The Stress of College Life – Encouraging your Student to Be Healthy
By Priscilla Childress
Stress — it should be a four letter word. We all have it, hate it, and deal with it. It’s the reason we devour pounds of chocolate. Through the years we have learned ways of handling stress that work best for us.
College students are a bit different, though; they have been shielded somewhat from the stress of what we will call “real life.” As they grew up, yes, they knew some stress: the stress of trying to make good grades, succeed at extracurricular activities, and fit in with different groups of people. However, we as parents handled that stress. When they were stressing over being tired, we would make them go to bed. When they stressed over filling out college applications, we helped them. When they were stressed because they were not feeling well, we kept them out of school and nursed them back to health. That was our job as parents.
But that job has changed. We’ve gone from caretaker to coach. College students deal with the stress of meeting new friends, demanding classes, living on their own, financial issues, campus jobs, changing values, research papers and much more. We aren’t with them every day and we don’t have the ability to immediately “de-stress” them. How can we help them?
First and foremost, let your student know you are there for her. You’re a good listener. You don’t mind talking through issues with her. Keep in mind there will be times when your student will call you and tell you that life is awful, she hates her school, her friends, etc. She is down in the dumps. After you hang up, you continue to worry and wonder if you should be calling someone. She, on the other hand, had a friend knock on the door. She’s gone out to dinner and forgotten what she was upset about. She is okay.
Here are steps you can take to help your college student find her way through the stress:
- Suggest she select healthy foods and never skip breakfast. Breakfast can improve energy levels, help maintain focus in the classroom and increase the overall quality of a student’s diet. Students should choose leaner protein options, make half their grains whole grains and consume plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Remind her to stay physically active. Most colleges have a Campus Recreation Center that offers numerous ways students can be physically active at all hours of the day. She should be sure to take a tour of the fitness center, try a group exercise class or take advantage of adventure trips. Physical activity is a great way to manage stress and meet new people.
- Encourage her to recharge with sleep. It is recommended that students get 7-9 hours of sleep a day. Sleep is crucial for optimum performance inside and outside of the classroom.
- Remind her to take advantage of the Wellness Center if there is one on her campus. At the Wellness Center, she can take a break in a massage chair or play Xbox, among other things.
- Address signs of stress early. Forgetfulness, moodiness and fatigue can all be early signs of stress. Our students need to make stress management a part of their everyday college life to avoid the side effects.
- Express confidence in your student’s abilities. With so many new changes and pressures, your student is finding out more of who they are. Expression of support can help them continue to build confidence in their chosen path.
- Remind your student of a time he or she managed a stressful situation with a positive outcome. Helping your student to think about a time they resolved a similar situation on their own can help them get through the current stressful situation while continuing to build their confidence.
- Create a care plan. If emotional concerns of mood, anxiety or substance use have been a part of your student’s past, ensure that you have a plan for how these emotional care needs will be met. The Counseling Center on your student’s campus can help you navigate the best treatment options.
Your student is facing a new world in college. Let her know you understand that and you will always love and support her. That, for college students, is so very important to know.
I’m Priscilla Childress and my claim to fame is being the mother of Lane Tillner, a graduate student at Middle TN State University and Ruth Ann Tillner, a junior at Blue Mountain College. My career has taken me from stay-at-home mom (13 years) to IT Manager to my current position in Higher Education and Student Affairs. When I am not volunteering with Kappa Delta Sorority, advising a collegiate chapter and working with the National Leadership Team, I am reading, watching NCIS, cooking or traveling.