College Stress. Is it Time to Help?

We know college is stressful. It was stressful when we were there and is actually even more stressful now, as the expectations of our emerging adults continue to rise with the changing of the times.

But what don’t we know about the stress they’re feeling?

You’re rushing from one end of campus to the other, trying to make your next class on time. Since your classes are scheduled back-to-back, you haven’t had time to eat. It’s three o’clock and you’re extremely hungry. This week, you’ve got three midterms to study for, a work-study job to hold down and a backlog of 300 pages to read. You’re meeting with a chemistry group tonight to finish work on a rushed research presentation. Too bad you’ve also got three other assignments due tomorrow, so it looks like you won’t be getting much sleep tonight. You’ll need to grab some energy drinks on the way home…

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I feel anxious even just reading that and can recall those days in a heartbeat. So should we just let it take its’ course? Or do we step in to help?

It’s hard to know for sure, but following your instincts is the first step. Fact: Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of deaths in college-aged students.

So maybe reaching out to help is quite reasonable. Stress is real. And can be dangerous. Even temporary stress can cause anxiety, which can cause depression, which will create a lack of productivity, and self worth.

The good news is that with a little support they can find immediate relief!

Finding the underlying cause will help in deciding if they need professional counseling or if they simply need organizational tools to help accomplish life/school balance and techniques that offer new perspectives on how to manage stress and anxiety.

Make time to talk to your son/daughter even if it seems like they don’t want to talk. Reach out to their RA, advisor, Sports Coach, or anyone that directly can affect them during the day. Find out what is really going on and then take action. Help…is just around the corner.

If they feel overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety all day long, find a counselor or advisor they can talk to weekly. If they feel like that isn’t the place for them, suggest a Life Coach, someone who they can talk to weekly, touch base with daily and help them reinterpret life as it is coming at them. The small investment you make in hiring a Coach will be one that improves the quality of their life forever as they learn coping mechanisms that can be accessed anytime.

Within just 3 sessions, students with a Life Coach have reported feeling happier, more in control, more productive and less stressed out. That is a great place to start!

Maybe it is time to step in and help.

There was a loud Crack…

Of course life doesn’t actually pass in a blink of an eye. We only use that phrase to refer to the fact that blinking is one of those things you do all day long and yet..dont even know you are doing it. Kind of like we live most of our lives; unconsciously aware of most of what is going on around us. Yet sometimes, perhaps  when I feel I have missed out on say, a year or two, my body wakes me in the middle of the night. Not just stirring me awake, but wakes me with this feeling of….let’s get up and steal a few extra hours today. And so here I am at 3am writing and wondering how time actually does seem to pass with a blink of an eye.

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I am certain that when my oldest son had packed his final suitcase 3.5 years ago, reporting that he was ready to go,  I heard a crack in my universe. Not in his universe. Mine.

There was an immediate shift in my world as I tried to maintain composure around a sound that clearly no one else heard. I could see in their faces that no one had heard a thing. I looked carefully for any slight change in peoples’ eyes and faces and I just knew…no one heard it. And so I walked to the car with a smile on my face and listened to the sound of the gentle click of our seat belts and wondered if I ever would feel this safe again. We were buckled in, the humming of the engine beneath us as we sat in park and quiet music played in the background. We were ready to merge directly into the 2nd part of his life. Some call it college.

I felt excited for him as I remembered my college days, and even envied the clean slate he had right in front of him. He was not worried at all by the unknown that we were heading towards, and I made it my mission to feed off of his excitement.

The first goodbye was the worst. It reminded me of childbirth in a way. A pain that was so intense and severe that no matter how hard some tried to prepare me, I couldn’t fully grasp it. I mean, it was college, a right of passage, the path to freedom and parties, the stepping stone to all good things that were going to come…unless of course, you were the one left behind. In that case, you will be left with the emptiness of what was.

I remember holding it together just until he held me in his arms. I remember him praising me for almost making a clean escape without tears. But mostly I remember the long walk alone to my car, sobbing through the parking lot, dragging his empty suitcase behind me as if that was all that I had left of his childhood. Nothing.

Each goodbye that whole year, I cried in his arms, though each time, a little bit quieter, doing my best not to impose my feelings on his. Each time he would comfort me.

“Mom, I will be home if 4 weeks.”

By sophomore year, I had grown used to the idea that his life was about college and his friends and would savor our moments together like the last slice of chocolate cake, with small bites and slow movements. I still cried at the goodbyes, but the upset afterward seemed to shake me less and less. I recall feeling cheated that year by trips he took during winter break, spring break and then the internship that summer. I was thrilled for him that he landed an internship in San Francisco! It was truly amazing…it was just that well, it meant I would only get to see him for about a week.

Junior year I think I finally had mastered him being away, but that was only because there was a new focus of his brother getting ready to go off to college and the birth of 2 new step children in my life. It was all perfect actually…even when he announced that it looked like he was going to be able to graduate early.

It was then, that I heard that crack in my universe again. My mind scrambling to retrace my steps. My mind running in circles to make sure I had been here the whole time. That I didn’t actually fall asleep during half of this movie we called Life. All that blinking. Surely I missed an entire episode due to all of that blinking. Or was it the sleeping?

Yesterday he came home for a short stay to visit for Hannukah. It was a rare moment that he would simply come home, especially right before finals, but he did. Perhaps he too heard the crack. Perhaps he too needed some regrouping before he entered his last week at Cornell forever. Perhaps he too, even with job offers on the table was realizing how quickly time passes and just wanted a few days to move a little slower. Whatever it was, it was.

We lit the candles on the menorah and said our prayers. His voice soothing my soul as it has for 21 years now. And I barely blinked, but instead inhaled…acutely aware that this would be our last Hannukah in his life as a college student.

Some times I yearn for his childhood, but mostly I feel so grateful that even with all of my usual blinking and sleeping, I haven’t missed a moment of his life. In fact, he managed to make me feel a part of even those that didn’t include me. So as I settle into another moment of time passing by, I can exhale, blink and even rest as I get ready to witness the next part of his journey.