Emotional Supports

 

MODULE GOAL(S): To identify common and potential emotional experiences related to college, and the internal and external resources available for emotional support.

OBJECTIVE(S):

  1. To describe the college experience from an emotional perspective.
  2. To explain the impact of emotion on the college experience.
  3. To describe some preventative measures to promote emotional preparedness.
  4. To point out and describe individual measures that promotes emotional wellness.
  5. To point out and describe external resources for emotional support.
 

INTRODUCTION:

As we consider the emotion experience of college, it is important to consider what is meant by emotions. The term emotion is often used interchangeably with affect, feeling, mood, sentiment, and perception. Although it is difficult to define emotions, for our purposes, we can simply say that emotions represent feelings, moods, and attitudes.

If you were to consider how you are feeling right now, what would you say? How do you feel after completing a long assignment, or when you fail a test? Your answers to these questions probably identify feelings, and these represent or describe your emotional experience.

It is likely that you have personal feelings about yourself, others, past experiences, present circumstances, and future expectations. It is also likely that you have a certain way of expressing and experiencing your emotions. As you learn and think about the college experience, consider your own emotional reaction. What are you excited about? What are you worried about? What aspects of the college experience do you find concerning? As you consider and become more aware of your own emotional experience, you will be better prepared for the emotional landscape of the college experience.

KEY QUESTIONS:

Several key questions are important to help you identify common and potential emotional experiences related to college, and the internal and external resources available for emotional support. These are:

  1. What is the college experience like?
  2. How do ones emotions impact the college experience?
  3. What can be done to prepare for or prevent emotional distress?
  4. What can I do support myself emotionally?
  5. What resources are available to provide emotional support?
  6. How am I doing emotionally?

What is the college experience like?

The college experience presents some major life transitions for students. College students usually experience one or more of the following, if not all!

  • Being away from home for the first time
  • Experiencing a new social environment
  • Adjusting to a new living arrangement with others
  • Finding and pursuing a career path
  • Adjusting to a new and more stringent academic setting
  • New employment

Each of these life changes includes many additional circumstances and experiences. For example, in experiencing the new social environment of college, a student may develop an intimate relationship. Given the number and significance of the life changes involved with college, is it any wonder that college can be a very emotional experience?

In a study conducted by Murff (2005), stress in the college experience was separated into the following four categories: intrapersonal, interpersonal, academic, and environmental. This particular study identified some of the most common stressors for college students. Some of the stressors from the study are listed below, including others not indicated in the study. In considering the following stress related experiences and circumstances, try to think of the emotional response that you might have should you experience these yourself.

  1. Intrapersonal
    1. Change in sleeping habits
    2. Change in eating habits
    3. New responsibilities
    4. Financial difficulties
    5. Speaking in public
    6. Change in substance use (alcohol or drugs)
    7. Outstanding personal achievement
    8. Health problems
  2. Interpersonal
    1. Lack of social involvement
    2. Being subject to prejudice or discrimination
    3. Rejection from someone
    4. Change in social activities
    5. Roommate conflict
    6. Work with people you don’t know
    7. Fight with boyfriend/girlfriend
    8. New boyfriend/girlfriend
    9. Trouble with parents
  3. Academic
    1. Increased class workload
    2. Increased expectations
    3. Excessive homework
    4. Lower grades than expected
    5. Failing a test
    6. Change of major
    7. Search for graduate school/job
    8. Missing classes
    9. Difficulty with instructor
    10. Difficulty comprehending course content
  4. Environmental
    1. Finding your way around campus
    2. Difficulty accessing available services
    3. Computer problems
    4. Placed in unfamiliar situation
    5. Messy living conditions
    6. Change in living environment
    7. Car trouble
    8. Job loss
    9. Vacation/breaks

What has been, or what do you think might be, your emotional response to the circumstances listed above? Some emotional responses you might have thought of could be confused, frustrated, angry, worried, sad, lonely, nervous, or stressed. Whatever your response may be, the college experience clearly provides a diversity of experiences and settings that elicits a variety of emotional responses. For many students, the resulting emotional responses may become persistent and then overwhelming.

How do ones emotions impact the college experience?

In considering how your emotions can impact your college experience, it will be helpful to consider how your emotions impact you in general. To examine this, think of a time when you have experienced a strong emotional reaction. The reaction may have been temporary or persistent. As an example, it may have been when you ended a relationship, or after you had an argument with a parent. For whatever the circumstance you are thinking of, consider what were you doing at that time? Were you working or studying? Then consider how your emotional state affected your motivation and/or ability to work, study, socialize, or function in some other capacity?

Many studies have addressed various aspects of the college student experience. Recent studies have shown that more than 50% of university students report feeling depressed shortly after they begin their studies (Morrison & O’Conner, 2005). Studies have also shown that the stress of the college experience often leads to anxiety, suicidal ideation, hopelessness, and physical health issues (Deckro et al., 2002).

