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Cougar Health Services November 2016

Alcohol and coping with stress

We’re well into the semester and many of us have stressful deadlines and looming final projects. If you feel your stress rising with the workload, you’re not alone.

A lot of Cougs feel stressed by their academic load. In 2016, 83 percent of Cougs reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do.

When life gets stressful, it can be tempting to cope by drinking. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can lower anxiety and make you feel relaxed. While this may calm your nerves for a while, the effects are short-lived.

While drinking may make you feel better in the moment, regular drinking and binge drinking can increase stress and anxiety. And long-term, heavy drinking can alter the brain’s chemistry, making you more susceptible to stress.   

While occasionally drinking to relax or socialize with friends can be healthy and normal, regularly drinking to cope with stress can become a dangerous habit. How do you know when your drinking is problematic? Ask yourself:

  • Is drinking the only way you cope with stress?
  • Do you have to drink more to get the same benefits?
  • Do you feel anxious if you are unable to drink?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may want to speak with a health care provider or counselor about your drinking habits.

Drinking doesn’t address the underlying causes of stress. Instead, focus on ways you can reduce your overall stress levels, or increase your resiliency to stress and support your mental health.

Consider trying activities that help you deal with stress successfully, like:

You can learn more about alcohol, stress management, mindfulness and other topics by attending our free workshops listed on CougSync.

Direct, delegate or distract to prevent violence

We’ve all been there before – you’re walking across campus and you see another student in a situation where they might need some help. Maybe you overhear a couple arguing, or see someone who looks really upset about the phone call they just received.

Most of us want to help when we see a situation that concerns us, but we often feel unable to do something to help.

So what stops us from helping in these moments? We all face barriers that keep us from taking action, even when we really want to or think we should.

You may have experienced one of these common barriers:

  • There are other people around who will probably do something, so I don’t have to.
  • I don’t want to embarrass myself.
  • No one else noticed or is doing anything.
  • I don’t want to get hurt.
  • My friends will give me a hard time if I do something.
  • I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.
  • I’m shy.
  • I hate conflict.
  • It’s none of my business.
  • I don’t want to get involved.

These kinds of thoughts are completely normal. Depending on the specific situation and our individual preferences, we all experience different barriers to taking action.

But, there are many ways to intervene in a situation that concerns you. You may still be able to find a way to help that feels achievable.

Consider these three approaches, and think about which ones you might be able to use next time you see someone in an unsafe situation.

Direct – do something yourself.  Approach the person you’re concerned about and ask, “Hey, what’s going on here?” or “Are you okay?” or “Do you need help?”

Delegate – ask someone else for help. Ask a friend, residence hall advisor or mentor to step in. If necessary, call the police.

Distract – Diffuse the situation by diverting people’s attention. Pretend you are lost and ask for directions. Tell people there’s free food in the CUB. Start a conversation about an unrelated topic.

Interested in learning more about how you can take action to prevent violence? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall or department.

Insurance basics for Cougs

Insurance basics for Cougs

About 66 percent of Cougs are still on their parents’ health insurance plan! Whether you use your parents’ insurance or have your own plan, our healthcare system is complex and learning to navigate it on your own can be tough. Here are some insurance basics to keep in mind next time you make a medical appointment.

Check to see if your healthcare provider is in-network

Insurance companies have contract agreements with certain healthcare providers, who are considered in-network. Insurance plans generally provide more coverage for services performed by in-network providers, which lowers the amount you have to pay out of pocket.

You can usually find a list of in-network providers in your area on your insurance company’s website. Or, you can check your healthcare provider’s website or call them to get details on what your insurance will cover.

For Health & Wellness Services, check our list of contracted insurance companies or contact our billing office for details. If you have WSU insurance as an international student or graduate assistant, you can find more info on our student insurance website.

Find out if you need a referral

If you need to see a specialist or get a specific medical service, you may need a referral. If you’re visiting a healthcare provider other than your primary doctor’s office, check with your insurance company to find out whether or not you need a referral.

If you need a referral and don’t get one in advance, you may have trouble getting your insurance company to cover the service. If you need to see a specialist for any reason, our medical clinic can help you with referrals to local providers.

Know your annual premium, deductible and copay

An annual premium is the amount you or your parents pay to have your health insurance plan. In any given year, you have to pay a set amount of medical expenses out of pocket before your insurance company will pay for any services. This is called a deductible.

At each medical appointment, you may also have a copay or co-insurance. After you’ve met your deductible for the year, all you have to pay is your copay (a set amount of money) or co-insurance (a set percentage of total cost) and your insurance company will cover the rest of your bill.

If you aren’t sure how much your visit will cost, your healthcare provider’s billing office can help you figure out your coverage and how much you’ll owe.

Check your Explanation of Benefits (EOB)

After your insurance company pays for a medical service you’ve received, they’ll send you a document called an EOB. Your EOB will tell you what the claim was for, whether it was approved and for how much.

Depending on your insurance company and the preferences you’ve set, you may receive your EOB in the mail or electronically. When it arrives, make sure the information is correct and contact your insurance company if you have questions.

Explore your options

If you don’t have health insurance, low-cost insurance options are available through the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange. Open enrollment for 2017 plans is happening now!

If you need help navigating your insurance options or have any concerns about how to pay for medical care, you are always welcome to contact our billing office.

Your guide to verbal and non-verbal consent

When it comes to sex, consent should always be clear, knowing and voluntary. We’ve talked about this definition of consent in a previous post, but let’s talk specifically about what voluntary means.

Voluntary consent means everyone feels like they’re making their own choice, rather than someone else making it for them. If someone says “yes” because they’re too afraid to say “no”, they’re not giving voluntary consent.

Coercion is the opposite of voluntary consent. Coercion can mean pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to, making threats, using force, or blackmailing someone into having sex.

