We’re continuing to talk about managing college stress effectively by implementing coping skills! In the therapy room, I like to think of coping skills as management tools – things we can put in place to help with the overall picture as we focus on deeper healing work.
That said, my next recommendation is a hard-hitter that I believe can provide both momentary relief and the opporutnity for long-term healing. My favorite recommendation for us all…..
Set boundaries (and reduce SO MUCH college stress)
I cannot stress this one enough. Boundaries! Boundaries with people, with scheduling, with your energy and time… it is SO important to set boundaries to protect your mental health and reduce stress. Practice saying no whenever that check comes up in your gut that tells you something isn’t right for you, whether it’s social events, extra work assignments, or familial obligations. When you take care of yourself first by keeping your schedule reasonable (which looks different for everybody), you make room to engage in the things you do with mindful presence and enthusiasm.
This includes challenging the notion that we must be producing something valuable with all of our waking hours. Be intentional with your time, and make sure you’re taking breaks throughout the day to recharge and refocus. (Daniel Pink has really cool insights into taking Restorative Breaks – you can find his work here).
For some basics, turn off your phone or computer at night to give yourself time to relax and unwind. Rather than forcing yourself to do everything you think you “should”, unplug from anything that doesn’t fit for you (again, trust your gut instincts)!
Boundary-setting is a major theme in my work with clients in the therapy room, and in my writing. Read more here!
Joyful Movement (also known as exercise)
Exercise is a fundamental need to take care of all of us. And, it’s even more important for those of us with a history of trauma, whose brains truly need exercise to function as well as they can! Exercise is healing for the brain and great for the body, and a massive stress relief to boot.
That said, as a therapist that frequently works with clients with issues with eating and body image, exercise can become an added stressor, and sometimes even a compulsion, and that won’t help reduce the stress of college, or of anything else. I encourage clients (and myself!) to exercise in ways that resonate with them as individuals, and that they enjoy doing, so exercise doesn’t become negative. And – any exercise can be beneficial! We don’t need to work out for 90 minutes for it to “count.” Even a quick walk or a few minutes of stretching can make a big difference.
In short – find an activity you enjoy, whether it’s running, swimming, or dancing, and make it a regular part of your routine. Keep it fun.
Connection is Key
Life can be lonely and isolating, and the college years are certainly no exception, especially if you’re far from home or don’t know many people at your school. As an introvert in college, it took me a solid year before I felt really comfortable.
Find a place for yourself to belong, even if it takes time. Connecting with others can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Join a club or organization where you might find a network of people with similar interests, or volunteer in your community. Even reaching out to a friend or family member for support can make a big difference, so do it regularly.
Seek help if you need it (for college stress, and anything else)
There is no shame in seeking help. Say it eight hundred times over! Seeking help is brave, smart, and completely reasonable. Moreover, if you seek support in your younger years, you’ll setting yourself up to deal with all of life’s stressors with more insight, understanding, and self-compassion – and might save yourself years of unnecessary turmoil.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with mental health issues, seek help. If you want to learn better coping and time management skills, seek help. If you need an objective perspective beyond the opinions of your well-meaning friends, seek help. If you feel isolated or alone, seek help. There is no better time.
Most colleges offer counseling services that can provide support and guidance. If that doesn’t cut it for you, I recommend seeking the help of a professional that specializes in working with the issues you are struggling with in particular (Like Kasey, who specializes in working with college students in New Jersey!). Therapists come in all different shapes, sizes, and specializations, and one size does not fit all. If you don’t fit with your first therapist, persevere! It takes most of us a few tries before we find the right support for us.
So – that’s what I’ve got! Some practical tips to navigate college as best you can. While college can be a stressful time, there are many things you can do to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Prioritizing self-care, practicing mindfulness, getting organized, setting boundaries, exercising regularly, connecting with others, and seeking help when you need it can all make a big difference. Remember, you’re not alone, and there are resources available to help you.
‘Til next time,
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