If you have a son or daughter starting college, you’ve probably procured dorm room bedding, textbooks and a meal plan. But have you prepared your student to handle anxiety and stress?
College students today often feel overwhelming academic and social pressure. A survey conducted by The JED Foundation, the Jordan Porco Foundation and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that half of first-year students said they felt stressed most or all of the time.
With help from Dr. Meredith Grossman, Clinical Psychologist, here are 7 simple techniques to help your college student better manage the stress and anxiety he or she may face in the year ahead.
1. BREATHE: “Teach them to manage their stress in a healthy way,” suggests Dr. Grossman. One great way is breathing with your stomach. Another good technique is noticing your breath by saying, ‘I am breathing in’ when you breath in and ‘I am breathing out’ when you breathe out. Make sure you are modeling this for them. Even if they roll their eyes, or say it is stupid, modeling is the most powerful form of learning, so be sure to model healthy ways to cope with stress. For an easy guide, she recommends the app “Stop, Breathe and Think.”
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS: Mindfulness helps bring you out of your anxious thoughts and into the present moment. Dr. Grossman suggests two easy methods: “3×3” works by taking in your surroundings and noticing three things you hear, three things you feel and three things you see. Another is to look around you and notice something that starts with an A, a B, a C, etc. until you’ve completed the alphabet.
3. TEACH THEM “TLC”: TLC stands for “Talk to a Friend, Look for the Silver Lining and Change the Channel.” If your son or daughter is feeling anxious, he or she should talk to a friend/parent/counselor/teacher, then look for the silver lining (no matter how bad things are, there is always a silver lining or a way things could be worse) and then change the channel – which means find a positive distraction such as taking a walk, taking a shower or doing a mindful breathing exercise.
4. DEMONSTRATE “RID”: Another tool Dr. Grossman suggests is to RID yourself of anxiety by first “Renaming your thought” – remind yourself that you’re just having an anxious thought. Then Insist that YOU are in charge (not your anxious thought). Anxiety plays tricks on us and what we worry about rarely comes true. Then Defy your anxiety by doing the opposite of what your anxiety wants you to do. Anxiety wants you to avoid what you are afraid of. You need to do the opposite: Face your fear and you will overcome it.
5. ENCOURAGE GRATITUDE EXERCISES: Being grateful helps your child reframe her thoughts. Studies show that people who engage in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be happy and healthy. Gratitude exercises can be as simple as thinking of three things for which you’re grateful, sending a quick thank-you text to a friend or jotting down a couple reasons why you feel lucky.
6. TELL THEM TO SET ASIDE QUIET TIME: Encourage your teen to find a few minutes of alone time each day to relax, stretch or listen to music to reduce negative emotional states. Or encourage them to plan a weekly workout schedule. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times a week can help the mind and body handle stress.
7. MAKE SURE THEY ASK FOR HELP: Remind your son or daughter that it’s okay to ask for help – whether for academics, stress or mental health. Make sure your teen knows about campus health programs, mental health services and resources – and encourage him or her to seek help if needed. In addition, familiarize yourself with resources for parents and create a list of people you, as a parent, can reach out to on campus if you are concerned about your son or daughter’s health. If you’re worried about your child, consult with a therapist. If you are worried about your child’s drinking or drug use, please call our Parents Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373) to speak with a trained and caring specialist.