concern. Though you may fear that your friend will be angered by your “interference,” you cannot let that stop you. If you think there is a problem, trust your gut. Untreated mental health concerns often worsen with time and can result in serious consequences including self-harm, addiction, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Take care of yourself.  Recognize your limits and be careful not to compromise your own mental, emotional, and physical health.

Why Does Stress Happen?

Stress triggers a dynamic, multi-organ complex that releases cortisol into the body. When released in acute episodes of stress, cortisol enhances fight-or-flight responses and provides physiological benefits: short-term release boosts the immune system, promotes attention, and enhances memory. You might be asking yourself, “if stress is so helpful, why does it seem to be impacting me negatively?”

That’s because stress and cortisol only prove helpful in acute bouts of stress. When stress is chronic, the resulting long-term cortisol release instead suppresses the immune system, promotes abdominal fat, and impairs memory and attention.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Though cliché, it’s also correct—some of the most effective tools for managing and reducing stress center on one’s physical health.  

  • Avoid skipping meals. Skipping lunch or dinner to get in an extra hour of writing or studying sounds appealing, but maintaining a healthy, consistent diet is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Plus, you’ll work better on a full stomach. If you have trouble forcing yourself to pause work to grab a meal…
  • Get a study buddy. It’s like a gym buddy, but instead of holding each other accountable for working out you’re holding each other accountable for eating. Sometimes making sure someone else is taking care of their health is easier than taking care of your own, so find a friend with the same tendency to skip meals as you.
  • Exercise. As little as 20 minutes of exercise each day has been shown to reduce stress levels. At the on-campus gym, you can use the traditional workout equipment, swim some laps in the pool, or even make use of our rock climbing wall. If you have trouble forcing yourself to go and exercise, you can get a gym buddy. It’s like a study buddy, but— wait, this sounds familiar.
  • Sleep. As tempting as pulling an all-nighter may sound, sleep deprivation will catch up with you. The negative effects will only be intensified by any external stimulants (such as caffeine) used to suppress exhaustion.

Why Regular Exercise is Important

Exercise isn’t just for people who want to lose weight, or athletes that want to build muscle. Regular exercise has a number of health benefits that can not only improve your well-being, but also make college life easier to manage.

While weight loss and muscle building are some physical benefits of regular exercise, they are not all you can gain from regular exercise. There are many physical benefits to regular exercise that work over both the short and long term. Here are some examples of how regular exercise can improve your physical well-being.

  • Lower blood pressure. Stress can temporarily increase your blood pressure, but regular exercise can help keep this in check so that it doesn’t cause problems later on.
  • If you’re trying to quit smoking, regular exercise can help ease cravings.
  • Regular exercise also helps to prevent things like high cholesterol which can lead to problems later down the road.
  • Improve sleep as long as you don’t exercise too close to when you’re planning on going to bed. This is because exercise can help to reset your internal clock which tells you when it’s time to go to sleep. Improving the length and quality of your sleep can also have a number of benefits for your physical and mental health as detailed under “Sleep” on this webpage.

However, exercise doesn’t just have physical benefits. Regular exercise can be beneficial for your mental health as well as physical health. So, even if the physical benefits of exercise aren’t really what you’re after, there are still a number of ways that regular exercise can be beneficial to you.

Here are some examples of how regular exercise can improve your mental health.

  • Distract you from worries. It’s much harder to be focused on worries and stressors when you’re exercising, especially if you focus both your mind and body into your workout.
  • Regular exercise can help boost your energy over the long term.
  • The endorphins released during a workout can help improve mood which can help prevent and fight against depression.
  • Relieve stress. After a stressful day, you might want to just crawl into bed, but exercising before you do can help to alleviate some of the stress thanks to the mood improving endorphins.

While it is clear that regular exercise has numerous benefits, it can be difficult to get into the habit of regular exercise. It’s recommended that you get 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. If not, either 75 minutes a week (or about 10 minutes a day) of vigorous cardio such as running, jumping rope, or swimming laps, or 150 minutes a week of moderate cardio such as dancing, walking, or biking. In addition to this, it is recommended that you do muscle strengthening activities such as lifting weights or using resistance bands twice a week. 

You can do many of these things at Shanks Health and Wellness Center.  

  • Remember that doing something is better than nothing. Even if you don’t have time for a full half hour at once or every day, doing small bursts of exercise such as going on a five-minute walk can still help to improve your physical and mental health.
  • Make exercising fun by including your friends or watching your favorite show while you work out.
  • Keeping track of your progress using fitness apps or similar devices can increase your motivation to continue as you can see how you’re improving.
  • If you find that you get bored easily, try switching up the kinds of workouts that you do.
  • Find things you can do even during the cold weather. If you like running, but don’t like doing it in the cold Ohio winters, consider running on a treadmill or on the indoor track.
  • Consider taking a gym class or joining a club sport. Gym classes are typically low commitment as they are often one module or have shorter class times, and many club sports are flexible in terms of practices and physical ability.

At Oberlin College we recognize that sexuality is a normal function of human existence and has the potential to be a powerful and positive force in our lives. Sexuality can be diverse and complicated, and when one is in touch with their sexuality and participates in safe practices, it can be a fulfilling expression of the human experience.

Explore ideas and strategies for taking charge of your sexual health below.

The Birds, the Bees, and What it all means?

