Keeping It 100 with Immunization

This morning, we can all take a moment to acknowledge that immunizations are, truly, the least sexy (read: interesting) of all health topics. But as it is with so many things in life, the least interesting can often be the most important. Immunizations also fall into that category of thing that you don’t need until you actually need them. On a related note, how old are you? Somewhere between 17 and 22? It’s a trick question because the UNC’s Office of Institutional Research tells me that there’s a 94% probability that you fall into that age range (the house always wins)*. What a great time in your life. What a great time to get immunized, that is.

You’re at UNC, which means that you’ve got proof of your required immunizations (DTP, Polio, MMR, Hep B)**, North Carolina state laws mean business (Thanks, Campus Health Immunization Services!).  But just because immunizations are not required doesn’t mean they’re not useful. In fact, there’s a host of things you can immunized for right now, thanks to the immunization team at Campus Health Services. Immunizations are health choices and, as such, personal, but like all personal choices, it helps to know what’s out there (knowledge = power, etc.). Which is where this post comes in.

I was curious about non-required immunizations, so I walked over to Immunization Services (they’re great!) and got a wealth of knowledge on immunization options. There are two particular vaccines, not required by NC law/UNC policy, but available for your health-choice-making.

For the typical college student, the HPV (or, Human Papillomavirus) vaccine is usually the first that comes up when conversation turns to non-required vaccinations (you know how it is). The basics are these, HPV is a common virus in the US, most sexually active men and women become infected at some time in their lives (at about 14 million people a year, it’s nothing to sneeze at, numbers-wise). But those sexually active men and women (HPV is usually transmitted by sexual contact) generally won’t be aware of the infection, because infections often don’t cause any health problems and go away on their own. But HPV is a tricky virus, if it doesn’t clear, it can also cause a few different types of cancers in men and women (cervical cancer is a particularly deadly one for women, often caused by HPV). And here’s the punchline: getting the HPV vaccine before being exposed to HPV can prevent a lot of the cancer types by side-stepping the virus all together, everyone wins (except cancer).

Next up, Meningococcal Vaccine: a vaccine that runs counter to a disease called N. Meningitidis, or what is more commonly referred to as meningococcal disease. Though uncommon, meningococcal disease can get serious very quickly, has a high mortality rate, and can be difficult to identify by its early, flu-like symptoms. It’s an especially good thing to pay attention to as college students, because actual outbreaks on college campus, though rare, do happen (Princeton, last March; UCSB, last November). College students are more susceptible because they often live and work in close proximity to each other – The CDC helpfully recommends vaccination if “you are a college freshmen living in a dormitory” (CDC Website, under “As an adult…”).

Where do we go from here? Well, now you have the component parts for healthy decision-making – most health choices usually go something like:

1. Researching – you have access to a lot of the vital information through the links and through the CDC’s online fact sheets. Plus, immunization services are happy to answer any questions you can come up with.

2. Decision-making (“Sounds like a good thing for me”)

3. Appointment-setting online at (appointment type: immunizations) or by making an appointment with Campus Health Services (Steps 3+ are, by definition, conditional on Step 2).

4. Immunizing (in person at Campus Health Services)

5. Receive lollipop***

* Undergraduates only. Graduate students, I promise that you’re important also.

** Perhaps you remember this form?

*** Can’t promise.

Listening skills – Can you hear me now?

One of the great things about being in college: in addition to developing all kinds of subject area knowledge, it’s also a time for sharpening the basics: writing, speaking, critical thinking, and, possibly the most overlooked skill, listening. It may seem like a strange time in the academic year to be talking about listening; normally the end of the semester is heavy on the time-management and stress-reduction blog entries. 

But I got to thinking: Finals are here. In the stressful times, we can fall into the habit of focusing inward and it’s easier to let listening to others become less of priority.  Then winter break is right around the corner, and between all the break-related activities vying for your attention, there will also be opportunities to turn that finely-tuned study-mode inward focus around and commit to actively listening to those who are close to you. 

Attentive listening is such a valuable skill, but, like most skills, needs to be practiced. Below are some simple steps for anyone wanting to up their listening game:

  • Choose an environment conducive to listening. A setting that keeps distraction or noise to a minimum will help keep the attentional focus of the listening where it belongs.
  • Keep your body language attentive. The way people sit, move their hands, or make eye contact (or not!) can non-verbally either communicate involvement or engagement, or the opposite.
  • Practice following skills. In other words, give the person speaking the space to tell their story in their own way. Listen to ask questions, allow for silences, concentrate on both the verbal and nonverbal communication. 
  • Leave expectations at the door. That is, both expectations about the speaker as well as expectations about what they plan to say and how they should say it. Trying to anticipate what someone is going to say next is one of the most effective barriers to being a good listener.

