The College Student’s Survival Kit: De-stress for Success
By Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel
The entire arduous admission’s process along with the everlasting suspenseful waiting period yields the envelope - “Congratulations…” You are excited to send them off to college and they are excited to go. Reality happens later - grades, fraternities and sororities, noisy dorms, money problems, laundry, drinking, smoking and the famous freshmen “fifteen pounds” weight gain - sometimes mononucleosis and other illnesses! You’ve packed the bags, sent the packages with all of the essential equipment (laptop, stereo, cell phone), but what about the emotional survival kit? Your fledgling collegiate has to be equipped to handle stress, anxiety, anger, depression and fun.
Sending your child off to college is almost like sending him or her off to combat. Perhaps, the adolescent has a good academic grounding, but does he have the basic training for survival skills? Can he achieve balance physically and mentally?
Think of the college student as someone emerging from the cocoon into great freedom and opportunity, but there are also predators. You will not be there to protect him or her, to guide the way. However, you can prepare your adolescent for the perilous journey by sending along a special survival kit.
First, pack a prepaid membership to a gym along with an exercise book. Exercise releases pent up tensions, helps a worried youngster think more clearly and raises endorphins to combat that hopeless, I’ll never pass an exam or make a fraternity feeling. Strength training, specifically, increases focus and physical empowerment which will translate into academic empowerment and self-esteem. That means the new recruit will less likely submit to a demeaning fraternity hazing, or an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend. In addition, those who exercise, whether doing aerobics or lifting weights, get fewer colds and infections.
Second, pack some reflective CD’s with background sounds from nature, or new age music like Kitaro along with a book of meditations. Just five minutes per day of still time as your child practices meditating or visualizing positive images and affirmations will help calm frazzled nerves. Your child will feel relaxed enough to think of solutions to problems instead of expending energy by incessant worry. Over time meditation will cognitively rewire the brain to generate more positive perception. Meditation has made the cover of Time Magazine - so you know that it has received mainstream validation—and is not something that only Buddhists do. By the way Buddhists have proven to be some of the happiest people on earth. Here is a suggested approach to meditation.
The 5 P’s of Meditation:
- The Passage - an inspirational quote from the Bible or a poem
- The Place - create a little space on your desk, a photo, flower, or knick-knack to look at
- The Posture - Sit comfortably, but dignified; you don’t need the Lotus position
- The Presence - be receptive to spirituality
- The Passage - if you are disturbed by noise, read the quote again
Next, include a one page diet! All of us eat when our hearts are empty. Food is comforting and reminiscent of home. However, white processed foods, sugar and fat play havoc with insulin levels and serve as stimulants to an already nervous youngster.
- List the complex carbohydrates like brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, etc to educate your child as to what will raise serotonin levels and keep the body continuously fueled.
- List the lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs and low fat cheeses.
- Inform your child of the rainbow diet of fruits and vegetables to provide him or her with the necessary phyto-chemicals for good health.
- Start him or her off with a package of bottled water and if your adolescent is a big juice drinker which contains a lot of sugar and calories, then suggest that the juice be diluted with water.
- Remind the student that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that research shows that those who skip breakfast gain weight! I don’t mean a breakfast of donuts and coffee!
Title your one page diet, the Balanced Diet. The key word is balance—no deprivation and adequate hydration (about 8 cups of water per day) to combat the munchies and fatigue. Instead of late night pizza or ice-cream while studying/cramming, substitute yogurt, cereal, fruit and nuts. Peanut butter on whole wheat with low sugar fruit jelly provides a filling, happy meal from childhood. Surprisingly people lose weight eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because they are so gratifying and fuel the body for a longer time. Remind your collegiate to fill up on spirituality instead of empty calories to avoid the freshmen fifteen. Extra weight means another emotional burden.
If money is scarce and provides an added tension, there are student loans available which are payable after graduation. Place pre-filled out forms in an envelope to facilitate the process. In addition, there is the time-honored Puritan ethic of working your way through school. Create a suggested list of part-time jobs that could be available on and off campus to help your child get some extra cash.
Sometimes the home front has not provided a secure haven - the kind an adolescent would wish; divorce, illness, and parental employment at home contribute additional stressors. It becomes a tale of two bustling, disruptive cities, home life and campus life. This is an ideal occasion for you to write a beautiful inspirational card advising your son and daughter to re-parent the self. Leaving the nest means learning how to move beyond self-doubts and fears to become one’s own parent - to truly love the self and discover a newfound sense of personal identity. We constantly give birth to ourselves.
Finally, place something orange in your child’s suitcase, such as a tee shirt, poster, stuffed animal, or silk flower. Orange is the color of cheerfulness and will uplift your child’s spirits subconsciously. Add a joke book or funny video. Humor defuses many negative situations. “The reason angels can fly is that they take themselves lightly”—G. K. Chesterton.
If your child still feels despondent, cut adrift, or overwhelmed, lovingly suggest that he seek on-campus psychological counseling. An objective professional who has experience with the trials and tribulations of campus life will present concrete suggestions to restore balance.
The aim of this kit is to turn on your child’s inner light to foster self-esteem and positive perception. When you believe in your ability, you perform well. When you honestly confront your limitations, faith in your spirit will help you to more than compensate by working on your capabilities. Positive perception generates an electric energy. After all, as Thomas Edison said, “Success means trying one more time…”
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB 1240AM in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com