Courtesy // CC

University is the almighty transition between adolescence and adulthood. It is easy to think that once a student goes off to university, they are fully-fledged adults. From the ecstasy of frosh week and club days, to freaking out over exams just a few short weeks later – university can take take its emotional toll. It is no surprise that 1 in 5 university students have depression or anxiety.

Growing into Freshman can be emotionally challenging for students, considering the overflow of novel experiences they will live through, this comes as no surprise. As students transition from high school to university, they experience many firsts, including creating unique lifestyles, taking difficult decisions, shaping their future, making new friends, experiencing new cultures, setting financial plans, and the list could go on and on. Students may struggle if they can’t manage these firsts. Anyone who  can’t cope with all these emotions may end up feeling overwhelmed and thus depressed.

Depression symptoms include difficulty sleeping, not being able to get out of bed, appetite changes, loss of motivation, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating on school work. In addition, experiencing symptoms of depression for long periods of time without seeking assistance (professional or otherwise) may lead to thoughts of depression.

Welcome to Emotions 101! This course is not graded, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed not to pay attention (besides it is for your best interest). We will work on how to understand your different emotions (as paradoxical as it sounds), know how to manage them and learn about the different coping strategies. Let’s understand what emotional intelligence is all about and how it impacts your academic performance!

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI) ???

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand, manage and use emotions to facilitate thinking. The five main areas of EI include emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management, self-motivation, empathy and social skills. Different individuals will naturally react differently in certain scenarios be it at home, work, or university.

While at university,  you will often face situations that will make you feel inferior to others. Not all minds are created equally; some will absorb and comprehend information faster, while others require more time or explanation (spoiler alert: both are equally fine)  As such many students fall into the trap of comparing their own progress to their peers.

Emotional self-awareness helps identify internal reactions to external circumstances. For example a freshman might have been a top student at high school but ended up performing poorly in first year in university. If the student is not aware of such emotions of not being good enough, disappointment and helplessness, they may just end up depressed and angry rather than seek feedback and look into ways to improve and perform better. Another example would be the feeling of not belonging leading to isolation, impaired social interaction and feeling lonely. When students are aware of those emotions, they can take conscious decisions to cope.

Emotional self-management is how to react to any emotions and stressors. According to American Psychological Association, there are three types of stress. Acute stress is one that we all experience and live through; the stress spikes for a short period of time (such as running late in the morning) and passes, typically resulting in no damage.. Acute stress  is the most common form of stress which can actually be helpful by keeping you alert and focused.  Episodic acute stress is a recurring type of stress, happening over and over. It afflicts those who worry a lot of the time, in turn resulting in anxiety and possibly depression. Chronic stress is constant over a long period of time and certainly requires reaching out for help.

While going to university can be exciting, for some, the transition can be hard due to academic, social, and financial stressors leading to a high risk of mental illness. Some of the strategies students may use to manage their emotions are to develop a positive mindset and focus on achievements . As an example, every new class you take is going to present an opportunity for new interactions and learning experiences. If you manage how you feel, you will find it easier to less anxiously adjust to new situations.

There is a large (and growing) body of research that suggests that the skills of emotional intelligence are correlated with positive outcomes. According to Professor Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, emotions affect learning, decision-making, relationships, and health.  Among university students, skills of emotional intelligence are linked to engaging in fewer risky behaviours. In addition research shows that students with strong emotional intelligence (EI) are more likely to succeed academically and professionally (video).

Unhealthy Coping Patterns 

Majority of university students strive and try to handle the stress in a positive way. Whereas, some of the students do not know the ways to cope up with their problems and; therefore, adopt unhealthy ways.

According to a study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, students resorted to coping strategies such as “seeking sexual comfort (24%)”, “taking analgesics or minor tranquilizers without medical advice (15%)”, “to make themselves feel better by having a drink or two (10%)”, and “to make themselves feel better by taking mood elevating drugs (10%)”. The findings stated that 23% to 36% of the students advocate drinking when under stress; however, even a small percentage of students using this coping strategy may form a high risk group.

Coping Strategies for University Students

  • Set a healthy and productive routine to your day. Starting the day with a meditation session, a good breakfast and uplifting music can help you manage your day better. Achieving such small wins daily will help you stay motivated.
  • Make use of university resources for counselling as well as online resources such as 7 cups of tea and shezlong.
  • Let it all out! If you are feeling down or unable to get out of bed, don’t give up to such thoughts. Do something that you love. Play your favourite sport, draw, paint, break a sweat at the gym, compose music or write. Express your emotions and feelings by doing something that interests you even if nothing does.
  • Most importantly, making time for exercise and healthy eating provide some serious mental benefits. Working out reduces anxiety, boosts mood, prevents cognitive decline, alleviates stress, sharpen memory, etc…

If you find yourself in an endless cycle of rumination, step back, seek help, manage your emotions and try one of these methods.