This is your copy of Coping With College: A Student Guide to Wellness prepared by the Student Counseling and Psychological Services. 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 Augusta 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:
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 Student Counseling and Psychological Services. The 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 staff seeks to empower you in your quest for fulfillment, both academically and personally.
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:
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:
Healthy habits of daily living help to make stress more manageable and enable you to see crises as opportunities for growth.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects the whole person - body, mind, and spirit. It can lead to:
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 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.
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.
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 Student Counseling and Psychological Services for their mental health concerns.
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 Augusta University Student Counseling and Psychological Services hopes this student guide has served its purpose, namely to provide Augusta University 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. Student Counseling and Psycholocial Services 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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