Sexual health and sexuality include so much more than just sexual behavior. Sexual health refers to taking care of one’s body and needs as it pertains not only to sexual functioning and practices, but also reproduction, contraception, sexual pleasure and desire, intimate relationships, communication, decision-making, setting boundaries, sensuality, sexual orientation, and identity.      

Feeling good about yourself, exploring what sex and sexuality mean to you and engaging in sexual activity when you are ready, with whom (either solo or with another/others) and how you choose, in a positive, respectful and consensual manner.

You can learn more about sexual health by taking SexCo, an Exco course about human sexuality. The Sexual Information Center (SIC) and Student Health Services are both on-campus entities you can utilize for more information and safer sex resources.        

Why Sleep is Important

It’s recommended that college students get eight hours of sleep a night, yet many don’t. Many college students often put their school work before their physical health but staying up all night cramming for a test often does more harm than good. Students who don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night are not only more likely to feel tired, but may also:

  • Be more prone to small illnesses such as colds
  • Feel more stressed and be more prone to mental health issues
  • Experience decreased academic and athletic performance as well as a lower GPA 
  • Have a feeling of “fogginess” that can impact daily life
  • Increased weight gain  

Not sleeping enough or staying up all night can cause problems because sleep plays a critical role in both bodily and mental functions, so it’s no surprise that a lack of it can cause problems. However, the reverse is also true. Getting the recommended eight hours of sleep a night and having a consistent sleep schedule can have a number of benefits, including:

  • Improved grades and a better overall GPA
  • Better memory. This is because while we sleep, the brain sorts through the information you’ve learned during the day which not only makes it easier to access, but improves your understanding of it.
  • Lowered risk of weight gain
  • Improved immune system - meaning you’re less likely to get sick
  • Better mood
  • Boost mental and emotional health

Having a regular sleep schedule can ensure that you get eight hours of sleep every night and reap all the benefits of having a well-rested brain and body. But it can be difficult to set up a constant sleep schedule, especially in college when classes start at all hours of the day.

If you have class at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but don’t have anything until 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it can be hard to find the motivation to get up at the same time every day. It’s important to try and go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.

Staying up late and getting up late on weekends can make it harder to fall asleep in time to get your eight hours before class on Monday morning. Here’s some tips you can follow to keep a regular sleep cycle and get the recommended amount of sleep:

  • Stop caffeine consumption about five hours before you plan on going to bed. Caffeine can linger in your system for up to five hours, so it’s important to get it out of your system before you want to go to sleep, especially if you have trouble falling asleep.
  • Also avoid nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime as these can also mess with your sleep cycle. While alcohol is initially a sedative, it can cause problems later in the night.
  • Limit your use of electronics in bed as the blue light from the screen can mess with your brain and make it harder to sleep. If you really must use your electronics before you go to bed, some devices have a night-time mode which can help limit the amount of blue light emitted.
  • Participate in physical activity or exercise on a regular basis, but avoid doing so three to four hours before bedtime.
  • Develop a sleep routine and stick to it, even on the weekends
  • Limit daytime naps. While sleeping during the day may provide a temporary relief to sleepiness, it can cause problems later when you’re trying to go to bed. Try not to nap after 3 p.m. and limit your naps to around 30 minutes.

When You Can’t Sleep

While it’s clear that getting eight hours of sleep is important, sometimes it’s just not possible. It might be that you’re having a hard time falling asleep, or you keep waking up in the middle of the night, or you wake up early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. These sleep problems can be due to a number of reasons such as stress, anxiety, depression, a sleep disorder, or something else. It’s important to try and identify the cause of your sleep problems so that you can better treat them.

If you feel as though you are particularly stressed, or have a lot of school work to do, that could be the source of your sleep problems. Consider asking for an extension or taking a mental health day. Many mental illnesses can also cause sleep problems, and if you suspect that this is the case, consider talking to your doctor.

Some medications may also cause sleep problems, and you should talk to your doctor if you think this may be a problem for you. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, but if your sleep problems persist, consider going to your doctor.

  • Invest in a mattress topper and comfy pillows if you find that your bed is not comfortable enough.
  • Take the time to wind down before you go to bed. Do something that relaxes you such as reading, crocheting, or taking a warm shower.
  • Create a to-do list, especially if you find that your brain is having trouble shutting down and you’re thinking about school work, or other things that you need to do. A list gives you a plan for the next day so that your brain can focus on other things like sleeping.
  • Start a practice of meditating before or while in bed. Meditating can help calm your mind and body, making it easier to sleep. Focus on your breathing and if possible, breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose.
  • If you notice that certain parts of your body are tenser than others, imagine that you’re breathing air into them with each breath.
  • Try melatonin or other natural supplements. Melatonin is responsible for how tired you feel and there is typically more in your system the closer you get to bedtime. However, if you notice that you aren’t feeling tired when you should be, consider taking a melatonin supplement shortly before bed to help you fall asleep.
  • If you and your roommate have different sleep cycles, communicate to them about your sleep schedule so that they can plan around it and know to be quiet if they are in the room while you’re trying to sleep. If this doesn’t work, consider investing in a sleep mask or earplugs.
  • Calming scents such as lavender and chamomile can also aid in sleep. If your roommate is okay with it, try putting a couple drops of lavender essential oil or something similar in a cup of hot water placed near your bed.
  • If after you’ve gone to bed, you feel too restless to sleep, don’t keep tossing and turning. Get up and do something that relaxes you such as reading or a cup of herbal teal and return to bed when you feel sleepier.