People communicate about sex in different ways. While some of us are candid and direct, some of us are more indirect. If you aren’t sure if you have voluntary consent, listen for some of the key words and phrases outlined below.

Consent sounds likeNon-consent sounds like
I'm sureI'm not sure
I knowI don't know
Don't stopStop
I want toI want to, but...
I'm not worriedI feel worried about
I want you/it/thatThat hurts
Can you please do (whatever)Maybe
I still want toI love you/this, but...
That feels goodI want to do this, but not right now
I want to do this right nowI don't know how I feel about this
I feel good about thisI don't want to do this anymore
I want to keep doing thisThis feels wrong

People can also communicate non-verbally with their actions and body language. Look for some of these behaviors:

Possible non-verbal signs of consentPossible non-verbal signs of non-consent
Direct eye contactAvoiding eye contact
Initiating sexual activityNot initiating any sexual activity
Pulling someone closerPushing someone away
Actively touching someoneAvoiding touch
Nodding yesShaking head no
Laughter or smilingCrying and/or looking sad or fearful
"Open" body language: relaxed, loose and open expressions, turning toward someone "Closed" body language: tense, stiff, or closed expressions, turning away from someone
Sounds of enjoymentSilence
An active body"Just lying there"

Adapted from Partners in Social Change

If you’re not 100 percent confident that everyone agrees to what is happening ­­– then stop. Check in, and ask the other person how they’re doing. Ask “do you want to stop?” or “do you want to keep going?”

Interested in learning more about consent? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall or department.

Fight procrastination with self-compassion

Fight procrastination with self-compassion

Procrastination is the bane of every college student’s existence. Up to 95 percent of college students report procrastinating!

Most advice for how to stop procrastinating isn’t actually helpful. Many articles on procrastination give tips like “just get started!” This kind of advice treats procrastination like a time management problem – which isn’t always the case.

Sometimes procrastination is a way we cope with stress and anxiety. For example, if you feel anxious about writing a 10-page paper, you might put it off and distract yourself for several hours in order to avoid those feelings.

Procrastination can be a self-perpetuating cycle. When we put things off, we tend to get mad at ourselves and feel frustrated about all the work we need to do. And in turn, these negative feelings make us more anxious and more likely to procrastinate.

So how can you stop this cycle? Recent research suggests that practicing self-compassion may be more effective for reducing procrastination than trying new time management strategies.

The next time you find yourself procrastinating on an assignment, try some of these strategies for cultivating more self-compassion.

Just notice. Most of us don’t realize how negative our self-talk can be. Listen to how you talk to yourself. What’s your internal dialogue like after you experience something frustrating, challenging or embarrassing? Whatever you notice, label it non-judgmentally.

Take a breath. When we slow our breathing, every other system in the body follows, including our thoughts. After you’ve labeled your negative self-talk for what it is, take a deep breath and notice how you feel. Frequently practicing deep breathing will also help you manage stress!

Remind yourself that you’re human. Just about everyone struggles with procrastination and getting work done. Picture what you would tell a friend who was struggling with this problem and try to take your own advice.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out for more details and tips for practicing self-compassion.

Campus Mental Health Collaborative launched

Aerial view of Pullman campus

On October 27, we launched the Campus Mental Health Collaborative, a new group of WSU staff, students and faculty. The Campus Mental Health Collaborative will work together to implement a comprehensive public health framework to promote mental health and prevent suicide of WSU students.

In our first meeting, campus partners discussed two initial projects, SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant program and The JED Foundation campus program. These projects, and future efforts of the collaborative, focus on preventing suicide, destigmatizing mental health disorders and promoting help-seeking behavior in the long term.

At the meeting, collaborators from a wide variety of groups shared their ongoing efforts to support student mental health. Notably, student groups including ASWSU and To Write Love On Her Arms talked about ways they are engaging the campus community to destigmatize mental illness and promote mental health resources on campus, including many events and activities taking place this month.

You can find more details on our initial projects and our collaborators’ ongoing efforts in our meeting notes.

If you’d like to receive updates on the Campus Mental Health Collaborative, as well as other events and information on mental and emotional health at WSU, make sure you subscribe to our mailing list.

Sexual assault within relationships

Sex should always be a positive, healthy and consensual experience for everyone involved. Remember: sex without consent is sexual assault.

Sexual assault is common on college campuses. In most instances, the two people involved know each other. Victims may even be in a relationship with the person who is taking advantage of them.

It’s not always easy to identify sexual assault within the context of a relationship. When we think about sexual assault, we tend to think about behaviors that are obviously violent or forceful. But sexual assault in a relationship doesn’t always appear this way. Plus, it’s hard to imagine our partner would hurt us.

So what does sexual assault within a relationship look like? Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether this might be happening to you or someone you care about.

Has your partner ever…

  • Pressured you to engage in sexual acts you weren’t comfortable with?
  • Had sex with you when you were unable to voluntarily consent after drinking?
  • Made you watch or imitate pornography without your consent?
  • Asked repeatedly to have sex even when you’ve told them no?
  • Acted annoyed or whiny when you turn down sex?
  • Called you selfish or made you feel guilty for not wanting sex?
  • Threatened to cheat on you if you refuse sex?
  • Become verbally or physically abusive if you don’t want to have sex?
  • Refused to use condoms, or blocked access to contraception?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be seeing signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Keep in mind that sexual assault is prohibited at WSU, and there are many resources available to help if you or someone you know needs them.

Remember, consent must be present every time sexual activity occurs, even in relationships.

You should never feel obligated or pressured to engage in any sexual activity. It’s not your fault if someone hurts you. It’s normal to feel betrayed, hurt, angry and confused.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and supported in a relationship. For more information on creating and maintaining healthy relationships, request a workshop for your group.