This is your copy of Coping With College: A Student Guide to Wellness prepared by the Counseling Center. The staff wishes to provide you with self-help strategies intended to assist your personal growth and development. We recognize that a complete college education is not limited solely to academics, but includes self-knowledge as well. Ideally, your experience at Georgia Regents University will provide you with many opportunities to learn how to become a healthier and happier person. The counseling staff hopes this booklet will serve you well in your college career and beyond.
In the pages to follow, you will be exploring six challenges of the college experience common to many students:
- Successful adjustment to college life
- Recognizing stress
- Coping with depression
- Being a resource to a fellow student
- Making an appropriate referral
- Developing a positive attitude
You may be surprised to learn that the wide range of feelings, excitement, anxiety, confidence, insecurity - that you may experience during this time of your life, are also shared by your fellow students. You are not alone in your struggle to become a successful college student. Whether you are an 18 year-old freshman or a 40 year-old returning student, the prospect of higher education can be an intimidating one.
It is good to know that there are support services available on campus such as the Counseling Center. The Center's mission is proactive, meaning that the emphasis is on education and outreach. In addition to individual counseling, the Center provides workshops, seminars, and groups devoted to relevant concerns of students from a variety of backgrounds.
The purpose of this mental health guide is to present certain concepts of personal adjustment which you may apply thera- peutically. In this way, the Counseling staff seeks to empower you in your quest for fulfillment, both academically and personally.
Successful Adjustment to College Life
Many students entering college for the first time, as well as students returning after an extended period away from school, feel anxious and insecure in their new environment. These feelings can be alleviated to a great extent by developing friendships with classmates. If you feel that you would like some tips to help you meet and relate effectively to fellow students and adjust to college easier, try some of these suggestions:
- Enroll in an UNIV1000 course to receive orientation to Georgia Regents University, help with study skills, and learn about campus resources, self-improvement techniques, and GRU policies and services.
- Attend some of the cultural entertainment programs offered by the college. A wide variety of programs are available, including a Lyceum Series, Cullum Lecture series, and a film series. Most are free for students with your ID card.
- Join one of the many organizations on campus. For instance, a club, a band, or a choir. These groups can provide a great way to meet other students.
- Take part in athletics. If you like sports, the Intramural Sports Program offers different activities each semester. Contact Student Activities for up to date offerings.
- Join a study group. By being part of a study group, you can improve your study skills as well as meet new people. Just be sure that the members of the group you choose focus on the course work rather than waste time or drift onto other topics.
- Trade phone numbers with some of the people in your classes. Then you'll have someone to call if you forget your assignment or want someone to talk with about the assignment, tests or projects.
- Identify a person who is willing to take notes for you when you have to miss a class. This will cut down the anxiety of worrying about getting behind in your class work.
- Attend a seminar or workshop/group at the Counseling Center. A wide variety of seminars are offered each semester including topics such as: Time management, Stress reduction, Study skills, and Test-taking. Different workshops/groups are offered each semester. Watch bulletin boards, check Pipeline and The Bell Ringer for dates and times.
- Participation in a group can provide you with the opportunity to receive positive feedback from others which will give you the incentive to keep growing. By observing the behavior of others, you may gain more insight into ways to improve interpersonal skills. Groups also allow you to develop more self-knowledge about your strengths and weaknesses so you may adapt accordingly.
Stress is the way your mind and body react to any situation that is new, threatening or exciting. Stress prepares you to act. The way you handle stress determines whether it is helpful or harmful. Stress gives you an extra burst of energy - more adrenaline enters the bloodstream, heart and breathing rates increase, blood flow thickens, and muscle strength improves. Harnessing the strength of occasional stress can help you to meet physical challenges, solve problems, and reach goals.
The word "stress" comes from a Latin word meaning "to draw tight." When there is no outlet for this feeling of "tightness," you may experience the negative effects of stress. Chronic, unrelieved stress can cause headaches, backaches, loss of appetite, constant fatigue, depression, and illness. Therefore, it is important that you learn to recognize the signs or symptoms of stress so that you can manage it more effectively.