The upside of taking listening to another level is that being a good listener is such a crucial skill that it has the potential to make you a better everything:  student, teacher, friend, sibling, you name it. 

So, between all the self-care, yoga, reading, painting, etc., that you have planned once the semester comes to a close, consider taking some time this break to emphasize the simplest, though under-valued, dimension of communication.


Coconut Water: Nuts or not?

In case you’ve been living in a cave without coconut water for the past several years, let’s start with the basics.

Coconut water has been a rising star of liquids for a while now. Not to be confused with coconut milk, coconut water is the clear-ish, mildly nut-flavored liquid that’s extracted from young green coconuts. Coconut milk, by contrast, is a mixture of coconut flesh and coconut water, and there aren’t many instances when you would want to drink it like a juice (it’s used primarily for cooking, popular in Thai food and veganism).

The big claim to nutritional fame of the coconut water is the potassium punch that it packs, which is pretty sizable. According to an entire study dedicated to the composition, 11 fluid ounces contain around 640 mg of potassium. 11 fluid ounces is about what you find in one of those juice-box style coconut water drinks. A banana has around 400 mg of potassium, depending on whom you ask.

Loads of potassium is great because every single cell in your body needs it. In its ionized form, it’s what keeps blood pressure, nerve- and muscle function on point. Lots is good. Recommended potassium intake a day is 3500 mg.

The good news is that plants love potassium. There’s plenty of it in most fruits and vegetables, so most of us have no trouble hitting that number every day.

There are lots of health claims going around, probably in large part due to coconut water marketing, but beware of food fads and hypes. Coconut water is not going to cure cancer, or prevent heart disease, at least not any more than eating lots of fruits and vegetables will. If you like the taste, and you’re looking for a low calorie juice, coconut water is a good alternative, seeing as the 11 ounce liquid has ~ 60 calories, which is about 100 calories less than the same amount of apple juice, and less sugar as well. As juices go, coconut water does well. As health drink, a dose of skepticism is required.

It’s February – which means that North Carolina summer is right around the corner. The key to staying healthy and happy is lots of water and lots of fruits and vegetables. And if you want coconut water to be the potassium cherry on that sundae, that’s good too.

Keeping Calm and Carrying On During Finals

It’s astounding, time is fleeting: last day of classes is Wednesday and final exams begin Friday! I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey, to the intersection of easy and helpful in the Venn diagram of finals study tips. Follow some of these simple steps and make your finals experience your personal happy place.

First, clear your head. Start from a space of calm. With You heard right. : a place to relax on the internet. A sweet, 2-minute, guided meditation experience. Since everyone has two minutes, when you start losing your intense focus, scoot on over for a 2-minute refocus. You can choose music/not and whether you want your meditation guided/not.

Now you’re calm, clear-headed, ready to study. Next step: Simplynoise is free as free can be and will pipe “white noise” (actually comes in brown, pink, and white) into your headphones. White noise is amazing tool to block out background distractors and allows your brain to fully latch onto your work. It can turn 30 minutes sessions into 3-hour marathons, painlessly.

Maybe you’re all set, calmed, white-noised, but you’re having trouble finding your study groove. In that case, maybe the Pomodoro Technique is for you. It’s a time-management system that breaks your time into 25-minute intervals (called pomodoros) with breaks in between. The steps are simple and five in number:

  1. decide on the task to be done
  2. set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes (there are chrome apps for this!)
  3. work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. take a short break (3-5 minutes)
  5. every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)*

If you still feel like the internet is still pulling you into its distracting depths, it might be time to go all out and unplug, with freedom. Freedom only does the one, simple thing, and that is: disconnect you from the internet. You chose the amount of time, any amount of time up to eight hours, press FREEDOM!, and presto: no internet for you. This program is ideal for that phase after you’ve finished all of your internet research and now are just marathon writing/revising/flash-carding. A little disclaimer: Freedom is the only hot tip in this blog post that costs money, $10, to be exact.

*Thanks, Wikipedia!

Exercise…your rights!

A monumental day approaches! For most of the year, this blog is about health and wellness, but this week, the excitement of living in a battleground state is running to high to ignore. So, today, instead of chatting about healthy behaviors, we’re going to talk about healthy voting habits.

For most of you, this will be the first general election that you’ll be taking part in, and research shows that initial voting behaviors may set up a lifetime of healthy voting habits1, so let’s make this one count.

If you’re a first-time voter, you may have to show proof of residence. If you’re interested in learning more about what types of ID or documentation can be used, this NC State Board of Elections website is here to help you out.

This election is about a lot more than presidential candidates though, and if you’re looking to inform yourself about the people you would be voting for, the NC Voter Guide (brought to you by the North Carolina Center for Voter Education) is a good start. This is one of those instances in life when it’s totally fine to bring in a homemade “cheat sheet” into the voting booth with you.

