How Can Students Deal With Emotionally Difficult Times?

By Julia Dunn on January 31, 2017

For many students, attempting to navigate full-time student status and other commitments such as jobs and internships becomes a gargantuan challenge if they happen to be experiencing emotional challenges. As a student, you never know when an emotionally trying period of life will begin — family and life emergencies may come up anytime, or you might feel emotional distress surrounding your last term before graduation.

Moreover, emotionally hard periods can be brought about for other reasons that may be more chronic; students who suffer from mood disorders like anxiety or depression may find these mental health issues interfering with their focus on school assignments or their productivity at work. Students are expected to commit nearly all of their time and energy to college and work obligations, leaving little space for students to address their mental/emotional state.

Our schedules are not typically structured to give us much time to take care of our emotional well-being. Thus, when emotional stress ensues, students may find themselves at a loss in terms of how to stay afloat.

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What happens if you’re grieving the loss of a pet but you’re taking 20 units of coursework and working two part-time jobs? What are students to do when they experience depression and can’t seem to keep their spirits high enough to meet the demands of a packed schedule? These questions do not lead to simple answers, but there are a few ways to deal with emotional difficulty as a full-time student with a job (or multiple jobs).

Consider rearranging your course load for a term

If, when hard times arise, it’s not too late to drop a class at your university, consider dropping a course for the term so that you can take care of yourself as much as possible. Although this may not be an option for all students needing a lighter load, it might help some individuals who believe they could spend more energy on self-care if they had one fewer class.

If you’ve got a master plan for completing your major, see if there’s enough wiggle room for you to defer a class to another term in the future –taking a lighter course load may be just the solution for students who experience an unexpected bout of emotional turmoil.

Gather support from campus resources such as counselors and advisers (and friends)

It’s true that many universities are understaffed in the way of counselors and academic advisers, but it’s worth visiting a therapist, counselor and/or adviser if you find yourself at a standstill between school, work, and emotional care. Even if you don’t believe talking to a counselor will help, it’s typically always a good idea to share your situation with someone who might be capable of offering advice.

If your emotional challenges interfere with your academics, an academic adviser can connect you with resources that may alleviate some of the stress. Talking to friends is another hugely helpful way to gain support on a regular basis.

Talk to your employer(s)

Students suffering emotionally may feel anxious about talking to their employer about how they’re doing, but if you have a particularly kind supervisor at work, it won’t hurt to let them know that you’re struggling. If, for instance, you are dealing with a family member’s sudden illness, talk to your boss about taking a day or two off in the near future (or see if your morning shifts can become evening shifts so that you can get some extra sleep). Employers love honest employees, and in most cases, you’ll have nothing to lose by letting your workplace know that you need a little extra help. If you do not feel comfortable speaking with your supervisor about personal emotional difficulties, you might simply ask to have a schedule change without explaining why exactly you’re requesting one.

Oftentimes, professors and other campus staff and faculty overlook the reality that many students have emotional issues that might affect their performance at their university. Whether they are experiencing a one-time emotional disturbance or a recurring mood disorder, students may feel conflicted or overwhelmed by the pressure of ignoring or suppressing emotional turmoil in order to perform at full capacity in classes and work shifts.

Furthermore, the added stress of paying for college or paying for living expenses like off-campus housing, food and textbooks contributes to students’ fears of letting emotional difficulties get in the way of their jobs. There already exists a stigma attached to mental health issues and taking time off to take care of yourself, which makes it even more difficult for students to negotiate school, work, and self-care when these priorities compete with a need to attend to your emotional health.

The best way we can support students going through a tough emotional period? Practice active listening to these students and share any known resources that might help them through a period of insecurity, sadness, or other difficulty.

By Julia Dunn

Uloop Writer
A writer, editor and educator based in Northern California.

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