Negative stress, or distress, results when your body over-reacts to events. It leads to what has been called a "fight or flight" reaction. Such reactions may have been useful in times long ago when our ancestors were frequently faced with physical life or death situations. Nowadays, such occurrences are unusual. Your body, however, really doesn't know the difference between a saber-toothed tiger and an instructor correcting your work. It is how you perceive and interpret the events of your life that dictates how your body reacts.
If you think something is very scary or worrisome, your body reacts accordingly. When you view something as manageable, though, your body doesn't go haywire; it remains alert, but not alarmed. The activation of your sympathetic nervous system mobilizes you for quick action. The more you sense danger, whether social or physical, the more your body reacts. You may notice your heart pounds loudly, your mouth becomes dry, your hands clammy and your breathing rapid and shallow. In addition to these physical challenges, you may also feel more easily confused and your thinking becomes less adaptable and much more self-critical. One of the things your body and mind are designed to do is defend you when threatened or in danger.
The mind, once aware of a threat - which might involve taking an examination, speaking in front of a group of people, writing a paper, or studying for an exam - reacts in a defensive manner, and the anxiety you typically feel is part of that defensive reaction. In these and other situations like them, it is inadvisable to either fight or run away. You must cope with these situations in a way that allows you to stay and face them and to do so using your potential and skills to the maximum. This is where learning how to manage stress can help. What you need to do is learn to approach matters in more realistic and reasonable ways. Strong reactions are better reserved for serious situations. Manageable reactions are better for the everyday issues that you have to face. First, try to view situations realistically, and not as psychologically or physically threatening. Then, use stress reduction methods that lower the body's physical stress symptoms. These include:
- Relaxation -- Learn to relax by taking periodic "mini breaks" throughout the day. Sit down and get comfortable, slowly take a deep breath in, hold it, and then exhale very slowly. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, smile, and say something positive like, "I am relaxed." Also, be sure to get sufficient rest at night.
- Acceptance -- Many people get distressed over things they won't let themselves accept. Often these are things that can't be changed, like someone else's feelings or beliefs. If something unjust bothers you, that is different. If you act in a responsible way, the chances are you will manage stress effectively.
- Exercise -- Physical activity has always provided relief from stress. In the past, daily work was largely physical. Now that physical exertion is no longer a requirement for earning a living, we don't get rid of stress so easily while working. It accumulates very quickly. We need to develop a regular exercise program to help reduce the effects of stress before it becomes distress. Try aerobics, walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, etc.
- Good Nutrition -- Eat sensibly; a balanced diet will provide all the necessary energy you need during the day. Avoid nonprescription drugs and minimize your alcohol use. You need to be mentally and physically alert to deal with stress. Be mindful of the effects of excessive caffeine and sugar on nervousness. Put out the cigarettes; they restrict blood circulation and affect the stress response.
- Emotional Support -- Friends can be good medicine. Daily doses of conversation, regular social engagements, and occasional sharing of deep feelings and thoughts can reduce stress quite nicely.
Healthy habits of daily living help to make stress more manageable and enable you to see crises as opportunities for growth.
Coping With Depressions
Depression is a mood disorder that affects the whole person - body, mind, and spirit. It can lead to:
- Withdrawal from people and activities
- Loss of pleasure and enjoyment of life
- Feelings of sadness
- Disappointment or loneliness
- Physical discomfort, such as aches, pains, fatigue, poor digestion and sleep disturbance
Most of us feel down or "blue" now and then. It is a natural reaction to stress and tension. However, when these feelings are severe or prolonged, we may be experiencing depression. Depression is a common problem, affecting millions of Americans each year, and yet it remains widely misunderstood. Depression is often ignored or untreated. We do not recognize the symptoms, are afraid to seem "weak," or are simply too depressed to take action. Unfortunately, everyone involved suffers and untreated depression can disrupt work, family relations, and social life. However, depression can be treated successfully and most people can start feeling well again in a few weeks. If depression is severe or persistent, one would be well-advised to seek professional help. Personal success requires that we accept assistance when the situation calls for it.
