STRESS: The College Years

To help students and parents deal with the stress and anxiety that accompanies college life, we asked Nicole Taylor, Arizona State University Deputy Vice President and Dean of Students, and Dr. Aaron Kasnow, Associate Vice President of Counseling & Health Services, to provide some insight and advice. Here’s what they shared.

While college is an exciting time in a young person’s life, it can also be a time of increased stress due to major life changes and transitions. What are the most common stressors in a college student’s life?

The most common stressors in a college student’s life are adjusting to more personal responsibility, increased autonomy living away from family, changes in routine, increased academic responsibilities, and meeting new people.

 

 

One important thing to keep in mind is that college is designed to change people. A student’s knowledge, experiences and perspectives are all changing. Major changes and transitions often bring stress, but not all of this stress is bad. A certain amount of stress is beneficial and helps keep people focused. For example, knowing a deadline for a project is looming can help students focus on completing the project on time, even though it may feel somewhat stressful as the deadline nears. However, when the stress overwhelms our ability to cope and starts to interfere with our lives, or is so intense that it is painful, then that is a time to seek help.

What can students do before arriving on campus to prepare themselves for the stresses of college life?

We recommend three things students can do before they arrive on campus to prepare:

1. Think of times when you were particularly stressed out. What was happening?Use that history as a guide to think about how you want to handle a similar situation in college.

2. Think about your strengths and ways you effectively cope. What has a history of working? What new habit or strategy do you want to try in college?

3. Practice being accepting of yourself and your feelings. There will be great days and hard days. Both are expected and both are OK. When you accept yourself and your feelings, you can see most hard days as “just a hard day” as opposed to some statement about you or your future. It’s difficult, but this last tip is perhaps the most crucial to stress management.

What are the potential dangers or pitfalls a student can experience if they don’t deal with their stress and anxiety? Feeling overwhelmed by stress, a common student experience, can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life. It can interfere with sleep patterns, relationships, academic success, and mood.

There’s an old saying, “If you ask the question, ‘Will too much stress make my ___ worse?’ No matter what you put in the blank, the answer is always yes.” What resources do colleges and universities offer to help students cope with stress and anxiety? Great universities, like Arizona State University, take a holistic approach to student well-being. This means that every faculty and staff member has an interest in not only a student’s grades and academic performance, but also their health and well-being.

Students at great universities should expect people to genuinely care about how they’re feeling and ask if they want or need help. Having widely available services, such as a counseling center, health center, healthy eating options, safe social experiences, and fitness centers are key. Those services have been shown to greatly help students cope with stress and anxiety.

 

What can parents and family do for their college student who’s experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety? We always recommend that parents believe their college student when they say they are experiencing stress and anxiety. It can be very hard to admit it and we want all students to have unconditional support. We recommend parents say, “I am sorry this has been so hard; it makes sense why you’re feeling this way. I’m glad you told me.” Next, we recommend that parents ask their student, “What have you tried so far? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?” Asking those questions is important because you want to approach problem-solving as a team.

Most parents will go right into advice-giving mode or will try to solve the problem for their student, which tends not to be as effective as partnering with your student. This is difficult for most parents, because they want their child to be “OK,” and want to alleviate the pain quickly. But that doesn’t tend to work as well, and some students will tune out their parents when they give direct advice.

And, for parents who try to solve the problems for their student, often they may come up with a solution that is different than what the student wants or needs. Moreover, the student may not take ownership of the parent’s solution. Instead, in a partnership, you first ask what they have tried and from there you can make recommendations, such as seeking direct support from a counseling center. Their reaction to your recommendations will tell you about their readiness to take your advice. Most often, people are more ready to try advice when it comes in the form of joint problem-solving rather than direct advice. 

Originally published by Mask - The Magazine 2018

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