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How To Avoid (Or At Least Cope With) Freshers' Flu

How To Avoid (Or At Least Cope With) Freshers' Flu main image

In countries where the academic year starts in autumn (or fall, if you’re in North America), it’s about now that term should really be getting going.

Lectures, parties, new places, people and pastimes… it’s all so exciting and there’s just so much to do and discover. Until… BAM: you’re struck down, by the dreaded freshers’ flu.

This refers to the huge percentage of students who fall ill in their first few weeks at university (as many as 90%, according to that well-respected medical publication, ahem, Wikipedia).

If you haven’t yet been knocked out of action, here are my top tips for staying well…

1. Get a bit hygiene-obsessive

Ok, so it’s early days and you don’t want to immediately get a reputation for being the weirdo wearing a full-body protection outfit, spraying antibacterial mist into the air every time anyone sneezes/speaks/breathes near you to avoif the freshers' flu.

However, this is a good time to put your basic knowledge of hygiene to use. So, do make sure you wash your hands regularly. And you could probably get away with carrying around a small bottle of antibacterial hand lotion without becoming the subject of campus-wide gossip – you can use this in communal spaces (libraries, computer rooms, lectures, labs), to protect yourself against germs left on shared surfaces.

Basically, channel Mr Burns in  of The Simpsons.

2. Pace yourself, and eat some fruit

The freshers’ flu phenomenon is at least partly due to the fact that lots of people are suddenly plunged into close proximity, bringing with them germs from around the world. But it’s also a question of lifestyle.

This is an exciting but turbulent time, and pretty much all your old routines are likely to be broken. Combine disrupted sleep and diet patterns with the stress of so many new things (plus perhaps just the odd one or two alcoholic beverages) and your immune system defences are likely to be way down.

The solutions here are a little dull and predictable, but effective! Get plenty of sleep, eat healthily, and generally take care of yourself. If you try and go to every single social event, while also studying eight hours a day, then yes, you’re probably going to hit burnout.

3. Try not to worry about it!

I realize that telling people not to worry is one of those really annoying ‘easy for you to say’ things. However, I would hate for my initial scaremongering tactics (rule number one of the blog post: grab the reader’s attention) to actually leave anyone feeling worried about getting freshers’ flu.

First, if you let yourself get into a tizz about it, you’re actually more likely to become ill – that stress will bring down your immune system from the inside.

And second, while taking good care of yourself will definitely help, there is a limit to how much you can do. Well, yes, you could turn into a vitamins-obsessed recluse and start each day by examining your own stool samples (as per the school of health)…

But that’s a little extreme for the sake of avoiding what is, in most cases, nothing more sinister than a common cold, aka. the perfect excuse to snuggle up with your favourite DVD, a [healthy] takeaway, and an early night – all that new stuff will still be there in the morning.

What are your top tips to avoid getting ill at university? Tell us in the comments.

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Content?'

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2 Comments

This may seem pedantic, but could we please all move away from using 'OCD' as some kind of adjective. It's a serious and devastating mental illness that is so much more than wanting to keep clean. Please use a different word to avoid trivialising OCD and spreading misconceptions! Other than that, good article :)

Hi Christy. You're absolutely right, thanks for raising this point. The post has now been edited to remove the reference to OCD. Thanks again!