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By: Mary Hoofnagle, M.A., NCC, LPC-Intern
With the first official day of fall barely behind us, it’s likely we are all still experiencing some adjustment stress. But students feel this most of all.
As the pile of homework begins to grow, an interesting thing happens. Our desire to complete it decreases at the same rate. This can lead to procrastination. Procrastination leads to stress and anxiety as deadlines loom, and shame and defeat once unmet deadlines pass. Here are three strategies to cope with homework stress:
- Plan, plan, plan. This seems like wasted time to many students. Why would I spend time writing in a calendar and organizing my time when I need to use that time to do the work? Well, it’s like one of my manager’s used to say, “Hope is not a plan.” If we don’t make a clear cut plan, the reality is nothing gets done. We are merely hoping it will. A plan, however, takes hope and turns it into results. How? Well, for starters a plan manages your time. If you devote two hours each night to homework without any other distractions, you’ll be surprised how much more you get done than if you vaguely decide in the moment, “I think I’ll work on homework for a bit.” Plus, you actually end up with more free time because your work time is more efficient. Furthermore, a plan holds you accountable. If you write out a clear cut plan, you have to actively decide to skip your work for something else. That makes it a little more challenging to avoid responsibility.
- Manage Anxiety. Many times when students are working and they face a challenge, the panic button gets triggered. This panic button can lead to lots of negative self-talk. Students will tell themselves they are stupid and can’t get anything right… which very quickly leads to “there’s no point in even trying.” Here are a few steps to manage this anxiety loop for yourself, or your child:
Step one: notice the anxiety and acknowledge it. Without doing this, you can’t manage it. Once you recognize that this is the real reason for your reaction, take a moment to calm yourself.
Step two: remember that you are not meant to already know this. You are learning. The process of learning includes failing. We have to fail forward. Challenges and problems are really opportunities for growth, not indicators of inferiority. One counselor I know calls them probletunities. We need to find what’s holding us back in each challenge because that’s the place we need to grow right now.
Step three: replace your discouraging thoughts with encouraging ones. For example, when you think “I’ll never get this,” remember it is a false statement and remind yourself of the truth. What is the truth? Well, that depends, but here are some options: “When I finally figure this out, the hard work will feel worth it.” Or, “I’m really going to understand _____ when I’m done with this.” Or, “I’m glad I can ask my teacher about this part here tomorrow. That’s the part that keeps getting me stuck.” When you change your thinking about the situation, the panic button won’t even go off anymore. And don’t forget to acknowledge the growth after it happens with thoughts like “I really understand ____ now.” As a parent, you can make these statements out loud to your child when you hear him or her making the negative statements.
- If you are a parent, don’t solve problems for your child. This can be so difficult. As a parent you want to protect your children from experiencing hardship. But hardships are probletunities again. And we need them to learn necessary life skills so we can function on our own later. If your child has gotten himself or herself into a sticky situation with late work, let him or her come up with a plan and execute it on his or her own. This let’s your child know you trust him to work it out and you believe he is capable. You should oversee the process. Check in and ask about it. Ask questions to help her generate a plan. But you should not step in and bail him or her out. This only reinforces the idea that you will always be there to fix mistakes, which ensures that mistakes will continue to be made. Fixing our own mistakes is what helps us avoid the same ones in the future. As an added bonus research suggests that utilizing problem solving skills actually decreases the likelihood that your child will develop symptoms of depression.
Many students may be experiencing back to school blues differently than they ever have because they are transitioning to college for the first time. This can be difficult for parents as well. As homesickness grows it can be overwhelming for the parent and the child. A recent article in Psychology Today talks about homesickness, but I’d like to briefly hit a couple key points:
Homesickness is not about missing home. It’s about transition. I don’t mean to say your children don’t miss you, or as a student you don’t miss your parents. Those feelings are real. But the gravity of them is exaggerated. When you are in transition between two worlds you feel everything more. Plus you have new feelings you don’t yet understand as you separate and stand on your own two feet. And these feelings get lumped together with the feeling of missing your family, friends, house, etc. You are outside of your comfort zone, so the safety of your comfort zone becomes more desirable. Give it time and you will adjust and the feelings will fade. They will come back in waves though. As you develop a new comfort zone away from home, challenges will arise that force you to step out and stretch your new zone further. This can trigger feelings of longing for your old comfort zone at home because it was more predictable.
Your job as a parent is not to make these painful feelings go away. These feelings are growing pains, and we need them to grow. As a parent you need to listen to the feelings, reflect them, normalize them, and encourage your child to stick with it and wait them out. As a parent who misses your son or daughter, you may feel like encouraging her to visit home as often as possible to ease her pain and yours at the same time. Be careful of this. If your child is feeling lonely this weekend, encourage him to stay on campus and build new relationships and develop a comfort zone there. There’s always the following weekend for a visit home if he’s still feeling homesick.
Do feel that you need any assistance with back to school blues? If so, Just Mind is dedicated to meeting your needs. You can contact us to make a counseling appointment. We also offer anxiety counseling and personal growth counseling to help you manage easier. If you liked this post, you can also read Back to School Blues and Stress Relief for Adults.