It’s back to school season, which means by now many young adults will have returned to college, focusing on their futures and in some cases, traveling miles away from home. Academic life can be a major source of stress, and stress is of course a primary cause of illness. Many colleges and universities, recommend or even “mandate” certain vaccines for enrolling college students, because it is well known that college campuses are susceptible to outbreaks of certain diseases, like pneumococcal meningitis. A similar phenomenon has been noted in military barracks, and while simple overcrowding is often blamed, what tends to be left out of the conversation is the stress that these living conditions impose upon their residents. Stereotypical portrayals of partying college students would have us believe that this is far from being a stressful period in a young person’s life, but reality disagrees. In fact, of all age groups, depression is statistically highest among people aged 18-241.
The transition to college can be stressful for many reasons. There is intensified academic pressure, as coursework becomes more difficult and one’s future success is placed more directly and proximally on the line. In addition, GPAs may need to be maintained for scholarships or work-study eligibility: a potent financial stressor on those who may start to struggle with their coursework. In fact, financial stress in general is a bane for most college students. Enormous, ever-growing loans constantly hang over their heads, and sometimes jobs must be fit into tightly packed course schedules. For many young people, college is their first exposure to living independently, and the majority will be living in relative poverty compared to the sort of life they had as dependents of their parents. Moving out of a comfortable, three-bedroom home to share a cramped dorm room with an utter stranger, and a single dormitory bathroom with possibly dozens of other strangers, can be a major shock. Finally, while we like to think that all young adults crave the wild freedom of college, many are plagued initially with loneliness and homesickness as they leave behind the family and friends they grew up with. While this age group tends to be around the peak of their physical health, the aforementioned factors help to explain their diametrically opposed mental health outcomes.
Given the living situation on college campuses, college students can benefit from all types of traditional immune support. However, sometimes the best way to provide immune support is through stress relief. Given the unique challenges that college students face, adaptogen herbs with additional cognitive benefits may be the most efficient approach to support the health of this population. Ashwagandha is an excellent choice, as it has been shown to improve multiple domains of cognitive function in addition to providing stress and mood support. Extracts standardized for withanolide content may even have acute nootropic effects2.
Another way to combine stress relief with cognitive support is homeopathy, which can address multiple issues at once by treating the whole person. Because stress tends to affect every person differently, even an archetypal transition like going off to college can be experienced in many different ways, with different patterns of breakdown posing different issues along the way. Homeopathic singles are a classic and effective way to tailor natural treatments to an individual patient, and there are several polychrest remedies that correspond quite well to the type of stressful academic situations that can affect students. Although there are numerous remedies which must be considered for a given patient, below are a few of the most commonly indicated and useful remedies for treating college students:
- Calcarea Carbonica: Possibly the leading homeopathic remedy for mental and physical breakdown under stress, Calcarea Carbonica corresponds to a state of confusion, exhaustion, and overwhelm. The person is normally dependable, hardworking, and extremely well-organized, but under stress develops a feeling that they can’t work fast enough to keep up, as if obligations start spinning around faster than they can keep track of things. They may even develop actual vertigo, and often complain that they cannot seem to work fast enough to keep up. This is often true, as they tend to make inordinate efforts organizing their notes at the expense of studying them.
- Lycopodium: This is one of the best remedies for adults who struggle with anxiety, poor concentration, and a general inability to focus while studying, which threatens to derail them academically. The typical Lycopodium patient is intelligent, ambitious, and academically oriented, but may struggle on exams due to performance anxiety and may struggle to concentrate while studying. As children, they may have overcome learning disabilities like dyslexia or ADD/ADHD. The remedy can provide long-term nootropic benefits as well as improve confidence and focus.
- Natrum Muriaticum: Many students struggle with mental health at some point in their college careers, and Natrum Muriaticum is across the board the most commonly indicated homeopathic remedy for sadness and depressed mood. Issues that respond to this remedy are often brought on by grief and loss, and it corresponds well to homesickness, loss of friends, separation from loved ones, romantic disappointments, and the general loneliness that tends to accompany shyness and introversion. Students who need Natrum Muriaticum are typically driven perfectionists who do fine academically, but struggle with the rigors of schooling on the emotional level.
- Sepia: This is an excellent remedy for burnout in college students, especially (but not exclusively) athletic young women. There is usually a period of intense activity and high performance, followed by a period of fatigue, depression, and underperformance that never rebounds. When Sepia is indicated, there are often accompanying hormonal issues and tensions with close friends and family members. Their complete exhaustion tends to put them at odds with their need to maintain an independent lifestyle, and the remedy can help them re-energize to pursue their passions.
- Sulphur: This remedy can work wonders to improve focus and especially, motivation in otherwise gifted students whose grades do not reflect their intelligence. Independent, stubborn, and self-willed people, they can typically learn anything on their own but when forced to conform to the requirements of schooling, become habitual procrastinators who lose all motivation to succeed. Their academic careers can implode due to laziness and/or various unhealthy, addictive, sometimes illegal distractions, resulting in a collapsed state of smug complacency with never living up to their potential. The remedy can restore motivation and drive in underachieving students who are considering dropping out.
1Lee B, Wang Y, Carlson SA, et al. National, State-Level, and County-Level Prevalence Estimates of Adults Aged ≥18 Years Self-Reporting a Lifetime Diagnosis of Depression — United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:644–650. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7224a1.
2Xing D, Yoo C, Gonzalez D, Jenkins V, Nottingham K, Dickerson B, Leonard M, Ko J, Faries M, Kephart W, Purpura M, Jäger R, Sowinski R, Rasmussen CJ, Kreider RB. Effects of Acute Ashwagandha Ingestion on Cognitive Function. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Sep 20;19(19):11852. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191911852. PMID: 36231152; PMCID: PMC9565281.