Depression can affect any of us, and at various developmental stages in our lives. Beginning in childhood, depression may occur, often the result of family conflicts. Adolescents experience social stress and rapid physical changes that often lead to wide mood swings. Young adults frequently become depressed as we struggle with intense job and family responsibilities and search for fulfillment. Middle-aged adults are likely to become depressed due to goals that seem unattainable, children leaving home, or divorce may trigger depression. And finally, in old age, depression is commonly a result of physical problems, damaged self-esteem, retirement, declining income, loss of loved ones, or loneliness.
Depression may be caused by:
- Biochemical functions; shortages or imbalances of mood-influencing chemicals in the brain are thought to play a role in some cases of depression. Certain medications, illnesses or infections can also lead to depression.
- Genetic patterns; depression is not inherited, but the tendency to suffer from some type of depressive illness does run in certain families. Some studies indicate that a biochemical tendency to depression may be genetic.
- Personality type; people who are highly self-critical, very demanding or unusually passive and dependent may be prone to depression.
- Environmental influences; unfavorable family, social or working environments can cause depression, as can serious interpersonal conflicts, loss of a loved one or neglect as a child.
There is a broad range of symptoms to look for with depression:
- general slowing down
- neglect of responsibilities and appearance
- loss of appetite or weight gain
- poor memory
- inability to concentrate
- emotional flatness or emptiness
- inability to find pleasure in anything
- loss of sexual desire
- loss of warm feelings for family and friends
- exaggerated self-blame or guilt
- loss of self-esteem
- suicidal thoughts and actions
- sleeping disturbances
- chronic fatigue
- unexplained headaches or backaches
- digestive upsets
Depression can make us feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Negative thoughts and feelings may make us feel like giving up. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and typically do not accurately reflect our situation. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime, take it easier on yourself by slowing down and giving yourself permission to take things one step at a time. Participate in activities that make you feel better. Don't worry if your mood does not improve immediately. Feeling better takes time.
Being a Resource to a Fellow Student
This handbook you are reading was written with the intention of assisting your personal development. Paradoxically, though, as you tread your path of greater self-awareness, you soon begin to realize the importance of the quality of relationships with others. How you treat others is a direct reflection of how you treat yourself. Bearing this in mind, let us examine what your responsibilities are to a friend whom you feel is thinking of suicide.
Increasing numbers of young adults struggle with overwhelming levels of stress and depression. Some of these individuals feel unable to get the support they need and begin to think of suicide as a way out. However, most of them very much want to live. Many will tell another person of their suicidal thoughts and intentions. This is often a way to start to talk about their problems.
If a friend of yours leads you to believe that they might attempt suicide, you should try to do the following:
- Do not be afraid to talk about suicide or to use the word. This will not put the idea in their heads or influence them to do it.
- Try to get your friend to talk about what it is in their life that makes them feel the way they do. The more talking on their part, the better.
- Try to convince them that they need to speak to a trained professional. A good place for them to go would be the Counseling Center on campus. Tell them you want them to get more help than just you alone can give. Accompany your friend for their initial visit, if necessary. The Counseling Center stands ready to assist you in helping a friend in crisis.
- Unless you are absolutely certain that your friend has spoken to a counselor about suicide, you will need to speak to a counselor yourself about your concern for your friend. It is better if you tell your friend you intend to do this.
- A word about confidentiality. If your friend asks you not to tell anyone, should you keep the secret? NO. There is no rule of confidentiality when it comes to potential suicide. It does no good to keep the secret and lose the person.
- Your friend may be angry and try to convince you that you will get them into trouble if you tell. Remember, if you believe that your friend is at risk you must act. And the best way to do this is by notifying someone qualified in handling such matters. All you can do is try to convey the idea that you are sincerely trying to help.
