How Can I Help Prepare My Teen for Stress in College?

How Can I Help Prepare My Teen for Stress in College?

Knowing stress is common in college students will go a long way to preparing your teen to handle it.

Teens may think that heading off to college will be four years of partying. But what they might not realize is college can be one of the most stressful times of their lives. To ensure your teen is successful in college and beyond, spend the summer preparing him to effectively deal with stress, handle the anxiety that comes with it, and learn from it to reduce stress in the future. With these tips from a licensed clinical psychologist, your teen will have a head start when school starts in the fall.

First, let her know that while being in college may be an exhilarating experience, it may also be quite stressful, particularly in the first year. Ironically, anticipating that he will experience stress and emotions such as anxiety and/or sadness will be helpful because it will allow him to be prepared when it inevitably happens and not be caught off guard. Knowing that she is not alone and that all freshman experience stress to some degree will also be helpful. It is important for kids to feel like they are part of the herd, so knowing that even those who seem fine on the surface may be experiencing stress will go a long way in making your child feel better. Knowing that freshman year in college can be tough for most kids will also allow your child to normalize his own feelings, and not judge himself for being stressed out. This way she will be less likely to carry it around like a shameful burden and will be more proactive about helping herself.

Let him know that facing his stress is an important step in overcoming it. Even if avoiding stressful situations makes her feel better in the moment, it is not a good solution; it will actually prolong her stress over time. For example, attending academic or social events or studying for exams will be stressful, but avoiding such situations will make his stress considerably worse over time. Not only will she continue to be at a disadvantage relative to her peers if she avoids situations necessary for a successful college experience, she will inadvertently learn she is not capable of confronting difficult situations. To build his confidence, you can encourage him to create a stress ladder, which means he could begin doing things that are mildly or moderately stressful at first and slowly confront increasingly stressful situations over time to build on earlier successes.

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Sometimes the physical symptoms that come from being stressed can be quite unpleasant. Symptoms such as heart racing, feeling breathless or keyed up, or having butterflies in the stomach are part and parcel of feeling anxious but can further create stress for those who don’t understand why they are feeling this way. Knowing that these are physical manifestations of stress and are not dangerous in anyway is important. In fact, an adrenalin surge can often better prepare your child to confront situations head on. However, if the physical arousal is too high, it may prevent your teen from concentrating well or being effective in carrying out important tasks. Exercising regularly or doing breathing, deep muscle relaxation, meditative, or mindfulness exercises will be helpful in regulating her emotional arousal and will help her performance.

Finally, let your child know that his stress will get better over time as he adjusts. However, it is just as important for her to know when to seek help and to accept that she cannot do it alone. From general anxiety to panic disorder and depression, many emotional problems emerge during adolescence or early adulthood. Let your child know there is no shame in seeking help and encourage him to come to you, or go to a professor or counselor if he needs help in managing his stress.