When you think about your student's college experience this year, does your chest start to tighten? Do you feel a lump in your throat?
Your student is probably experiencing the same symptoms.
Feeling out of control in this season of new schooling methods, new health measures, new protocols, and an entirely too uncertain future is normal.
College is always stressful, but feeling a lack of control is adding more stress for college students. It doesn't matter whether they're doing classes online from home, at a community college, or online from their college campus, the potential stress this year is unlike any other.
How can you help your student handle the added stress from feeling a lack of control and not knowing what the future holds? You can have conversations with them about what they do have control over and how they can make the best of this semester.
Here are four skills students can exercise to help them take control over their college experience:
Resilience: Bouncing back when things go wrong
Remind your student that mistakes and failures are normal, and to try again rather than give up when things don’t go their way. Make sure they know that mistakes don’t define their worth. From scheduling issues, to friend drama, to a poor grade on a paper, college life creates issues that students won’t always handle perfectly. But they can control how a situation affects them by looking for the positives, learning from the experience, and not quitting: that's called resilience.
Routines: Choosing healthy habits
Creating and keeping a routine of self-care is another great way students can take control over their college experience. When students take good care of their bodies, it helps them handle stress, stay focused, have energy, and feel more positive. A self-care routine should include:
• Eating healthy food;
• Getting enough sleep;
• Exercising regularly; and
• Drinking sufficient amounts of water.
In addition, maintaining connections with friends, whether in person, or virtual, is another important aspect of overall health.
Your student should make it a priority to stay connected with campus friends, professors, tutors or anyone else who can be a support for them.
Responsibility: Owning up to their choices
Taking responsibility for one’s actions is a measure of maturity; it's also an acknowledgment that you have control over your actions. Remind your student that they control their own actions, thoughts, and behaviors. No matter what's happening in the world around them, on their campus, or in their own home, they get to choose how they react and how they proceed with this school year.
Students need to hold themselves accountable for their actions because they make their own decisions and choose their own behaviors. Will they get a bad grade because they didn't study enough? If so, it's up to them to study harder for the next test.
And when they make a better decision about studying the next time, they can give themselves credit and celebrate!
Reflection: Contemplating their life and using gratitude
Students often feel too busy to take the time to reflect on what they want in their life, but doing so will add to their feeling of control and give them the opportunity to adjust their choices to accomplish the things that are important to them. Reflecting on their goals, passions, interests, feelings, and gratitude gives students a chance to take control over their inner monologue.
The simplest way to add the habit of reflection is to write in a journal every day. Students can choose a time of day they will write (usually in the morning or before bed) and incorporate both general thoughts about their life as well as what they are grateful for. A common practice is to list three things they are grateful for, which will help them have a positive mindset. Keep in mind that journaling can improve mental health, but is not a cure for mental illness. Most colleges offer mental health services and counseling that your student can also seek.
I encourage you to have a discussion with your college student to help them take control with these four skills. Allowing your student to choose how to implement these skills into their life will give them more confidence in their decision-making and help them feel more in control. If you model these attributes yourself and are honest about your own struggles, your student will be more likely to listen to your advice.