No Matter How Much Uncertainty Surrounds College This Fall
Written by Dr. Christina Z. Atti, PsyD—Licensed Clinical Psychologist
We are all questioning the uncertainty of what the future holds during these unprecedented times, Dr. Christina Atti has some good advice for us.
The current pandemic has proven to be psychologically draining for college students, and recent graduates, who are worried about their futures. So many questions go unanswered like “When will I be able to return to school? WILL I be able to go back? Can I see my friends? Should I look for a job?”.
A lot is out of our control and many facets of our lives are being impacted including school, work, finances, socializing, and travel. Waiting in limbo can create a lot of stress, anxiety, fear, and depression, and that may leave some in unchartered territories on how to cope. Be gentle with yourself, but also acknowledge that you are already navigating this; you are building resiliency and you did not even realize it!
Thinking about the future does not create anxiety; thinking about how to CONTROL the future does. Instead, focus on identifying: (1) what do I have control over and (2) what can I change. Control your controllables. For example, wake up and/or go to bed at the same time; do some form of exercise each day; limit the amount of time watching tv or being on social media; call or facetime 1-2 friends each day.
Accept your situation. There is a term called “radical acceptance” which basically means, I do not have to like this or agree with this, but I do have to accept that it is happening. This can include accepting having to stay away from family and friends, being stressed or anxious, or not being able to travel. Ground yourself by acknowledging that this is NOT just happening to you; the universality of what is happening around us can be comforting for many (i.e., we are all in this together).
Normalize your reality, including your emotions, and remind yourself it is perfectly normal to be feeling however you are feeling right now. Having a hard time feeling less stressed, anxious, or sad? Check your thought process; we cannot believe everything that we think. When left unchecked, our thoughts might get the better of us and amplify negative emotions. For example, we might catastrophize or over-generalize our current situation by thinking things like “this is never going to end”, “I’m going to be alone forever”, or “I’m always going to feel this way”. By sitting in thoughts like these, we are distorting our reality by making things up.
Instead of just marinating in faulty, negative thinking, try reframing such thoughts. “While I may be currently dealing with isolation or feelings of loneliness, I have no evidence that this will never end”. “I might be alone right now, as I do my part in staying home to stop the spread, but other parts of the country and world are starting to re-integrate as the rate of infection decreases; this will likely be true for where I live also”. “I’m feeling sad right now, but I’ve been through tough things in the past and have been able to feel happy again”. Finding ways to reframe our thoughts are super important. Again remember, we cannot believe everything we think.
Ok to not be OK
Self-awareness is a beautiful thing and it is OK to not be OK. If zoning-out and binge-watching your favorite Netflix show is a welcome distraction, then go for it. Find comfort in getting out a coloring book and coloring like a 4-year-old? Then do it! Exercise, read a book, listen to music, journal, bake, go for a walk, learn a new skill; distraction is key right now. However, if you find that you are struggling to cope with current events, reach out to a mental health professional who can help support you in finding ways to do so. You can find a local provider in your area by asking friends or family for a recommendation, and you can also do a simple Google search; your student counseling center might also be a great resource as well. Warmlines were created to give people support when they just need to talk to someone. These warmlines are run by people who understand what it is like to struggle with mental health issues and focus on early intervention with the emotional support that can help prevent a crisis; find a warmline in your area at warmline.org If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text MHA to 7417-741. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health so make it a priority; you are worth it.
You may also want to read my blog, Mental Health Issues in College Students in which I share information to help students (and parents) identify potential mental health issues and some resources to locate valuable resources. I also include a PDF of the resources.
Dr. Christina Atti is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and has a private practice in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. She works closely with college students and enjoys helping them find their unique way, in this complex world. You can contact her: DrAtti.com DrChristinaAtti@gmail.com 954-320-0173. Pass on these great tips, tell your friends and like us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Find out more about how to use HaveUHeard as a great resource. Sign up for other great tips at haveuheard.com.