College students are feeling more stress than ever before. Colleges are reporting higher use of counseling centers, students say they experience stress, and parents often hear it as they talk to their students. Stress is part of the college experience for many students. If your college student looks to you for help with general stress, feeling overwhelmed, or dealing with a specific problem, you might suggest they do just one thing.
No, there isn’t a magic bullet. But when your student doesn’t know what to do next, and you are not sure what to tell them, suggest that they stop and take a breath and then do one thing over the next twenty-four hours to make a difference. Just one. Not a whole plan, not a complete turn-around, not a comprehensive solution. Just one thing.
You may need to help your student think about what one, small thing might be a first step toward a solution or improvement. We’ve discussed previously the importance of goal setting and action plans, but that may come later. If your student is having a problem now they need something that will help them feel in control now. One thing may help.
Help your student think about the power of one thing in some of the following areas.
- One class — If your student is feeling overwhelmed academically, suggest that they start by focusing on one class for the next 24 hours. Your student will need to turn their attention to the others soon, but for the next day, just start with one class. Read, do assignments, talk to other students, catch up on notes, talk to the professor, immerse themselves in that one class. They may be surprised how much progress they can make if they stay focused.
- One assignment — Perhaps focusing on one class may still be too much. Suggest that your student spend the next day focusing on just one assignment. See how much progress they can make on that research paper or speech or project. Throwing themselves into one assignment may mean that they can get it done, or at least make significant progress. Again, your student will feel more in control of what they need to do.
- One person — Is there one person that your student should focus on or connect with during the next day? Perhaps it is a friend or roommate? Perhaps a professor or tutor? Perhaps your student needs to work with a Residence Assistant or counselor or advisor. Help your student think about whether working with or contacting one person over the next day might begin to address one problem.
- One place — Is there a place that might help, or hinder, whatever your student wants to accomplish? Do they need to study somewhere new or different? Do they need to clean their room in order to feel organized? Do they need to avoid going somewhere that causes distractions? What might happen with some focused attention or time spent in one particular place over the next day?
- One activity — Is there an activity that could/should be avoided for a day? Or would your student benefit from participating in an activity for a day? Perhaps joining a club or team will help provide balance. Suggest that your student try out a new activity, participate in a new group, or replace an existing activity — just for a day, just to give it a try.
- One question — Is there something that your student needs to know? Is there one question that could be asked of one person that might help? Suggest that your student just start with this. Perhaps a question to a roommate to clear the air. Perhaps it is a question to a professor about a grade or assignment. Is there one question that might get something started or solve a problem?
- One change — Several of the above suggestions are changes, but perhaps there is another change that might provide new perspective. Ask your student to think of one change that they can make over the next day — even if it is a small change. Get up in time for breakfast before class? Go to bed earlier? Sit in a new seat in class? Leave the cell phone home? No video games for a day? Eat a meal with someone new? Just breaking habits and routines can shake things up.
- One risk — Of course, some risks are better than others. College students sometimes engage in more risky behaviors than their parents like. But there are some risks that are important and good. Ask your student to think of one risk that they might take over the next day. Ask a question in class? Reach out to a new friend? Audition for a group? Try a new activity? College is about stretching and growing. Help your student think about what healthy risks might help them grow.
Of course, doing one thing alone will not fix your student’s problem or dilemma. It won’t relieve the stress or cure depression or anxiety. But there’s power in one. Taking one small step, doing one small thing, may be the start to help your student feel empowered to move further. Once your student has moved out of their current situation, even a little bit, they may be ready for yet another small change. Then, perhaps they’ll be more able to think about goal setting and the action plans that might get them to that goal.
As a college parent, you know that you cannot fix things, cannot do them for your student, cannot make them happen. But, as always, you can be the sounding board, perhaps the catalyst. You can nudge, prod, suggest, cajole. It will be up to your student to take the step.