College can be one of the toughest experiences in a young adult’s life. Not only have you been labeled an adult, but you must now also attempt to navigate the ebbs and flows of college life with little guidance in many cases. A minimum 33% of college students encounter the challenges of anxiety and/or depression in their first year of attempting to be adults striving towards a college degree while simultaneously trying to maintain a semblance of sanity.

An image of a college student experiencing stress and deciding to begin therapy to learn coping skills.

Whether you are the person who values social interaction and seeks it as much as possible, or the type that would rather keep to themselves, college can offer hurdles in both of these personalities. There are expectations in college that are different from those we were exposed to while in high school. For starters, studies definitely become more tedious, and oftentimes our social life is more demanding as well. Exposure to substances has the potential to increase in college because access becomes much easier and less monitored, leading to a spew of additional troubles when questionable choices are made.

Because we experience so much change all at once, we may disregard how it could be affecting our mental health. The demanding culture of college can be overwhelming for many students, and it has the potential to cause greater issues in our mental health such as increasing anxiety or falling into a deep depression. College is so fast-paced and it can feel like we are the only ones experiencing these feelings and thoughts, but that is far from true. Many students go through this, and because they feel alone in their experiences, they struggle to seek help. Several students try to show their accomplishments and a regulated demeanor on the outside, while underneath it all they are actually really struggling and feeling as though they must keep that part of them hidden. In fact, Stanford University actually has a term for this known as the Duck Syndrome, where students portray this false illusion of having it all together, while they are truly struggling underneath it all to simply stay afloat and doing everything in their power to maintain that image. Similar to how on the surface of the water it seems as though a duck is moving effortlessly, when in fact underneath, they are paddling those little webbed feet as fast as their bodies can manage!

An image representing the social challenges and expectations of college.

My Experience and How Therapy Can Help

I attended a large and reputable university in Texas, and this came with a spew of difficult expectations that felt nearly impossible to reach at several points in my college career. My freshman year was arguably the most difficult because of all the adjusting I had to do: living away from home, having a roommate, a long-distance relationship, taking a full course load of incredibly difficult classes, attempting to make friends, trying to stay active, join clubs, find a job, etc, etc, etc. Through many sleepless nights and failed all-nighters, I slowly but surely found my footing and gained a rhythm, but it took several learning curves to get there.

Believe it or not, it was not until the end of my sophomore year that I found out about the mental health services at school, and mind you I was a psychology major! That is just how little my school, and come to find out most schools, marketed those services. All that to say, I am about to let you in on some resources that many schools have, but several students know nothing about and fail to take advantage of in times of great need. For example, numerous students don’t know that their school likely offers a certain amount of free counseling sessions or they, at minimum, accept insurance. Whether it’s stress management, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, or even sleep issues, many universities offer support for these presenting concerns in more ways than one. There are groups, workshops, and events that schools may provide as well. If a campus is not able to extend the services that a student is seeking, or perhaps they have a waitlist (which happens often), then the college or university should provide community referrals that will meet the needs of the student.

I have attached a few links to schools in Texas that offer mental health services. Whether you are a parent, school counselor, teacher, future college student, or current college student, I recommend you explore some of these pages to better understand what services colleges have to offer.

CAPS: Counseling and Psychological Services – University of Houston

UT Counseling and Mental Health Center

Mental Health Services | Student Health Services | TTU

Rice Counseling Center

Gideon Counseling Center | Houston Baptist University

Ways to Manage & Cope While in School

Aside from seeking help from a school’s counseling department, students need to incorporate a generous amount of self-care in their daily routines while in college. Self-care is subjective; however, there are a few options that I would like to mention as a place to start:

All of the above options can be incredibly transformative when dealing with the daily stressors of college. I always found that if I made a conscious effort to plan my self-care, the tedious daily duties of studying and attending classes felt more manageable because I had something to look forward to when it was all said and done. Although sleep is an obvious human need, you may wonder why I put it under self-care. Well, somehow in college it’s almost like a victory when you manage to pull the most all-nighters or “function” off of only 4 hours of sleep each day. To put it bluntly – a lack of sleep does not grant you any more or less status. Sleep is a commodity in college when really it should be deemed as a priority being that we cannot function without it, so if it takes treating it as self-care, then there you have it.

I specifically remember one of my psychology professors mentioning how short naps are actually more effective than long ones. For one, you risk oversleeping and completely messing up your nighttime rest, you can potentially become more tired after a long nap rather than feel rested, and you can also lose motivation because your body has reached a deep level of comfort that is hard to bounce back from.

A college student sleeping on a table with a book.

College Mental Health tip #1:

During a busy day where sleep seems so far away, I recommend drinking one of your favorite types of caffeine (I would try to stay away from energy drinks) such as a cup of coffee, a green tea, or maybe even a soda and take a quick 15-20 min nap. By the time you wake up, the caffeine you drank prior to taking a nap will have gone into full effect. So, you’re not only boosted from the caffeine but also the short cat nap!

College Mental Health tip #2:

Try not to study on your bed. Our beds are meant for two things and two things only: sleep and sex. When you choose to study in your bed, you are creating an association thus likely making it more difficult to get restful sleep when that time does come. Studying in your bed may lead to tiredness because your body has familiarized a bed with rest thus making it difficult to stay awake while trying to be productive.

College Mental Health tip #3:

Try to develop a group of friends, whether that’s 1, 2, or 10 that will respect your boundaries when you need to set them. Friends who convince you to do something you are not interested in, especially after you have voiced your opinion, are friends who are slacking in the “support” department.

College Mental Health Tip #4:

Use all the resources your campus can offer because there are so many and they often go unnoticed. Taking advantage of free or affordable help can be the difference between unmanageable stress and manageable stress.

I hope that with this information, any college student can feel supported in knowing that they are not alone in their experiences and there are resources and people out there that are ready and willing to help. The healing starts with you.

Watch This: Self-Care in College

How The Therapists at Brittani Persha Counseling Can Help

BPC therapists offer individual counseling to individuals in the Houston and Katy area for an array of presenting concerns, so if you are a college student in need of some outside services, please do not hesitate to reach out to our practice for more information on how we may be able to help.

About the Author

A Houston Play Therapist in her office prepping for therapy sessions.

My name is Laura Guerra, and I am a licensed professional counselor in Houston, Tx. I am trained across the lifespan and can work with an array of presenting concerns; however, I specialize in Play Therapy and enjoy working with individuals who are struggling with behavior concerns, anxiety, depression, and divorce. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of therapeutic play especially when it is paired with similar communication styles at home from parents, which is done through a holistic approach where I meet with parents on a regular basis to provide insight and recommendations. I received my masters degree from one of the most renowned Play Therapy programs in the nation: The University of North Texas, and since then I have continued to learn and grow in my therapeutic abilities. Although Play Therapy is my speciality, my extensive training has allowed me to work with all ages including young adults, and I love helping teens navigate the transitions and struggles they encounter as they enter young adulthood. I am passionate about the work that I do, and I believe that most children and people in general can benefit from a therapeutic experience that suits their individual needs!


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