Life can be challenging as a student. How do you adjust your perspective?
Papers, exams, group projects, readings, midterms, finals — the life of a college student can be full of responsibilities and stressors. Being a non-traditional college student can add additional layers — children to raise, jobs to keep, aging parents to assist. That’s a lot of pressure.
So how can a busy adult student keep the right perspective through it all, particularly during stressful periods?
Steven Starks, senior manager of career counseling programs & operations for University of Phoenix, has some suggestions — and they do not start with the imperative of staying “positive.” The key is to arm yourself with the tools necessary to make it through challenges.
He suggests students ask themselves this question – Is this a worthy struggle?
“If the answer is yes, then remember that it’s OK not to be OK at moments in time. Instead, you need to focus on building resilience through the challenge,” said Starks, who has master’s degrees in psychology and mental health counseling. “It’s more important to stay committed to your intentions than to constantly stay positive.”
Here are a few suggestions to help adjust your perspective and stay positive throughout your academic journey.
First things first: Self-care
Among the tools necessary for keeping things in perspective is compartmentalization, said Alice Rush, a certified career counselor in the University’s Department of Career Services.
Set aside time regularly, preferably every day, for taking care of yourself. Put on your calendar to embed the commitment and make it less likely that you’ll put it on the back burner. Exercise, dance, yoga, meditation, tai chi, rock climbing, reading, or simply resting quietly all qualify as self-care. It’s a very personal choice.
“It should be something that consumes both your mind and body for relief of fatigue,” Rush said.
Without this respite, our minds and bodies become overwhelmed, which can lead to burnout. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not allowing for time to decompress. In the end, if you don’t practice self-care, you’ll have a lack of energy to complete your tasks.
Bring along your support network
Support from family and friends is a very powerful tool, Starks said. Enlist them in understanding your goal. Your educational commitment impacts every aspect of your life, including your relationships.
Talk with your family about your “Why,” and tell them that they are a big part of your reason for pursuing a degree. Make it a team effort. Then, be proactive in asking them for help when you need it. Let them know you’ll be leaning on them from time to time when you need support.
"It’s more important to stay committed to your intentions than to constantly stay positive,"
— Steven Starks, Senior Manager of Career Counseling Programs & Operations, University of Phoenix
Time travel … or not
That’s right -- time travel. In your head, anyway.
Starks said that it’s sometimes helpful when we’re in the middle of difficulties to think ahead a week, a year or five years and assess the present moment in the rearview mirror. It’s a kind of mind trick to help you refocus on your ultimate goals.
“Envision your success and how that’s going to feel. Think about how proud you’re going to be when you’re done,” he said.
On the flip side, some people benefit more from not letting yourself time travel. If thinking ahead seems too daunting, Starks recommends thinking only about the next task at hand to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Remember to breathe
Starks related his own experience during his master’s degree program. He was studying, working a 40-hour-week job and doing a 40-hour-week internship at the same time.
When things would get challenging, Starks brought himself back to the basic life essential — breathing.
Taking the time to recognize the simplicity of the inhale and the exhale can help you focus on what one task can be done first. Break the day up into moments like that, getting through what absolutely needs to be done and can be completed one task at a time.
Make school social
In a traditional classroom, students seem to know instinctively how to excel. You sit in the front of the classroom, you get to know your fellow students and your instructor.
With online learning, there is no front row. But don’t let that stop you from having a similar experience.
Starks recommends speaking up via discussion boards and other interactive methods of communication to get to know your classmates and instructor. Don’t sit back and let others constantly drive the conversations. If you remain quiet, you run the risk of feeling isolated in your environment.
“Don’t forget that school, whether in person or online, is a social experience as well as an academic one,” Starks said.