Transitions Coaching

Adjusting to College Life

Male Student Working In Bedroom on computer on our values pageAdjusting to college life this year is unlike any other. Some students are on-campus, while others are at home or living off campus. College services have had to change to adapt to where students are and how they are connecting to coursework and college opportunities.

In a normal year, most first-year college kids start the year happy and excited, only to get a few weeks in and find they are struggling. It’s usually right about now that they have their first tests or papers due and they find college academics are harder than high school. The newness of being on campus and away from home is no longer there; reality is setting in where they’re having to do their own laundry, be sure they’re getting to class on time, and balancing a job with their social life and academic life.

In this pandemic year, it’s not just first-year students who find themselves struggling. And the reasons they are struggling are more diverse. In a recent article on Inside HigherEd, the author presents concerns about an increase in the number of college students struggling with mental health due to the social and economic impact of the pandemic, and the concerns students have about their education and career prospects.

As parents, sending our kids off to college is already an emotionally difficult thing to do, regardless of how excited we are for them to have this new experience. When they call home unhappy or frustrated, or asking to come home or drop out, it’s even more heart-wrenching. We want our kids to be happy and we don’t want them to struggle more than necessary.

So what can family members do to support college students in their adjustment to college life this year?

First, understand that it is completely normal to have ups and downs as students adjust to living in a new place.

No matter how much they knew where they were headed and knew what to expect, going through it can still be really challenging. It’s what’s called culture adjustment – something that we apply regularly to those traveling abroad, yet also relevant to any new environment one finds themselves in.

Source: https://davidson.studioabroad.com/_customtags/ct_Image.cfm?Image_ID=270937

In short, we often have a pretty big high when we get to where we’re going. What follows is a downward trend as we try to adjust our habits and actions because of how different or difficult things are. The curve will move up and down as students adjust to the new environment and continue to be confronted with things that challenge their identity, ways of thinking, and ways of doing things. 

A lot of times it can be really helpful just knowing that this curve is real and happens to all of us, whether heading off to college, traveling to a new country, or moving out on our own for our first job. Putting it out there and talking about this is a good first step. 

Second, listen for how your student is feeling, not just what they are saying.

It’s not unusual for students to be feeling anxious, homesick, or lonely, especially in the age of pandemic protocols and concerns. Helping them identify their feelings and accept them as normal or common is really important. Being open and having a space to talk about their feelings without any judgment can go a long way in developing resiliency. Listen, reflect what you hear from them – whether it’s directly said or not – before you give them advice.  

Third, help empower them to seek out resources without solving their problems for them.

College is often a middle ground for true independence. They aren’t at home where you can swoop in and fix things for them, but they also aren’t without any resources while they are at college. While every college is different, there are three important resources for students to know.

  • First, their professors are there to help them succeed. They hold office hours and provide their contact information so students can get the help they need. Professors can also refer students to other resources on campus, like tutoring or time management help.
  • Second, seek out the academic support center. This might be in the library, within individual schools on campus, or its own center. Wherever it is, they offer resources for subject tutoring, time management, goal setting, organizational skills, and self-care.
  • Third, the counseling center on campus is there to help students who are struggling with any number of things. With high demand, it may take a while to get in to see a counselor, but they often provide resources and guidance to get back on track. Some centers offer ongoing programming that addresses common challenges students face.

Fourth, give them space.

Once you’ve listened and you’re both in agreement with what’s going on and how they’re feeling, and once you’ve given them advice, give them some space. In most cases, you are the safe place for them to vent and release some stress. Give them a chance to address what’s going on and move on from what’s troubling them. Set a day and time to check in on what they’ve done and the results of the actions they took, but don’t hover.

When to intervene.

College students are going to make mistakes, struggle, and even fail, and they need the space to do so. But as a parent, you need to go with your gut – you know your student best. If you feel concerned about your student’s safety, if you think they are engaging in risky behavior, or they are no longer taking an interest in things they always did, then you want to step in. Begin with expressing your concerns directly to your student. If you need additional guidance, reach out to the student life office on campus. While they may be limited in what they can tell you due to federal laws, they can provide resources to you and follow their process of well-checks on students. 

