Monday, October 10, 2011

Psychological Challenges of College

Guest post by Marina Salsbury

The transition from high school to college can be a challenging time for young people, not only academically but also psychologically. There are certain stressors all students must face, but there are strategies they can use to deal with them effectively and in a positive manner. Whether at ivy league universities, local campuses, or even online colleges, students can get through school, be successful, and not become overwhelmed in the process.

One of the primary stressors is the anxiety that can come from changing environments. This transition time includes becoming homesick, making new friends, getting used to new routines, and an unfamiliar environment. Students may feel depressed, have low motivation, and problems sleeping. Students also may have trouble concentrating and changes in appetite.

Students can also become overwhelmed with the new levels of responsibility put on their shoulders. The workload from various classes, time management, and working a part-time job while going to school can be challenging. When you add in other day-to-day demands on attention such as cell phones, clubs, and sports, it can lead to overload for many students.

Academics alone are enough to give students high stress, especially when they're unprepared for the level of work they find themselves facing. Students with poor study skills may have received high grades during high school, but can become depressed and frustrated with the challenges of academic work at the college level when it's more than they expected or know how to handle.

When things get tough for many new college students, they often turn to drugs and alcohol to escape mounting stress. Parties and other social gatherings often offer free alcohol, even to underage drinkers. Students who drink excessively often show a sharp drop in academic performance, may become chronic drinkers, and risk the health hazards of binge drinking.

These psychological issues can be faced and dealt with effectively by students, especially if they know what resources are available. One of the most basic tactics is having someone to talk to when things get tough, to air frustrations and get solid advice on how to handle things. This can be a school adviser, friend, professor, or counselor on campus.

Students should also set up times to visit family and friends during breaks and holidays. This helps keep a strong support system in place and reduces feelings of homesickness. It's also important for students to know it's normal to feel stressed and anxious at the outset of college, and that other students are often feeling the same way. Getting to know a variety of people and being active in a group can help to reduce loneliness, establish a sense of belonging, and build a support system away from home.

Students who have problems with time management, academics, and study skills should take advantage of academic support services on campus, including tutoring, writing assistance, counseling, and related services. These people can put students in contact with resources to help them improve, can assist in creating a schedule, and provide other valuable support.

Another basic key is being well rested and eating a healthy diet. This makes it easier to concentrate, keeps energy levels up, and reduces the likelihood of health issues. Tied to this is exercise, which is an excellent way to reduce stress and anxiety as well as bolster physical health. Students can get involved in intramural sports or use gym facilities to keep in shape. Setting aside time for regular exercise can greatly help to improve students' daily lives.

Socialization doesn't have to be a source of anxiety, either. When entering a social situation, students should avoid unreal expectations about their own behavior, appearance, or what other people will think. The best way to meet new people is by getting involved in a group that shares a common interest, perhaps an athletic club or possibly a gathering related to a particular field of study. This makes talking with others easier and reduces the challenges of a completely foreign social scene.

Students who are active in their education, have strong support systems, and pay attention to their health have more enjoyable college experiences. They benefit from knowing about and taking advantage of the many support resources universities provide for them. By recognizing when to seek help and doing so early on before problems become too large for them to handle alone, students can reduce anxiety, control academic issues, and ensure they don't turn to destructive habits to avoid the psychological challenges of college.

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