As emotional distress intensifies and persists, students coping skills begin to wear down, academic performance declines, and other areas of function and responsibility also decrease. We can now begin to see that some level of emotional stability is important for performance, health, and function as a college student. Because the college experience can be very emotional, and because emotional stability is important for functioning, it is important to consider what can be done to prevent emotional distress. If distress does occur, it is important to consider what can be done for emotional support. These considerations will help you to achieve emotional wellness and academic success.

What can be done to prepare for or prevent emotional distress?

One of the best ways to deal with emotional distress is to prevent it altogether. After you have read and participated in this reading, you will have already begun the process of preventing emotional distress by simply becoming more aware of the transitions, circumstances, and emotional experiences associated with college. Knowing what to anticipate increases the chances that you will recognize the transitions, challenges, and emotional responses as they occur, and you will therefore be better prepared to address them. Hopefully, you will also begin now to gain more personal awareness of your own emotional process.

The process of preparing for or preventing emotional distress is a proactive one, which means that you take some control of the situation by taking initiative. This process also includes reflection, or the use of a personal inventory. The following example illustrates this process:

Jim will be attending a college in another city this fall that he has visited only once, which means that he is not very familiar with the campus. Jim is worried that he will not be able to find his way to all of his classes. Because Jim uses a wheelchair, Jim is also worried that he will not be able to quickly find access to all of the classes he is scheduled to attend. Jim has imagined himself arriving to class late, and having everyone in the class stare at him. Jim thinks that this is a bad way for him to start his college experience.

You will notice in the example that Jim is having an emotional response to circumstances related to college- he is worried or scared. It is likely that Jim’s emotions will be more intense on the first day of classes. Wanting to prepare for or prevent the continuation of this emotional response, Jim could determine to go to campus early to map out his classes. Jim could even time himself moving between classes, find where he will have easy access with his wheelchair, and check out each classroom. Jim’s awareness through the self inventory will help him to know where and how to be proactive in dealing with his emotions.

Now it is your turn. Take a moment to take a personal inventory of your emotions regarding the college experience. Some potential inventory items will be things that you are nervous or concerned about. If you have a fear or concern, you can choose to confront that fear by making it a matter of initiative now. If the college experience is distant for you, it may be easier for you to consider potentially difficult situations rather than your current emotional response. For each situation, think of how you could be proactive by taking some control of the situation. Only some possible inventory items are listed, including how preventative, preparative measures might be taken.

  • Finances- This is a common source of stress for college students. You can prepare for this issue by determining the cost of college attendance, making employment plans, looking into financial aid (best if done early), and preparing a personal budget. What other measures would you take to proactively deal with this issue?
  • Travel- You can become oriented to campus and specific personal needs by finding public transportation and by identifying necessary physical needs (elevator, wheelchair ramps, etc.). This can be done before school starts.
  • Safety- College campuses often present some safety concerns. Finding well lighted areas to park, knowing public transportation times, and having a cell phone may be ways to relieve stress and prevent the emotional distress of having personal safety compromised.

As you continue to take a personal inventory, you will discover other areas of emotional concern that may be prevented or lessened through a proactive approach. Other sources of support are helpful to prevent and deal with emotional distress.

What can I do support myself emotionally?

The following list describes some things that can be done to provide emotional support for the self.

  • Family Support- While college can be a big transition, it can be helpful to keep regular contact with family and friends. Such close relationships are helpful for sharing emotions and having affirming experiences. If visits are not always feasible, making a regular time for phone contact can be a source of support and comfort.
  • Spiritual Involvement- Participating in familiar or new spiritual activities can be rejuvenating.
  • Club/Association Involvement- Joining a club or association allows for opportunities to socialize with people who share similar interests. Many clubs or organizations are also involved in community service projects, which can be a source of personal gratification.
  • Exercise/Diet- Eating healthy and exercising help to ward off stress and promote feelings of personal wellness. Some examples of exercise are a personal workout plan, a walk in the evening or involvement in intramural activities.
  • Affirming Activities- These are activities that highlight personal strengths and qualities, bring about warm emotions, and help a person to feel good. It may be as simple as engaging in a favorite activity or surrounding the self with favorite “things.” Another example is keeping a “personal strength” file, where qualities, compliments, or achievements are stored in a file and are available for remembrance when emotional support is needed.
  • Mentoring/Tutoring- Students can benefit emotionally from providing and/or receiving mentoring and tutoring services.

What resources are available to provide emotional support?

While there is much that can be done individually to provide emotional support, sometimes the emotional load becomes overwhelming, and it may seem to be beyond personal ability to deal with. It is important to remember that this response does not signify emotional failure. What it does signify is that another source of support is necessary.

At this time it may be helpful to visit with a mental health professional, such as a counselor. It is important to remember that colleges have counseling centers for students. Very often these centers provide free counseling for students. If you are struggling with your emotions to the extent that your functioning decreases, it is proactive and healthy to visit a professional. Just as you would visit a doctor to deal with physical symptoms, it is appropriate to visit a counselor to deal with emotional symptoms.

