Ask A Psychologist: Back to School

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Dr. Chaz Mailey, psychologist for K-State Counseling Services, answers questions that include how to adjust back into the school year and discuss ways on how students can start off the year in a positive note. (Nathan Jones | The Collegian)

The first week of school for many students is their first significant time away from home in their life. How would you suggest students deal with this in a healthy way?

Dr. Mailey: “I think a good strategy for new students who might be leaving home for the first time and dealing with homesickness is to get connected. Get connected to your peers; look for opportunities to meet new people. This first week is a great time to learn about different clubs or organizations. Find people who enjoy some of the same things you do.”

What should students do when pressures start building between school and college life, all while not having their parents with them?

Mailey: “When the pressure starts to mount, take a look at your priorities and try to find balance. College is different from earlier educational experiences where your day is highly scheduled or regimented. Now it is the student’s responsibility to manage his or her schedule, motivate her or himself to go to class, etc. I think there are five key factors in helping students (and anyone in general) maintain good balance:

1. Sleep (adequate sleep) is crucial. It’s fun having a lot of freedom for the first time, but make sure that you make sleep a priority. Poor sleep means poor attention and concentration and lack of energy, thus making it incredibly difficult to be a successful student.

2. Stay connected to people. I had a minister who often said, “Humans, by nature, are relational creatures.” Part of what brings us energy day-to-day is our ability to connect and interact with others. Even for the more introverted types, it is probably a good idea to have face-to-face contact with a few people here and there.

3. Stay connected with your primary role or responsibility, be it work or in this case, your role as a student. It is important to stay on top of your classwork because it is easy to feel overwhelmed when you get behind or miss class. Find a way of keeping track of what is due. Create a task list and mark things off of it. Make it a part of your daily or weekly routine.

4. Get physical activity each week. Try to make it a priority. The Rec Center is a great resource. That doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours at the gym or even go there, but try to get about 30 minutes of moderate level physical activity three times a week. If you do something you enjoy, you’re more likely to do it consistently.

5. Try to eat relatively nutritious foods, and resist the temptation to only grab junk food. I understand that living on a college budget makes it difficult to consistently buy or eat nutritious foods, but have a plan and try to stick to it.

If the pressure continues to get to you, we’ve got a number of fantastic resources here at CS (Counseling Services) to help students. You can call us at 785-532-6927.”

A new school year means a chance for new habits. How would you suggest making the point to start good, new habits?

Mailey: “To establish and maintain healthy new habits, it takes motivation, consistency and dedication. Begin with setting smaller, realistic goals about your habits that you can track over time, and try to make it something that will actually be satisfying. For example, if you’ve never studied more than five hours a week outside of class, don’t set a goal that you’re going to study 20 hours a week. Go smaller and then build. Write your goals down somewhere and then put them somewhere that you’ll actually see them. There are a number of great smartphone apps that can help you keep track of goals, task lists, etc.

This probably won’t make me popular with some people, but seriously consider the impact that alcohol use could have on your quality of life as a student. I think one of the mistakes that many people, not just students, make is that you can drink excessively, and still be a highly functioning individual. If you are choosing to drink as part of your lifestyle, fine, but try to limit or moderate it. On the weekends, have a few activities in mind that are satisfying, but alcohol isn’t part of the equation. Card nights, movie nights, exploring Manhattan and the surrounding counties, pick up a low-cost hobby (ghost hunting comes to mind), cook large meals with friends (if you have access to the resources).”

For more information about Counseling Services, students can go to k-state.edu/counseling.

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