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How to Help Your Pandemic-Frustrated College Student

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Photo courtesy of Marist College

Parents of college students are in a situation they never thought they’d be in. Their recently launched offspring are now back in the family nest, and perhaps not happy to be there. College seniors are facing delayed graduations and a bleak job market; they’re also aware that they’re living through a crisis — and they may need support.

“Going to college puts students in a developmental trajectory toward independence, and this virus has interrupted that trajectory,” says Elizabeth Quinn, PhD, LMHC, associate professor of psychology at Marist College. “It returns them to the safety of homes, where the roles of parent and child can resume and development may regress.”

Quinn suggests bonding by sharing frustrations and supporting the emotions young adults are feeling. “As a professor who teaches seniors, I’m heartbroken for the loss of their senior year. That’s what this is: A tremendous loss,” she says. “As such, we must allow students to grieve. Don’t say, ‘You’ll get over it.’ They won’t. They’ll simply learn to live with the reality of losing senior year.” 

Encourage them to stay in touch with friends; having something to work toward can keep them engaged and hopeful, too. “Empowerment means rather than acting as passive victims, we strive to find meaning in our experience. Hope is important at times like this,” Quinn says.

Students fearing an uncertain job market can work on building proficiencies and possibly gaining experience online to strengthen their skill sets. “An important thing to remind them of is that they’re in the same situation as students across the U.S.,” says Wendy Freedman, PhD, director of Vassar College Counseling Service. “Grad schools and employers will recognize that. You’re not behind; you’re in line with your peers.”

Beyond learning and preparing for the future, it’s important for students to engage in self-care practices that promote physical and mental wellness. “College students are very tuned-in to the world; it’s important for them to find balance between staying informed and taking necessary breaks,” Freedman says. “Having healthy routines like getting enough sleep, being in nature, practicing mindfulness and spirituality all help. But these are all necessary for parents, too. Our children look to us; when we’re able to manage our own anxiety and engage in self-care, we help children manage their own stress.”

A Letter to Students, Good Advice for Everyone

Here are some excerpts from tips that the Vassar College Counseling Service sent to their students. These are great things to keep in mind for individuals of any age.

Having a routine can be very important for our mental health. The routine does not have to be rigid, but can help us to develop a rhythm that will settle us. Give yourself permission and time to settle into a new routine and to find your grounding.

• Even when physically distancing, having digital social contact with others is very important. Consider setting up daily phone calls or video chats with friends and loved ones.

• Eat healthy food, get a good night’s sleep, and exercise daily. If you have the option to be in nature away from other people, go for a walk or run or sit outside.

• Consider starting a mindfulness or meditation practice.

• If spirituality is a part of your life, consider engaging in a regular practice.

• Find creative outlets. There are free art classes being offered online. Journal, handcraft, create a vision board, etc.

• Engage your mind. Read a book for pleasure. Try Sudoku or crossword puzzles. Research an area of interest.

• Avoid unhealthy coping strategies such as numbing emotions through substances or addictive behaviors.