This is “Emotional Health and Happiness”, section 10.6 from the book Success in College (v. 1.0).
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Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health—and maybe more so. If you’re unhappy much of the time, you will not do as well as in college—or life—as you can if you’re happy. You will feel more stress, and your health will suffer.
Still, most of us are neither happy nor unhappy all the time. Life is constantly changing, and our emotions change with it. But sometimes we experience more negative emotions than normally, and our emotional health may suffer. Use the Emotional Self-Assessment to evaluate your emotional health.
Check the appropriate boxes.
|1. I sometimes feel anxious or depressed—without disruption of my everyday life.|
|2. I sometimes feel so anxious or depressed that I have trouble with routine activities.|
|3. I sometimes feel lonely.|
|4. I sometimes feel that I have little control over my life.|
|5. I have sometimes just wanted to give up.|
|6. Negative emotions have sometimes kept me from studying or getting my work done.|
|7. Negative emotions have affected my relationships with others.|
Write your answers.
Describe your emotional mood on most days.
Describe what you’d ideally like to feel like all the time.
What specific things are keeping you from feeling what you’d ideally like to feel like most of the time?
Are you happy with your relationships with others?
What do you think you can do to be a happier person?
When is an emotion problematic? Is it bad to feel anxious about a big test coming up or to feel sad after breaking up a romantic relationship?
It is normal to experience negative emotions. College students face so many demands and stressful situations that many naturally report often feeling anxious, depressed, or lonely. These emotions become problematic only when they persist and begin to affect your life in negative ways. That’s when it’s time to work on your emotional health—just as you’d work on your physical health when illness strikes.
AnxietyFeelings of worry, tension, and nervousness with or without a specific focus of concern; severe or persistent anxiety can be a mental disorder. is one of the most common emotions college students experience, often as a result of the demands of college, work, and family and friends. It’s difficult to juggle everything, and you may end up feeling not in control, stressed, and anxious.
Anxiety typically results from stressA natural response of the body and mind to a demand or challenge, often associated with feelings of tension and negative emotions.. Some anxiety is often a good thing if it leads to studying for a test, focusing on a problem that needs to be resolved, better management your time and money, and so on. But if anxiety disrupts your focus and makes you freeze up rather than take action, then it may become problematic. Using stress-reduction techniques often helps reduce anxiety to a manageable level.
Anxiety is easier to deal with when you know its cause. Then you can take steps to gain control over the part of your life causing the anxiety. But anxiety can become excessive and lead to a dread of everyday situations. There are five types of more serious anxiety:
These five types of anxiety go beyond the normal anxiety everyone feels at some times. If you feel your anxiety is like any of these, see your health-care provider. Effective treatments are available to help you regain control.
LonelinessAn emotional state of sadness and feeling isolated from or not connected to others. is a normal feeling that most people experience at some time. College students away from home for the first time are likely to feel lonely at first. Older students may also feel lonely if they no longer see their old friends. Loneliness involves not feeling connected with others. One person may need only one friend to not feel lonely; others need to feel more connected with a group. There’s no set pattern for feeling lonely.
If you are feeling lonely, there are many things you can do to meet others and feel connected. Don’t sit alone in your room bemoaning the absence of friends. That will only cause more stress and emotional distress. You will likely start making new friends through going to classes, working, studying, and living in the community. But you can jump-start that process by taking active steps such as these:
If your loneliness persists and you seem unable to make friends, then it’s a good idea to talk with your counselor or someone at the student health center. They can help.
DepressionA despondent emotional state with feelings of pessimism and sometimes feelings of inadequacy; severe or persistent depression affecting one’s daily life can be a mental disorder., like anxiety and loneliness, is commonly experienced by college students. It may be a mild sadness resulting from specific circumstances or be intense feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Many people feel depressed from time to time because of common situations:
Depression, like stress, can lead to unhealthy consequences such as poor sleep, overeating or loss of appetite, substance abuse, relationship problems, or withdrawal from activities that formerly brought joy. For most people, depression is a temporary state. But severe depression can have crippling effects. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but the following are most common:
If you have feelings like this that last for weeks at a time and affect your daily life, your depression is more severe than “normal,” temporary depression. It’s time to see your health-care provider and get treatment as you would for any other illness.
