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College Stress and Campus Calm

A Q&A on Teen Stress

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College Stress and Campus Calm

Graffiti version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream"

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
As parents, we can madly forward tips and suggestions to our stressed out teens and college kids, but we can't make them relax. And who can blame them? They've spent four years in the college admissions pressure cooker known as high school, and now they're small fish in a big, college pond. So here's a little advice from college stress expert Maria Pascucci, founder of Campus Calm.com and author of Campus Calm University: The College Student's 10-Step Blueprint to Stop Stressing.

Q: How can we help our college kids de-stress their lives?

A: Far too many students today have been working nonstop since they crawled down the birth canal. They were over-scheduled long before they entered college...Most parents want what’s best for their children. The problem is, most parents buy into the myths about what it takes to be successful in life. They have allowed the marketing and hype over college admissions to scare them into believing that their kids will only be happy and successful if they get straight As, attend an Ivy League college or grad school and compile the perfect success portfolio, complete with a laundry list of extra-curriculars. They, in turn, pass their anxieties on to their children. Unfortunately, schools today largely reinforce to students that it is “all about the grades.”

Q: All of which makes that anguished late-night phone call from an overwhelmed, stressed out child horribly inevitable. How can parents help in the moment?

A: Resist the urge to minimize their stress. Please try not to say any variations of the following: “You think you’re stressed now? Just wait till you graduate and enter the real world. Come back to me when you have kids to put through college, a mortgage, two car loans and sick parents to take care of.” Start by saying something like, “I cannot imagine what you must be going through. Why don’t you tell me about it?” Really listen to what your student is saying to you. Ask them good questions.

Q: Such as?

A: "Are you sleeping regularly? If not, is it because you’re too busy to find time to sleep, or are you tossing and turning all night because you’re too worried to sleep? No judgment, but are you using sleep aides? What and how much? How much caffeine are you consuming during the day?"

"Again, no judgment, but what types of foods have you been eating? Can I send you some healthy snacks to help keep your energy levels up?"

"What are the top three pastimes that bring you joy and help you manage stress?" Then encourage your student to find ways to make more time for those activities. If your kid pushes back and says, “I don’t have time for joy, I barely have time for sleep,” consider telling him something I wish someone had told me early on when I was a stressed-out college student: Prioritize your schedule better, and if you don’t have time for you every day, find something to cut back on. Maybe it’s an extracurricular activity, maybe it’s an hour or two at your part-time job, maybe it’s something that you feel like “you should” be doing but you really don’t find that much enjoyment in. Saying “no” when faced with too many commitments is a show of self-love. It’s actually something to be proud of.

Finally, if you feel that your student’s health is at risk, consider encouraging him or her to visit their campus-counseling center to talk with a trained professional.

Q: What can parents be doing long-term to help?

A: If parents wait until college to broach the subject, they can forward all the stress-less tips they want, but it’s not going to make a difference until the parent addresses the mindsets that fuel their student’s academic stress.

Q: How do you open that conversation?

A: Tell your (teen) that life is stressful, but we get to choose how to manage stress before it manages us.

Say: "High school and college will help prepare you for your future, but you are in charge of your own destiny. Soak up all the knowledge you can and enjoy the ride through academia. When you make it out to the other side, it’s your passion, persistence and commitment to lifelong learning that will ultimately ensure your happy and successful future, not a perfect résumé or GPA.”

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