We all live with stress, the tension we feel when confronted with a new or threatening situation. College students are no different than anyone else, as they too, experience the stresses and strains of living in today’s world. They are constantly facing new situations where the outcome is often uncertain. They may be living on their own for the first time and/or supporting themselves. Their sense of self-esteem and well-being is challenged by problems and managing time.
Without really understanding why, they may become angry or anxious, sad or frustrated. When young adults become overwhelmed by stress, they sometimes withdraw or strike out at others. Parents often feel inadequate in responding to the stress experienced by their children.
While there are seldom easy answers to their life’s problems, parents may find the following suggestions helpful in dealing with college stress.
Stress is not always bad. An appropriate level of stress can effectively motivate your student toward growth, achievement, and self-satisfaction.
Talk about it. Talking with a trusted adult helps students feel they do not carry the burden of stress alone. Encourage your children to discuss their feelings, but refrain from telling them how they should feel. Ask open-ended questions which require more than a yes or no response. Remember to listen. Parents who spend twice as much time listening as they do giving advice are more effective.
Teach problem-solving skills and constructive action. Stress is often the result of feeling trapped and overwhelmed by the problems in our lives. Students are sometimes immobilized by their inability to see a positive outcome for a difficult situation. By teaching them to solve problems one step at a time, we provide them with a useful resource to deal with stress.
Slow down. The fast pace of our complex lives is often stressful in itself. College students living at home need privacy and quiet time, and unstructured time when they can exercise their imagination and process the events of the day.
Set your standards high, but do not expect perfection. One of the most important gifts to give children is a sense of positive self-esteem. Attaining goals contributes significantly to the development of self-esteem. Having the unrealistic expectation that your children should be perfect sets them up to experience stress, self-doubt and failure.
Put life into perspective. College students often become obsessed with the present moment. They may feel overwhelmed because they cannot see beyond the immediate problem. They have difficulty identifying options and alternatives. Help your child understand that problems have solutions. Also help them to recognize temporary concerns and lasting values. Stress can often be reduced by reminding them that life goes on and tomorrow can be better than today.
Seek out professional help. Sometimes the stress experienced by college students is traumatizing and can be disruptive or dangerous. Parents do not always have the resources within the family to deal with stress, at a time when you should be letting go and allowing the young adult an opportunity to handle their own life. Encourage your student to seek assistance at the IPFW/Parkview Students Assistance Program (SAP).