But don’t stop there: UNC also provides a whole range of resources that allow you to watch the debates, get poll results, read election news and candidate profiles. It’s all HERE, thanks UNC Libraries!

Finally, here are some pro-tips to keeping your election stress-free and for setting up those aforementioned life-long healthy, happy voting habits:

  1. Know your polling place. As of October 12th, you’ll have to vote where you’re registered. Not sure where you’re registered? Click HERE. This next part is important: All polling locations are open from 6:30am-7:30pm. 
  2. Make a plan. Defeat that voting inertia with best-laid plans for when, with whom, transport, who you’ll be voting for, etc.!
  3. Bring a friend. This isn’t about science, this is just for fun. Isn’t everything more fun with a buddy?
  4. Document the moment. Take those silly pictures in the (no doubt, very short) line with your voting buddy! It’s a big moment, especially if you’re a first-timer. You can put snaps on Facebook, Twitter, or in your holiday newsletter.
  5. Spread the word. Wear your ‘I voted’ sticker proudly! You’re all about civic engagement and you don’t care who knows.

One last thing! First-time voters want to know:

What the heck is the deal with the Straight-Ticket/Party Voting?

The name implies this a little bit, but straight-ticket/party voting is when you vote for members of the same party for a variety of positions. The NC ballot has a straight-ticket option on it, and you can select it if you are planning on voting for all candidates of the same party.

As with all things in life, this one comes with a word of warning!  If you select the straight-ticket option, you will still need to check the box for your presidential candidate choice AND vote for judges (don’t forget to turn over your ballot!).


  1. Plutzer, Eric. “Becoming a habitual voter: Inertia, resources, and growth in young adulthood.” American political science review 96.1 (2002): 41-56.

Mind-Mapping: or How to Use Your Brain More Effectively

Anyone read “The Shallows” recently? Freshmen, you know what I’m talking about.

Just to catch the rest of you up, it’s an intriguing book by Nicholas Carr on the effects of the internet on the way we absorb information.

Information. Sounds like a good thing, right?

But if you, like me, get that sinking sensation when thinking about how much information is at your fingertips (classes,  Wikipedia, books, magazines, blogs, friends, family, endless emails – and don’t even get me started on social networking!), it might be time for some spring cleaning. Of the mind, that is.

The internet gives us unprecedented access to an almost limitless amount of information, and most of us don’t know where we, as students, would be without it. But with new ways to obtain information, it helps to have new ways to synthesize the pieces. I present to you: a visual diagramming technique known as mind-mapping.

that’s amazing!

What is mind-mapping?

  • Mind-mapping is a type of diagram used to visually outline ideas, goals, or concepts
  • Usually, mind-maps are clustered around a central idea or theme (a “node”), where all other components of the mind-map branching out from that center, see example above

How do I mind-map?

  • Start with a core concept that you want to explore (“New Year’s Resolutions 2013”, “Photosynthesis – What is the Deal”, “Time Management and Me”, “My Group Project for That Class – Fall 2012”, etc.)
  • Start branching out with the smaller components that you see your larger concept being broken down into (say, within “New Year’s Resolutions 2013” you could have two branches titled “Fitness” and “Study Abroad”)
  • Keep branching until you’ve reached the smallest sensible units (i.e., until your ideas cannot be branched any further)
  • Voila! You have a complete picture of the concept that you’re working with. Revisit and revise as needed.

Sometimes it makes sense to learn about visual diagramming…well…visually. This is a helpful how-to video for the mind-map beginner.

Why should I mind-map?

Mind-mapping can be a good way to:

  • Take notes during class
  • Get a sense of large projects
  • Visualize the way concepts are connected
  • Brain-storming – unleash that hail-storm of creativity
  • Map out essays
  • Draw out your ultimate knowledge base, figure out where your gaps are
  • Set goals for yourself and make a detailed plan for getting there
  • Look cool! I.e., it looks good printed out, aesthetics boost happiness, also gives you a sense of direction and fulfillment about your work. That’s about as touchy-feely as it comes, but it sounds like it would feel good, doesn’t it?

Tools for mind-mapping:

If you wanted to start using software tools, Wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive list of both free and proprietary software that can get you started (here). You could also use Word, Excel, or PowerPoint once you get the hang of how it works. Your humble blogger has an iPad, so I like to use SimpleMind (it’s free for iPad, but less free if you’re want to use it on your computer).

More Information (is there irony here?):

Did you want to read that paper being referenced here? Maybe comment about it in the comments section? Go ahead, it’s right here.

Want to hear an interview with the man who came up with mind-maps? Right here! He’s very convinced that mind-maps are the way the brain is intended to be used (no surprise there), so you know, grain of salt, still worth a watch.