How am I doing emotionally?

In order for you to take advantage of emotional supports, it will be helpful to be able understand how you are doing emotionally. As mentioned earlier, personal awareness through reflection and personal inventories will help to get a picture of your emotional state. Besides a personal assessment or evaluation, it can also be helpful to get feedback from family members and friends who know you well. If you notice that certain areas of your life are struggling, it may be time to take a personal inventory of you emotional state, and then seek support as you think necessary.

In seeking emotional support, it can also be helpful to know what areas of your life are in need of support. One way to take an inventory of this is to use a wellness wheel. The Wellness Wheel was suggested by Dr. Bill Hettler, and depicts six important areas of functioning.

In order to use the wheel, take a writing utensil and start at the center point of the wheel where all the lines meet. For each area of functioning, shade in the pie-shaped area to the extent that you think that you are functioning. For example, if you exercise regularly and feel physically well, you may shade in nearly all of the physical section. More shading in a section represents better functioning in that area. Once you have shaded in each section to match your current level if functioning, you will have a visual image of how you are doing. Some sections may be less shaded than others, and these are the areas that may need improvement or attention. As you use a wellness wheel consider the following points:

  • Not all areas of functioning are as important during different phases of life (for example, occupation may not be as important during college)
  • A wheel rolls more smoothly when it is round, or well balanced
  • The level of function in each area can change in a short amount of time 

Source: http://www.law.georgetown.edu/campus-life/health-wellness/center-for-wellness-promotion/upload/Wellness-Meal.pdf

REVIEW/SUMMARY:

In considering the emotional experience of college, we have identified several themes that will help to provide emotional support. These themes are summarized as follows:

  1. Personal Awareness- We identified what an emotional experience is, as well as some of the important and likely transitions and experiences involved with college. We combined emotion and experience by exploring the personal emotional reaction to college experiences. Self inventories and reflection helped us through this process.
  2. Personal Initiative- We discussed the ways that prevention through self initiative and involvement can provide emotional support. Examples of sources and activities for emotional support were provided.
  3. Personal Balance- You may have noted that the activities and supports involve many different categories. Paying attention to each category helps to provide balance.

ONLINE MATERIALS/RESOURCES:

More on the wellness wheel:

Emotional Wellness:

ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION:

Take a moment now to relax, take a deep breath, exhale, and thoughtfully make your personal inventories:

  1. List out your stressors, or the items that make you anxious, worried, or concerned in the four areas we discussed: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Academic, and Environmental.
  2. For each item list what you think causes you to feel concerned, discomforted, or stressed out about that particular item.
  3. Now that you can see your concerns listed and some of their causes, what suggestions can you give yourself to help you take control of the situation (feel free to check back and visit the suggestions offered).
  4. List who may be helpful in assisting you to overcome your concerns or help support you as you work through your items of stressors? If you are not sure of who could help you directly who might you go to for recommendations? Make a date to call or visit them and ask for their suggestions.
  5. Lastly shade in your own Wellness Wheel. How is your life rolling?

WRAP UP:

In considering the emotional experience of college, we have identified several themes that will help to provide emotional support. These themes are summarized as follows:

  1. Personal Awareness- We identified what an emotional experience is, as well as some of the important and likely transitions and experiences involved with college. We combined emotion and experience by exploring the personal emotional reaction to college experiences. Self inventories and reflection helped us through this process.
  2. Personal Initiative- We discussed the ways that prevention through self initiative and involvement can provide emotional support. Examples of sources and activities for emotional support were provided.
  3. Personal Balance- You may have noted that the activities and supports involve many different categories. Paying attention to each category helps to provide balance

Becoming more aware of the college experience and your own emotional process will allow you to make emotional preparations. Emotional preparedness and wellness is increased when you take an active role in seeking out supports. The college experience is an emotional experience, and the better you are at finding and taking advantage of emotional supports, the more successful and enjoyable your college experience will be.

REFFERENCES:

Deckro, G.R., Ballinger, K.M., Hoyt, M., Wilcher, M., Dusek, J., Myers, P., Greenberg, B.,Rosenthal, D., Benson, H., (2002). The evaluation of a mind/body intervention to reduce psychological distress and perceived stress in college students. Journal of American College Health, 50, 281-287.

Hettler, Bill. (n.d.) Wellness Wheel. Retrieved from http://www.law.georgetown.edu/campus-life/health-wellness/center-for-wellness-promotion/upload/Wellness-Meal.pdf

Morrison, R., O’Conner, R.C. (2005). Predicting psychological distress in college students: The role of rumination and stress. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61, 447-460.

Murff, S.H. (2005). The impact of stress on academic success in college students. ABNF


This document made possible in part by the support of The HSC Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation dedicated to expanding access andsuccess in education beyond high school. HEATH is affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development.The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The HSC Foundation. No official endorsement by the Foundation or ofany product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted if appropriate credit to the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center is included in all copies.