Going away to college is one of the most monumental transitions we can make in life. Leaving the home and family we know and love best, entering a new environment without our tried-and-true mentors to guide us, following a new schedule, sharing a dorm room with a stranger, final exams, peer pressure, balancing classes, homework, social life and often a job, living on a tight budget, pressure to get good grades, trying to get enough sleep and eat right and not gain the “freshman 15”…the potential stressors are sudden, abundant and relentless.
I have great compassion for college kids these days. All the normal stressors are there, but they also have to face the stress of uncertainty, of getting a job after they graduate in this economic climate, possibly living at home with their parents, the burden of student loans, and a rapidly changing planet.
According to an Associated Press poll, 85% of college students surveyed reported feeling stressed daily. Worries about grades, schoolwork, money and relationships were the biggest issues. 42% said they had felt depressed or hopeless several days during the previous two weeks. As a result, many are on medication for depression and anxiety.
A little bit of what some call “challenge stress” – striving to do your best – can make you sharper. But chronic stress without recovery depletes you. Co-eds are often short on adequate sleep, which can harm memory recall and their ability to be present for tests. Anxiety about how well they’ll do also shuts down cognitive functions so that they can’t even access all the answers they’ve crammed for.
Often, co-eds respond to stressors by looking for quick-fixes for their discomfort – going out for happy hour with friends, overdoing screen time, eating junk food, popping pills or skipping class. These can change the way they feel in the moment, but they don’t change their habits or the inevitable wear and tear that accompany them. Learning to manage emotions when they experience stress, not just after the fact, is what gives people the ability to cope with and transform stress – and improve academic performance.
At the Institute of HeartMath, our research has shown that learning to put oneself into heart coherence – an optimal state where mind, heart and emotions are operating in sync and balanced – can do wonders for alleviating stress and preventing the long-term damage to the body and life that could ensue if left unchecked. Not only that, in coherence, our brains have higher cortical functioning and are more receptive to learning.
If you know a co-ed who is struggling with all the stressors they’re facing at college, they will be relieved to know there are very effective tools and techniques that HeartMath can offer to help build their ability to manage themselves with more ease and control. We have The College De-stress Handbook for co-eds and we’ve certified hundreds of college counselors in heart coherence methods as well as our emWave2 coherence monitor. See our free resource page and discounts for College Students.
As you prepare for final exams this year, try these tips:
- Practice good health habits year-round, but especially for several weeks before final exams. Eat healthy, exercise and sleep 7-8 hours a night.
- Plan and commit to a study schedule.
- Review your notes right up until exam times, if possible.
- Practice HeartMath’s adaptation of the Quick Coherence technique several times a day to shift your response and release stressful feelings in just a few minutes.
- Start with Heart-Focused Breathing: Calm yourself and reduce a stress-producing reaction such as anxiousness over a test by imagining that you are breathing in and out of your heart area, or the center of your chest. Breathe in slowly and deeply for 5 seconds, and then exhale for 5 seconds.
- Next, Activate a Positive Feeling: Such as appreciation, caring or love for a special person or pet. You also could remember an enjoyable occasion or a special place that made you feel good.
Learning to release stress at this age will not only help you address what you face now, but help you set a new baseline for building resilience, and a larger reservoir of capacity for future stressors as a young adult and beyond.
For more information about transforming stress at college, check out The College De-Stress Handbook Resources, by HeartMath.