We’re all stressed these days and students are no different. They’re stressed and anxious and struggling with their mental health now more than ever. It’s not very comfortable when we feel stressed and anxious, but it’s worse watching someone you love struggle.
A certain amount of stress is a normal part of college life. After all, there are assignments and papers and projects and exams and grades and social life and future careers to worry about. But when stress slides into feeling overwhelmed by everything, it can feel too challenging to manage.
What is overwhelm? It’s when your student feels submerged, smothered and paralyzed by it all. A certain amount of stress may be normal, but overwhelm feels like too much.
Why the overwhelm?
Students are juggling a lot. They have schoolwork, possibly a job, a social life, perceived pressure to do well, expectations to live up to, increased responsibilities and independence, overscheduling and probably a lack of sleep.
If your student is feeling overwhelmed, one of the first questions is whether this is temporary or chronic. Big exam in two days? Feeling overwhelmed is a natural reaction. Tech week for the show you’re in and a test in your stats class? Yep, overwhelmed. But if your student is constantly feeling overwhelmed by just about everything, it may be time to address the problem. One option may be the college counseling center. College counselors are specialists in student problems. They understand what students have to deal with.
The parent perspective
When your student is suffering, your instinct is to jump in and fix things. We feel that’s our job as parents. But that may not be the best solution. You do have an important role to play – on the sidelines – coach, supporter, cheerleader in chief.
Ask your student if they want any help or suggestions from you. If not, cautiously take a step back and watch. You can step in if you’re seriously worried about your student, but you may be surprised at their ability to take control on their own with some encouragement and assurance that you believe they can do it.
What can your student do?
If your student is open to some suggestions here are a few ideas you might share.
- This is not the time to make any major decisions such as changing major, transferring or dropping out of school. Try to gain some control first. Don’t become a victim of your circumstances and emotions. There will be time for decisions later.
- Remember, control is key. Try to alleviate the overwhelming feeling and take charge of it, not necessarily eliminate it entirely.
- This may be a good time for a reset. Think about time management and using a calendar/planner and keeping track of all assignments and other commitments. Putting things on paper (pixels?) can take them out of your head and relieve some of that overwhelming feeling. Organize your notes and papers, the space around you, and prioritize your commitments.
- Think about your relationships and resources. Are the people around you positive and supporting? Find the people that lift you up and encourage you and spend time with them. Take advantage of resources and support on campus. Use a tutoring or writing center, talk to your advisor, visit the counseling center.
- Work to feel in control of other aspects of your life. Take control of your spending and habits around money, get a good alarm clock to help you get to class, set alerts on your phone for appointments, advocate for what you need.
- Think about your study habits. When and where are you studying? Can you find an accountability buddy? How much time do you spend? Would a tutor help?
- Work to stay focused on whatever you are doing at the moment (whether studying or something else.) Eliminate distractions. Set “do not disturb” on your phone, turn off notifications, put a “do not disturb” note on your room door or study in the library.
- Take care of yourself and work on a positive mindset. Get sleep. Eat well. Get exercise. Meditate and give your brain a rest, get outside in nature. Engage in positive self-talk and be kind to yourself.
- Do one thing at a time. When you feel overwhelmed, choose just one small thing and do it. Once you feel you’ve taken that first step and accomplished something it will be easier to tackle the next thing.
These suggestions may seem simplistic and obvious to us as parents, but if your student is in the midst of a troublesome time, they may not be thinking clearly about what will help. Remember to ask whether they want suggestions and don’t share everything at once.
Just knowing that you understand and that we all feel overwhelmed at times may be the best first step in getting that overwhelm under control.
Your Role As a College Parent: Sideline Coach
Helping Your College Student Cope with Stress
Eight Campus Resources Your College Student Should Know
Does Your College Student Know How to Advocate for What They Need?
Why College Peer Tutoring Works