Dr. Kent Ingle: Coping with college stress – 5 ways to help your student thrive

Dr. Kent Ingle: Coping with college stress – 5 ways to help your student thrive

October 24, 2021

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Since the pandemic unraveled, there has been an alarming increase in mental health issues among college students. More recently, the incidents at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can remind university administrators and parents that they should be at the forefront of promoting mental health awareness for students.  

College students around the nation are reporting significantly higher burnout symptoms. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America study, Gen Z adults ages 18 to 23 reported significantly higher stress levels than other age groups. Of that group, 87% said their education was a significant source of stress.  

A university study of Ohio State found that student burnout increased from 40% of students in August 2020 to 71% in April 2021. Symptoms of burnout included stress, anxiety, depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The American College Health Association and National College Health Assessment said at least 31% of students said that anxiety had a negative effect on their academic life.  

While students are away at college and more than halfway through the fall semester, parents can still play an integral role in supporting their students’ mental health.  

Here are five topics to discuss with your child on how to deal with anxiety or stress.  

Do stuff you enjoy – Although your child will need to prioritize their academics, it’s important that they also make time to do the things they love. Research has shown that people who have hobbies rarely suffer from stress, depression and low moods. Whether it’s doing something in their dorm room or joining a club on campus, encourage your student to participate in activities that will boost their mood.  

On our college campus (Southeastern University), we have various clubs from gaming to writing groups. We also have students who turned hobbies they started in their dorm rooms, such as sewing clothes, into side businesses. Other students participate in intramural sports. These kinds of activities are the perfect opportunity for students to find like-minded individuals and build meaningful relationships. 

Surround yourself with positive influences – Many of the relationships your child makes in college will most likely last a lifetime. This is why it’s imperative that they make friends who will have a positive impact on their life. Their relationships can also influence their mental health. Research has shown that adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of health problems, and older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.  
 
Friends help your child have a sense of belonging, can encourage them to develop positive behaviors and can build their self-confidence. If you went to college, you can share stories of how your friends negatively or positively impacted your college experience.  

Set realistic goals – Far too often, students will leave assignments for the last minute instead of pacing themselves. I often tell students to get a planner (it doesn’t have to be a physical one) and sit down with the syllabus from each of their classes to map out their assignments for the semester. College assignments can seem overwhelming. However, if they pace themselves and prioritize time in their schedule to complete a certain amount of homework each night, it can be manageable.  

Remind them to celebrate the small things. By breaking down large assignments into sections, it will help your child feel accomplished and motivated to finish their work. When they set realistic goals, it can help prevent them from feeling stressed about their homework.  

Parents can play a pivotal role in supporting their students and making sure they succeed in college.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – If your student is struggling with anxiety or stress, they may feel too embarrassed to ask for help. The most important thing you must tell your student is they are not alone. Many other individuals may be dealing with the same kinds of stressors, and they don’t have to deal with it by themselves. Encourage them to let you know if they feel overwhelmed or to get in touch with someone on their campus who can help them.  

At Southeastern, our campus counseling center provides students with the opportunity to participate in individual or group counseling with licensed mental health care providers. We also offer TimelyMD, where students have 24/7 access to mental health counseling to help with their individual needs. Many campuses provide these same support systems. Make sure to look into what your student’s college offers so they know what support they can get.  

Take care of your health – Sleep is essential for your student to thrive. Studies have indicated that a good night’s sleep can help create both mental and emotional resilience, while sleep deprivation can lead to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. This is why it’s important that your student maps out their day and sets realistic goals. When they leave everything for the last minute, it can intrude upon their sleeping schedule.  

In addition to getting enough sleep, your student needs to make sure they are eating healthy, exercising and drinking enough water. Their physical health can greatly influence their mental health. It’s also important that you have discussions with them about how alcohol and drugs can negatively impact their health and their future plans.  

Parents can play a pivotal role in supporting their students and making sure they succeed in college. Although you need to allow them to become more independent, be sure to let them know you are there to help them along the way. Students need to know they don’t have to face everything alone.  

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