Helping Your Student Cope with Stress

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Parents can greatly influence how your student copes with stress

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Springtime is here and, as your student has probably told you, it is a very busy and often stressful time of year. Students are consumed with classes, projects and preparations for finals. While this is part of the college experience, students often need help coping with the stress. As parents, you can play an important role in helping your student through these stressful experiences. Here are some steps parents can take to help their student navigate the stressors of college life.

Mahlet Endale, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist, Counseling Center

Springtime is here and, as your student has probably told you, it is a very busy and often stressful time of year. Students are consumed with classes, projects and preparations for finals. While this is part of the college experience, students often need help coping with the stress. As parents, you can play an important role in helping your student through these stressful experiences. Here are some steps parents can take to help their student navigate the stressors of college life.

1. Help your student understand what stress looks like.
If you ask people to define stress, you are likely to get different responses from each person. Stress researchers generally agree that there is no one definition for stress since it is caused by so many different things and because it looks so different in different people. Because of this ambiguity, students at times don't even realize that they are stressed. Chronic stress can become an accepted part of our daily life without us even realizing it. However, finding an appropriate response to stress first requires knowing when you are stressed. Stress affects us physically, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally - you can notice symptoms of stress in all these areas of your life. Helpguide.org places the warning signs and symptoms of stress in the following manner:

Cognitive Symptoms
* Memory problems
* Inability to concentrate
* Poor judgment
* Seeing only the negative
* Anxious or racing thoughts
* Constant worrying

Emotional Symptoms
* Moodiness
* Irritability or short temper
* Agitation, inability to relax
* Feeling overwhelmed
* Sense of loneliness and isolation
* Depression or general unhappiness

Physical Symptoms
* Aches and pains
* Diarrhea or constipation
* Nausea, dizziness
* Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
* Loss of sex drive
* Frequent colds

Behavioral Symptoms
* Eating more or less
* Sleeping too much or too little
* Isolating yourself from others
* Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
* Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
* Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

If your student notices any of these signs and symptoms, it may be time for him/her to address the stress level. If stress continues for too long, there could be physical or emotional consequences that are more difficult to address.

2. Teach your student the basics of self care.
As a clinician in the Georgia Tech Counseling Center, one of the first questions I ask students is "how are you doing when it comes to eating, sleeping, and exercise?" These three things can make or break how a student responds to stress. When it comes to eating, it is important to have at least three healthy meals a day and to minimize foods high in fat and sugar. When it comes to sleep, most young adults need almost nine hours of sleep per night. From talking to my clients, I can assure you that this is not the norm. Sleep allows our body to recover and rejuvenate; not getting enough means our body is not given adequate time to physically and emotionally heal from stress. Finally, exercise is not only a great way to get in shape, but it is a great stress release. By following these simple guidelines on eating, sleeping and exercising, students will be able to take care of their bodies which will help them cope with stressors.

3. Help your student know where to turn for help with stress.
There are many resources set up on the Georgia Tech campus that are designed to help students cope with stress. If academic performance is a problem, then tutoring services from Success Programs can be a valuable resource. If your student needs to blow off steam, they should visit the Campus Recreational Center (CRC). The CRC offers all kinds of structured and unstructured activities and forms of exercise. Is your student isolated? One of the best coping strategies is having a healthy social support network. There are more than 400 student organizations that your student can join to meet like-minded individuals. Two other great resources are the Counseling Center and Stamps Health Services. Both of these employ qualified individuals that can meet with students, either as a group or one-on-one, to come up with a personalized plan for stress reduction.

4. Assess if you are leading by (a good) example.
As the parent, ask yourself, "How do I cope with stress?" Although it does not always seem like it, students do look to their parents to identify how to respond to different events in their lives. Do you take care of yourself? Do you see a doctor when you need to? Do you work too much? How is your diet? Do you get enough sleep? How much exercise do you get? From the time that they were a baby in your arms, your children are learning from you. Sometimes you are the only example they have on how to address a particular situation. Altering one's life to incorporate healthier habits is not easy, but by making healthy decisions in your life you are showing your student that this is worth doing and that it is possible to do.

For more information on understanding and addressing stress, visit the Counseling Center Web site at www.counseling.gatech.edu.

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Status
  • Created By: Rachael Pocklington
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Apr 1, 2009 - 8:00pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:11pm