Supporting Your Student Through Stress in College

by Stephanie Thurrott

As a parent, it can be challenging to watch your child struggle with stress in college. You want to support them, and you also want to allow them to learn how to navigate stressful situations. It can be hard to find the right balance, but it’s necessary.

“Parents care well for their children when they encourage their independence and self-efficacy, while also being ready to support their child when they are asked to do so,” said Lori Lacy, Psy.D, director of the University Counseling Center at Azusa Pacific University.

Adapting to Seasons of Stress

Different times of the academic year can be more stressful than others, such as the start of a new year or semester, especially for first-year students. Midsemester tests and deadlines, as well as the last few weeks of the semester and finals, can lead to heightened levels of stress as well. Lacy noted that it’s common for students to face challenges as they make adjustments throughout the year, whether starting college, learning a new class schedule, or adapting to the demands of their coursework.

Many students adjust quickly—they learn new rhythms and routines, establish social support, eat well, and get enough sleep. During the adjustment period, though, you may find that your child faces more stress in college. They might mention that they feel overwhelmed, struggle to concentrate in class or on assignments, or withdraw from others.

“They may appear more irritable, or even tearful, at times as they seek to navigate the new demands of this season of transition,” Lacy said.

How to Support Your Child

Supporting your student is crucial as they face stress in college. “Students who have the freedom to care for themselves independently, but know they always have a safe place to go back to, will thrive as they navigate this normal season of adjustment,” Lacy said.

To help your child thrive you can:

  • Listen and validate your student’s struggles
  • Help them recognize ways they have successfully navigated difficult seasons in the past
  • Encourage them and highlight their strengths
  • Help them see difficult seasons as challenges to overcome, rather than difficulties to run from
  • Remind them of their meaning, purpose, and the goals they’re excited for
  • Help them recognize ways they can slow down and implement self-care, such as journaling, exercise, and prayer
  • Remind them of their social supports in friends, family, and their community as they find their place of belonging on campus
  • Encourage them to focus on what’s most important to them

“It can be helpful to recognize they can feel stressed AND still succeed at the same time,” Lacy explained. “Most students feel stressed at one point or another as they navigate multiple roles (student, volunteer, ministry leader, orientation leader, etc). At times, stress can actually be a motivator and can propel students toward change, as it can be seen as an opportunity for growth!”

Connect with Support on Campus

You can encourage your child to connect with the campus groups and offices designed to help students thrive and navigate stress in college:

The University Counseling Center offers services, individual therapy, and groups and workshops that can help students learn how to care for themselves and cope with stress. Lacy noted that the Living Well workshop is specifically designed to help students learn how to better manage stress.

If your student was being treated for mental health concerns before starting college and would like to continue receiving support as they transition to APU, call the counseling center—or have your child call—prior to arriving on campus. “We would love to take time to talk about the best ways to support your student on or off campus with the plethora of therapy resources in this community,” Lacy said.

Lacy reminds parents of the solid foundation they have put in place over the years. “Parents can rest well and can be proud of their children, knowing they have raised their son or daughter to succeed in the world independently and to positively impact the world for Christ,” she said.

Would you like more information about Azusa Pacific University’s resources for stress in college? Call the University Counseling Center at (626) 815-2109 or stop by the office in Magnolia Court next to the Student Health Center if you’re on campus.