Remember that transitioning to college in a normal year can be challenging enough. Having open conversations about moments in your life that were challenging to work through may open the door to your student talking about what’s going on with them. And you might find there are some great lessons learned that you can share with each other.

For more resources on mental health, including finding help:

Mental Health America – https://www.mhanational.org/

______

Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coachingcareer coachinglife coachingtransitions coaching.

A mindful approach to grief

words related to mindfulness under a magnifying glass

Tara Haelle’s interesting post introduces some important ideas about the intersections of grief and loss with the crises of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ambiguous grief is central to our current experience and she offers some good strategies for managing it, including acceptance, setting reasonable expectations, and finding fulfillment in familiar activities.

Another challenge of the pandemic is our need for the “long view” or life after the pandemic. So much of our attention can be directed to the point in time when the pandemic ends, but as Haelle correctly notes, we are nowhere near the end. So how can focusing on the present moment by adopting a mindful approach to grieving be helpful?

  • Mindfulness engages us in the present moment. Cultivating mindful awareness gives us a sense of time and place and amplifies our sense of control over our circumstance
  • Focusing on the present reduces the stress of looking ahead and the “what-if’s” that come along with it
  • Mindful awareness, when coupled with attention to the breath, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system or the part of our wiring that is responsible for rest and relaxation

Mindfulness as a practice of self-care was pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn who defines it as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. As I share this concept with my clients, I emphasize the non-judgmental nature of this focus. When we simply notice, rather than appraise what is happening and what we are feeling, we are better able to quiet the nervous chatter of the mind. Free from this distraction, we can then invest our energy in what is available in the present moment. 

Want to learn more? Join j for our Conversation Café on Monday September 21 at 7pm for a lively discussion about mindfulness and learn some practical applications for your daily life.

______

Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coachingcareer coachinglife coachingtransitions coaching.

Why do today what you can do tomorrow?

a bulletin board with notes that say do itI am likely one of the world’s foremost experts in procrastination. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but my office is never cleaner than when I am putting off a major task. Believe me, I would much rather vacuum, dust, straighten, and do all the other parts of organizing than put my effort behind something I need to finish that I just don’t want to do.

The distance and lack of in-person engagement that is now a part of my work has somehow amplified this, too. Dealing with procrastination is a key piece of self-management. Poor time management, falling behind in tasks or projects, and working without a plan all contribute to procrastination. 

I regularly coach my clients through these hurdles. Fortunately, with a little bit of positive self-talk and the strategies that follow, each of us can successfully combat procrastination:

  1. Give it five minutes. Get your stuff together, decide your goal and set the timer for five minutes. You only have to work on the task for these few minutes, five earnest minutes in which you really make the effort to get started. If after that time, you still aren’t making progress, turn your attention to something else. Chances are that once you get going, five minutes will become fifty and you will be on your way to completing your bigger goal.
  2. Do the big task first. Put it on the calendar first thing in the morning or at a time when your energy is best and most focused. Get it out of the way so that you can get on to doing other things you enjoy more.
  3. Figure out why you don’t want to do it. Does the task at hand align with your skills and interests? Do you have the resources to complete it? If not, what will it take to get what you need? There might be times when you have the chance to delegate, ask for help, or find others who can help you kick-start your efforts. Knowing why you don’t want to do it is part of identifying what you need to overcome your procrastination. If you are a student, academic resource centers, tutors, and others can provide essential resources to help you get started.
  4. Break it into smaller chunks. Procrastination and the sense of overwhelm are best buddies and they want to keep you in a static place. What one or two sub-goals can you accomplish that will move you towards the big goal? Breaking the big task into smaller ones makes the final work seem less daunting.
  5. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!! Research shows that when we acknowledge our forward progress, we build patterns that support long-term success. I ask my clients to reflect on and journal about the small things. Whether the five minute investment, the paragraph written, or the business proposal completed; all of them are small steps toward building self confidence in a way that supports long term success.

Perhaps the best piece of advice, and the one that I try to remember most, is just do it. Do today what you can do today!

______

Learn more about us and our coaching services: academic coachingcareer coachinglife coachingtransitions coaching.

Image credit