October 13, 2011 College, Stress and Relationships—
College freshmen are, according to studies, more stressed out than ever before. The present state of the economy and the competitiveness for dollars and class spots makes for plenty to worry about. When you add these realities to the traditional demands of college life—being away from home; getting accustomed to academic expectations and; having to self- discipline and self-organize—college freshmen have more to contend with these days, plain and simple.
And how to help the college rookie better handle the rigors of their new environment is challenging. One important way to assist stressed-out students is to help them understand to importance of managing their relationships. If you think about it, at the core of every conflict or stressor is a relationship. At the same time, some of the most fundamental ways of getting support and encouragement is through these same relationships–
- A romantic partner
- A Roommate
- A professor or TA
- A Financial Aid Counselor
- A Coach
- A boss
- A parent
There are lots of ways students can get their minds off of troubles and reduce their stress levels short term—music, exercise, journaling, meditation. But when it comes to long-term happiness and stress maintenance, how they govern your relationships is one of the most important skills you can acquire. Here are five ways they can improve their relationships and reduce their stress immediately and in the future: (Share these with your favorite college student BEFORE they need it…)
1. Focus on Your Communication: When you interact with others—your girlfriend, boyfriend, your professor or your boss– how much and how well you communicate is key. Don’t leave your interactions to chance.
2. Agree to a Communication Plan. Set -up planned times to communicate with key people in your life—your roommate, your study partner, your adviser. With your roommate, you might agree to check in with each other every day before the first of you leaves for class each day or before dinner. This way you can sort out your issues (“I’d like to have my study group meet here tonight.” “Perfect, I plan to study in the library.”) The same is true for your professors. Connect one-on-one with them so that they know you are diligent and you can get a better understanding of material. With a boyfriend/girlfriend, agree to the times you will spend together and set times to study. Be deliberate about what you will share and what you will do alone or with others. You will soon learn that there is only so much time in a day. Communicate about how you will and will not use your time. Also, set a time to connect with your parents. If conversations with them are comforting, arrange a set time and day to regularly talk for a meaningful period of time. If conversations with your parents are stress-inducing, schedule short check-in talks on the weekend maybe, when they won’t add to your daily tension.
3. LISTEN to what others are saying about their expectations.
Your roommate expects you to leave when her boyfriend comes over.
Your sorority or fraternity expects your involvement in their every endeavor
Your adviser expects a weekly check-in.
Your study partner expects you to do half of the practice set every week.
Don’t wait until you are locked out of your room; in a bind or confused about something with a looming due date to get clarification. The same is true of your coach, adviser and friends. When you are given a clear statement about what someone expects from you—performance-wise, or friendship-wise, don’t ignore it. Listen, clarify and if your expectations do not jive with theirs, come to some understanding. Don’t expect these things to sort out by themselves or just go away.
4. CLEARLY STATE Your Expectations–Conversely, you should express your own expectations clearly and consistently (i.e. tell your roommate how you feel about sharing clothes before the issue comes up…and it will come up). Letting others know your boundaries and expectations is a vital skill for college survival. Suffering in silence is the most stressful state of all!
5. CHOOSE YOUR COMPANY CAREFULLY. Don’t just be a passive participant in the formation of your social circles. Choose and don’t settle for just being chosen. College is a time to begin to think of your time as a commodity—Time is Money! How you spend your time is vital. And just as important is with whom you spend it. Be strategic. Choose your study partners and groups with an eye toward people who share your same goals and values. A study group benefits from a diverse group of people who may approach the material differently. But everybody in that group should be endeavoring to produce high quality work and get good grades. These are values you should all share. Don’t tolerate dead weight and don’t BE dead weight. The same is true for your social circle. You should have some core values in common with the folks you spend your leisure time with. If you are always the designated driver or the “throne attendant” for your drunk friends, you may want to rethink your alliances.
When you govern your relationships with deliberate planning and communications, you go a long way in avoiding stressful situations, both short and long term, and you set-up your relationships to be positive stress buffers instead of stress-inducers. Look closely at your relationships—from the minor ones, like with the dorm entrance attendant, to the major ones, like your roommate and professors—with an acknowledgement that they hold little keys to your happiness and comfort. This will help you prioritize them and focus on developing healthy interactions. The practice of relationship management will serve you well your entire life, and not just far into your future, but right this very minute.