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Critical Conversations with your College-Bound Kid: Homesickness, Anxieties & Insomnia

College Health Expert Jill Grimes, MD, shares secrets to help your college-bound kid combat homesickness, common anxieties & Insomnia.

Tick, tick, tick…it’s almost time for your college-bound kid to launch!

As you squeeze in those last critical conversations, consider these tips to mitigate homesickness, anxieties, and insomnia. (See the first post in this series regarding alcohol, sex and pot.)

 

HOMESICKNESS

HOMESICKNESS is COMMON- up to 70% of freshmen go through it! Surprisingly, homesickness does NOT directly correlate with distance from home. College kids living across town or within an hour’s drive are often the most homesick! The temptation (or, ahem, invitations) to pop over for laundry, a home-cooked meal, or to sleep in their own bed pulls local students away too often. Meanwhile, students stuck on campus end up chatting and ordering take-out together after making friends in the laundry room or hanging out in the lounges.

Unfortunately, social media-based FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has greatly exacerbated homesickness. Seeing “ALL” of your high school friends having AMAZING experiences at times when you are alone in your dorm room, doom scrolling through social media feels AWFUL (though ironically, your posts may be making someone else feel the same way.)

 

Surprisingly, homesickness does NOT directly correlate with distance from home. College kids living across town or within an hour’s drive are often the most homesick! Click To Tweet

 

HOMESICKNESS SOLUTION: focus your attention forward, rather than looking back.

The best way to do this is to GET INVOLVED. A huge perk of college life is the opportunity to meet people from all over and experience different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures, foods, games, and hobbies. I encourage students to immediately join at least three completely unrelated clubs/organizations to start exploring this diversity and find their “people”.

Consider the “Cheese & Bad Movies” Club (Princeton- but ‘bad movie clubs” are popular everywhere), intramural/sports clubs like the uber-popular Ultimate Frisbee Sports Club (Texas A&M) or the Boulder Freeride (snowboarding club at CU), a service or religious organization, or perhaps student government.

By the way, having a part-time student job on campus (typically 6 hours/week) is another great “out-of-the-dorm-room” obligation that instantly gives students a sense of belonging AND provides some extra pizza money.

 

I encourage students to immediately join at least three completely unrelated clubs/organizations to start exploring this diversity and find their “people”. Click To Tweet

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS:

  • Most college students say the biggest surprise about freshman year is how much free time there is compared with high school. This “down time” breeds boredom and loneliness. Encourage your student to FIND and SCHEDULE at least four fun or interesting events on their calendar per month.
  • Favorite hobbies/interests? Sit down together and google the best/coolest/top 10 clubs at their university, and then the complete list of clubs at their school so they can make their own Top 10 list.

 

PARENT TIPS:

  • Give them time and room to grow! Sure, go to campus for a football game or Parents’ Weekend, but especially if they are nearby, avoid keeping them “part of the family” with weekly meals or events.
  • Try not to over-react when they send upset texts! They often text to say how sad they are or vent about disappointment, but then walk out the door and have fun while you are home still anxious, weeping and worrying.
  • Do NOT focus on saying how much you miss them, nor provide every detail of life back home. Ask them the best three things that happened to them that day/week and spend more time talking about that than encouraging venting about their crummy roommate/class schedule/bad dining food.

 

Do NOT focus on saying how much you miss them, nor provide every detail of life back home. Ask them the best three things that happened to them that day/week. Click To Tweet

 

ANXIETY

Social anxieties abound in college, from using public restrooms to public speaking, meeting new people, drinking/not drinking, dating/not dating, having your first roommate, or getting nervous during tests. While some students thrive, others find it crippling. If your student is anxious, remember the immediate goal is not to ELIMINATE anxiety, but to reduce or work through it.

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS:

  • What was your biggest challenge in college?
  • What makes your student nervous about transitioning to college? Although young adults certainly can reinvent themselves and start with a “clean slate”, discuss how social interactions and academic patterns will not magically change overnight, and ask what they’d like to do differently.

 

PARENT TIPS:

  • DON’T WAIT for a major crisis to seek help! Encourage anxious students to schedule an appointment at their health center- these are bread-and-butter problems on campus. Help is available, from cognitive behavioral therapy and other counseling to medications (when needed.)
  • Public or shared restroom anxiety- MANY people have trouble with this, especially pooping. In a small, shared spaces like dorm suite bathrooms, consider playing music to muffle sounds and using a “poo-pourri” spray to minimize smells. Find “hidden” public restrooms tucked away on less-trafficked floors in most campus buildings, but don’t wait to exclusively use these or you’ll end up constipated and uncomfortable!
  • If meeting new people is your major stressor, keep expectations low and create concrete goals: meet one person in each class. Start with the expected questions (name, hometown, major, which dorm/apartment do you live in) which EVERYONE does nonstop the first month. Getting more comfortable with these standard questions is a success! Join clubs with a common specific interest to make conversations easier – like discussing recipes in an Italian Cooking Club, or Slytherin pros/cons in the Harry Potter Club. Alternatively, choose action-focused events with less need for small-talk, like Escape Rooms, murder-mystery dinners, putt-putt golf, or perhaps a volunteer service event making sandwiches for people experiencing homelessness.

 

If meeting new people is your major stressor, keep expectations low and create concrete goals: meet one person in each class. Click To Tweet

 

  • Alcohol is often used to self-medicate for anxiety, especially at parties, but that doesn’t make it a good idea, nor does it make it legal! At least 20% of college students choose not to drink, but it is very peer-group driven. If drinking (or being the only one not drinking) makes you anxious, choose your clubs, events, and friends where drinking is a non-issue. (See previous post for more on alcohol.)
  • ROOMMATES do not have to be best friends, although it might be a perk. Encourage honest, direct conversations about expectations on day one, especially about basic cleanliness – making beds (or not), wiping the sink after brushing teeth, emptying the trash, etc. Disappointment and hurt feelings occur when reality clashes with pre-conceived expectations, whether  those expectations were realistic or not.
  • TEST ANXIETY affects 1 in 5 college students! Teach your kid (& yourself) to recognize “catastrophizing”- one bad quiz grade does NOT equal flunking out of school! Freshmen academic mistakes are EXPECTED and almost never limits future careers, provided you show steady improvement. HOWEVER, if your kid starts “going blank” and having panic attacks during exams, don’t wait for finals week to encourage them to head to the health center! We have MANY helpful interventions.

 

INSOMNIA

Dorms may be the worst places to sleep- they’re often loud, smelly, stuffy, bright, hot and uncomfortable. Add in freshman anxiety keeping you awake, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for insomnia. Unfortunately, sleep-deprived brains don’t learn, process, nor retain new information very well. And, if anxiety wasn’t already keeping you awake, the reverse can happen- insomnia can cause or aggravate anxiety!

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS:

  • What strategies do you try if you can’t fall asleep?
  • How do you “turn off” your brain?

 

PARENT TIPS:

If your student can’t sleep,  recommend trying:

  • Schedule a few short social media times during the day and avoid screens the hour before bed; use that time to shower & prep for the next day

 

If your student can’t sleep, recommend scheduling a few short social media times during the day and avoid screens the hour before bed; use that time to shower & prep for the next day. Click To Tweet

 

  • Sleep headband/headphones to cancel noise and enable listening to meditations or sleep stories
  • Solid, unscented air deodorizers to neutralize body and dorm odors
  • Portable fan for white noise, air circulation, and cooling
  • Comfortable sleep mask to ensure full darkness
  • 1-2” foam mattress topper (if mattress is uncomfortable)

Looking for more tips? Check out The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness.

 

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