- You may also be the receiver of other "secrets" that overwhelm you. Drug and alcohol problems, sexual or physical abuse, rape, abortion, doubts about sexual identity - these are all problems that college students may face. But you don't need to be alone in solving them, either for yourself or a friend. Read on, the next section is all about helping someone get help.
Making an Appropriate Referal
As has been stated, there may be times in your college career when a friend needs more help than you alone can provide. Your friend may be experiencing some form of emotional distress, such as depression, paranoia, rage, or panic, that requires fairly immediate attention. Or they may simply feel the need to talk to someone who is trained to listen and provide valuable feedback, including strategies for effective change. Whatever the severity of the problem, you as a friend can serve as a necessary source of referral by directing them to the Counseling Center for their mental health concerns.
Because you may feel awkward or unsure of how to bring up this subject with your friend, here are some suggestions:
- "How would you feel about talking this over with a counselor at the Center? I would be glad to accompany you."
- "It could help to see someone who can be objective with your problem and who has the experience to relate."
- "I am familiar with one of the counselors with whom you could share your feelings. Would you like me to contact them for you?"
- "It seems like you're troubled with something - how about a session with a counselor?"
- "There are many ways to deal with problems. Why not talk to one of the counselors for some suggestions?"
- Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do for a friend is to encourage them to avail themselves of appropriate resources. In addition, your support during their time of need illustrates clearly the loving quality of your relationship.
Developing a Positive Attitude
Your attitude is your state of mind when you approach a situation. You can develop either a positive or negative attitude. It's the same you; the only difference is the attitude, which only you can control. Your attitude is so important because it affects you at many levels. It affects how you look, what you say and what you do. It affects how you feel, both physically and mentally. It also affects how successful you are in achieving your purposes in life.
What are the signs of a positive attitude? How is it reflected in the way you treat yourself and others? Generally, people with positive attitudes are willing to learn. They recognize that no one has all the answers. They do their best on the job and suggest better ways of doing their work. They demonstrate enthusiasm in whatever they say and do. They are also willing to grow personally and professionally. They welcome changes and experiment with new ideas. And they cultivate a sense of humor, which includes not taking themselves too seriously.
In their relations with others, these same persons are sincerely interested in the welfare of others, their needs and problems. They look at the other's point of view or, in other words, they are empathetic. These qualities make the "positive" person a good listener. And finally, people with positive attitudes are able to work with others to achieve common goals through cooperation. So how do we develop positive attitudes? We can begin by paying heed to a few simple approaches to daily living. We can keep each other informed - family, friends, and co-workers. Good communication is the source of good relations. We can be punctual, considerate of how this impacts others. We can be cheerful; spreading goodwill with the quality of your life does depend on your attitude - toward yourself and others. You are the only one that can change or control your attitude.
The staff of the Georgia Regents University Counseling Center hopes this student guide has served its purpose, namely to provide GRU students a handy booklet to which they can refer for self-improvement. Personal growth and development is a process requiring our patience and perseverance. And yet often we cannot do it alone.
Fortunately, seeking out a counselor for relief of emotional pain or for enhancing potential no longer carries the negative stigma it once did. We are beginning to see that disease is not only physical but mental as well. Both are indications that something is wrong and that we must attend to the warning signs in order to be truly healthy.
Let this guide be a beginning for your journey toward self-discovery. The Counseling Center feels honored that it can play a role in assisting you in this process. We remain committed to helping you help yourself.
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Griffin, M.E., and Felsenthal, C., A Cry for Help. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983.
Keller, Peter A., and Ritt, Lawrence G., Innovations in Clinical Practice. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Exchange, Inc. 1986.
Pauk, W., How to Study in College. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989.
A Scriptographic Booklet. About College and Stress. South Deerfield, MA: Channing L. Bete Co., 1984.
A Scriptographic Booklet. What Everyone Should Know About Depression. South Deerfield, MA:Channing L. Bete Co., 1980.
A Scriptographic Booklet. Your Attitude and You. South Deerfield, MA: Channing L. Bete Co.,1969.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services pamphlet. Depression: What You Need to Know. Rockville, Maryland.
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