College Days Ahead: Ready or Not?https://mythrivecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/pexels-gabriela-palai-397096-scaled.jpg25601642Dr. MenonDr. Menonhttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/3ac11f0bdc2c97572fcefae554d85862?s=96&d=mm&r=g
Student: “Everyone says I’ve got to have lots of fun before I leave for college. Instead, I stay up at night wondering if I can actually do this.”
Parent: “Is my child ready to go to college and be independent? I feel like I have to chase after every little thing for them.”
Both: Am I making a huge mistake??
This calls for stress and anxiety management skills.
Anxiety about the Future
Over the summer the promises and thrills of college are so exciting! You’ll get the chance to live on your own, come and go as you please, make new friends, and explore new places. These changes can also be stressful. With the new freedom comes the loss of the traditional support system of family and friends and the addition of new challenges. They come in the form of learning to live with new people, managing a heavier workload, and developing an independent identity.
You get a “fresh start”” in college, a chance to make new friends and find new mentors. But often your emotional weaknesses get packed up along with your shower caddy and new bedding. Often we see students who are described as “just fine or even high achieving” in middle school and high school really struggle in their new college environments. Some students are overwhelmed by organization and time management issues, increased academic pressure or the independent skills needed to manage their lives.
Essential Skills for the Transition
So, how can you cope with anxiety during the college years?
If you are in high school now or during summer breaks between semesters of college, parents and students can start to shift responsibilities and make it rewarding to be more independent, practice emotional regulation and problem-solving skills. Here are some key skills that most mental health professionals define as executive functioning skills, the ones that help us achieve goals, stay flexible, mange our feelings and solve problems:
self-restraint/ emotion control
task initiation and inhibition
Many parents have grown used to jumping in when our child is distressed. Unfortunately that affects the growth of these skills by reducing the chance to practice. While parents may not (and should not) hang around on campus and swoop in the “save” your student from challenges, there are ways that you can guide them and offer suggestions. And students, while it may be comforting to know that support is a phone call away, it will also feel great to develop your own toolkit of resources and problem-solving skills. If you both feel a little distress along the way, it’s a normal part of growth and change. When it gets overwhelming, you are worried about safety, or if the same problems keep repeating, it’s time to add in some professional support.
It’s important to have open communication about mental health challenges and times when the anxiety or low mood seems to be in the lead. Your student needs to hear that “It’s okay not to feel okay.” Validate their feelings before you help them solve their own problems. Parents, if you notice that your teen is in distress, try offering a neutral, nonjudgmental comment to open the door to a conversation. Examples:
“I notice that that you talk about hard Spanish class is.”
“I notice that you don’t say much about your roommate.”
“I see that thinking about the test tomorrow is making you really anxious.”
Once they feel heard, ask what they may do next to solve the problem. And parents, this may be the hardest advice of all: let your student ask you for your opinion before you offer it. That space, along with your caring availability creates opportunities for growth.
Skill development and coaching: We can do this!
Whether you have plans to go to school in the West like Arizona, Nevada or Utah, the Midwest at a college in the Chicago area or downstate Illinois, or heading to the East coast to a college in Pennsylvania, Virginia, or DC, Thrive Collective can support you. Check out the 20+ states we serve through online sessions.
Let Thrive Collective walk with you through this big transition, teach and build those executive functioning strategies and create a partnership that can see you through the first year of college and beyond. Dr. Menon is able to provide telehealth services in 20+ states. Contact us to get started!