Severe depression often makes a person feel there is no hope—and therefore many people with depression do not seek help. In reality, depression can be successfully treated, but only if the person seeks help.
Suicidal feelings, which can result from severe depression, are more common in college students than in the past. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in American college students (after accidents). In most cases, the person had severe depression and was not receiving treatment. Recognizing severe depression and seeking treatment is crucial.
Depression can strike almost anyone at any age at any kind of college. It is a myth that high-pressure colleges have higher suicide rates or that students who feel compelled to excel because of college pressures are more likely to commit suicide. In reality, anyone can be ill with severe depression and, if not treated, become suicidal.
Following are risk factors for suicide:
If you or a friend is in a crisis and needs help at any time, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.
If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help by calling the hotline number. Many campuses also have twenty-four-hour resources. In an emergency, call 911. Try to ensure that the person does not have access to a firearm or other potential tool for suicide, including medications.
Emotional balance is an essential element of wellnessA state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease.—and for succeeding in college. Emotional balance doesn’t mean that you never experience a negative emotion, because these emotions are usually natural and normal. Emotional balance means we balance the negative with the positive, that we can be generally happy even if we’re saddened by some things.
Emotional balance starts with being aware of our emotions and understanding them. If you’re feeling angry, stop and think about the real cause of your anger. Are you really angry because your friend said something about one of your bad habits, or are you angry because you haven’t been able to break that habit? Are you feeling anxiety because you’re worried you might not be cut out for college, or are you just anxious about that test tomorrow?
See the “Tips for Success” for other ways you can achieve and maintain a healthy emotional balance.
Romantic relationships are often as much a part of a rich emotional life for college students as for anyone else. But the added challenges of college, especially while also working and maintaining a family life, often stress these relationships. You may have to give extra attention to a relationship to keep it healthy and avoid conflicts that lead to unhappiness and other problems.
Ideally, a healthy relationship should have these characteristics:
These positive characteristics of a good relationship don’t happen overnight. The relationship may begin with romantic attraction and only slowly develop into a trusting, mutually supportive friendship as well. The following signs may indicate that a dating relationship is not developing well:
If you recognize that any of these things are happening with someone you’re dating, it may be time to reconsider, even if you still feel attracted. Any relationship that begins this way is not likely to end well.
In any friendship or relationship, conflict will eventually happen. This is just natural because people are different. If a conflict is ignored, or the partners just argue without resolving it, it may simmer and continue to cause tension, eventually weakening the relationship. It’s better to take steps to resolve it.
Conflict resolutionA step-by-step process designed to resolve a dispute or disagreement. is a process of understanding what’s really going on and then finding a solution. The same general steps of conflict resolution can work to solve a relationship conflict or a conflict between any people or groups because of a disagreement about anything. Following are the general principles of conflict resolution:
Can your relationship survive if you and your partner are living at a distance? This is a common issue for young people going off to college at different schools—and for older college students, too, who may move because of work or school. Sometimes the relationship survives, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important, if you’re making an effort to stay together, for both partners to accept that being apart will add new pressures on the relationship. Accept also that both of you will be changing in many ways. You may naturally grow apart and decide to break up.
Yet often long-distance relationships do survive successfully. If you do decide to work to keep your relationship alive and vibrant, there are things you can do:
For each of the following statements about emotional health, circle T for true or F for false:
|T||F||Anxiety is always a mental health disorder.|
|T||F||It’s normal to feel depressed sometimes about the pressures of studying, working, and other obligations in your life.|
|T||F||When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to keep to yourself and not try to connect with others until after these feelings pass.|
|T||F||If someone says he is feeling suicidal, he is only seeking attention and is unlikely to actually try to kill himself.|
List at least two things you can do to make new friends at college.
Describe three characteristics of a good relationship.
List the six steps for effective conflict resolution.