We all have our own definition of stress. But however we define it, we have all felt it! Stress is a normal part of life, especially when we are in the middle of a transition or a period of uncertainty. Stress management is considered to be the most important factor in the success of academic performance in college. College students can face a variety of pressures, such as: increased academic demand and workload, new social circles and situations, and temptations of new experiences. Some of these are natural pressures to be stressed about. Other common stressors include: trying to make friends, navigating new environments, changes in family relationships, personal relationships, financial concerns, awareness of self-identity and future planning.
A balanced approach to coping with stress can be positive for stimulating your child. Becoming aware of recognizing that all stressful events are not personal is important for your child to problem solve through the situation. Parents can help their children acknowledge their own
signs of stress. We all experience stress differently. Having a conversation with your child about how they view stress and common sources of stress can help them feel in control of managing their behaviours to help support stressful times.
Some behaviours that are helpful to incorporate into stress management strategies are listed below. Share these with your child:
- Exercise: staying active can support the mind and body cope with stressors. Regular exercise can improve mood, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve our heart’s health! Aerobic exercises, such as biking, jogging, swimming, playing basketball, can greatly reduce depressive symptoms. TIP: Schedule time to exercise 3 to 5 times a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- ‘Me’ Time: Schedule 20 minutes of personal time to engage in activities that are enjoyable and relaxing, such as: walking, journaling, meditating, reading. Meditation exercises can be incorporated into morning or bedtime routines and provide plenty of benefits, such as: reducing anxiety, pain, depression, and enhancing self-esteem and mood. TIP: Pre-plan your 20 minute blocks into your day so that you have set aside time to enjoy these activities.
- Music therapy: There has been research that links music to our mood and behaviours. For example, calm, soothing music or classical music has been shown to reduce emotional stress after being exposed to stress. TIP: Create a ‘stress-free’ playlist. Choose songs that uplift your mood, increase your energy and make you smile. Choose songs that are calming, soothing and relaxing before bed to
reduce the stress of the day.
- Time management: When we feel that we have too much happening, we are likely to begin feeling overwhelmed and anxious about our daily schedules. College can increase the demands through the week. It is important have a balanced scheduled that allows for time that is dedicated to academic, social and personal responsibilities. TIP: Use a portion of Sunday to plan your ideal week. Schedule in breaks that allow you to engage in some ‘me’ time as well as relax with friends. Schedule times for academic projects, such as the days and times that you will be working on an assignment or completing a reading. By inputting all your tasks and demands for the week, your mind is less cluttered and can focus better.
- Sleep: Lack of sleep can contribute to a poor academic performance as well as overall sense of well-being. Lack of sleep can affect our cognitive skills, such as memory or concentration. We can also become more vulnerable to medical illnesses such as the flu or cold. TIP: Set a regular bedtime routine throughout your college experience. Ensure that you are regularly getting 7 hours of sleep that is free of interruptions and distractions. Mindfulness deep breathing exercises are a great way to support a healthy sleep cycle.
By discussing these tips with your kids, you can hep them incorporate a stress management plan that works best for them. Encourage your kids to seek support for stress and mental health at their school by talking to an academic advisor or counsellor. Below is a checklist of warning signs that you can use to determine if stress is creating a problem for your child’s college experience:
- changes in sleep patterns [difficulty falling or staying asleep, repeatedly waking up, nightmares, night sweats, not feeling rested]
- changes in eating patterns [over or under- eating, loss of appetite]
- increased frequency of headaches and stomach aches
- increased irritability, decreased frustration tolerance, increased anger
- Repeated medical illness such as colds or other minor illnesses
- frequent bouts of fatigue, muscle aches, tightness
- difficulty organizing or paying attention
- difficulty completing tasks, starting and not finishing projects
- complaining of ‘no time’
If any of these signs persist over a couple of weeks or interfere with daily functioning, highly encourage your child to seek support from a health care professional. Stress is a normal part of life. How we choose to respond to stressors is completely within our control. Planning for how we prevent and react stress is an important stress management strategy that can support your child’s academic performance.
For any questions or concerns, please email psychotherapist, Sim Gill @ firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.