Faculty Spotlight: Relationship Problems

College is a time when students are having to balance and maintain many different relationships at once, with roommates, family, romantic partners, friends, and with faculty and staff. Relationship problems among college students are relatively common, and about one-third of college students report having problems in their roommate and romantic relationships. Relationship problems can also interfere with students’ academic success, making them important to address.

There are many different types of problems that students can have in relationships. Some may have verbal arguments or physical fights with others, some may have trouble trusting others, some may have difficulty communicating with others, and some may even be in abusive relationships. Common themes that come up among roommate conflicts are cleanliness, noise levels, or having friends over. These problems along with many problems that students may face in their friendships can be solved through talking with their resident advisor or a trusted third-party or learning some effective communication skills.

Some students have difficulty communicating with their friends, family members, or professors. While some students who have difficulty with communication can benefit from some simple communication skills, others may have larger problems with social communication that lead to significant impairment in relationships. Common signs of students with social communication problems or deficits include:

  • Language or communication: using very literal language, difficulty modulating the volume of their voice, difficulty understanding jokes, metaphors, idioms, or other subtleties of language
  • Social interaction: difficulty making eye contact, difficulty making friends, difficulty initiating, maintaining, or ending a conversation, difficulty understanding social norms, difficulty understanding other’s emotions
  • Behavior: interrupts others, becomes tangential in answering questions, strong reactions to sensory cues (lights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch), may engage in self-soothing behavior, like rocking or tapping, and fixation on certain concepts, objects, or patterns.

As faculty and staff, you can support students with social communication deficits by meeting with the student privately if behavioral issues are disrupting the classroom. Work with the student to solve these problems in order to help the student succeed. If the student has classroom accommodations, make sure to respect them and talk with the student to make sure you are both on the same page.

Other students may be in abusive relationships. Abusive relationships may take many forms and can include verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. Some common signs that a student may be in an abusive relationship, include: excessive lateness or unexplained absences, frequent illnesses, unexplained injuries or bruising, changes in appearance, being distracted during class, drops in productivity, and being sensitive about discussing their relationships. If you are concerned about a student who may be in an abusive relationship, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Meet with the student in private
  • Recognize that the student may be fearful or vulnerable
  • Remember that abusive relationships involve complex dynamics, including high levels of denial and may be difficult to change
  • Refer the student to the counseling center
  • Encourage the student to connect with people they trust

There are also some things to avoid when talking with students who are in abusive relationships. Try to avoid downplaying the situation, lecturing the student about poor judgment, or expecting the student to make quick changes.

Relationship problems for college students exist along an entire spectrum, and there are many different reasons that students could be having difficulty with others. As faculty and staff the biggest thing that you can do is meet with students privately, in order to understand what is going on and offer support.

Binge Eating

Binge eating is when someone eats an excessive amount of food and feels out of control while doing so. Binge eating is common among college students, and many students report that they binge eat to cope with stress or other negative emotions. Eating, generally speaking, is a pleasurable experience because it causes dopamine to be released in the reward pathway of the brain, in a similar way that drugs act on the brain, but on a much smaller scale.

Even though food can help us feel better, binge eating is an unhealthy coping skill. It is considered an unhealthy skill because in the long run it can lead to negative emotions like shame or depression, psychological problems, like an eating disorder or another mental disorder, or to physical problems, including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, or other gastrointestinal problems. Research also indicates that people who lack more adaptive emotion regulation skills are at greater risk for using binge eating as a coping skill.

Some signs of students who are struggling with binge eating, include:

  • Eating in secret
  • Hiding food
  • Continuously eating or “grazing” without feeling satisfied
  • Feeling many negative emotions after eating large amounts of food
  • Feeling out of control when eating

Lots of college students struggle with using unhealthy coping skills when they are feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or other negative emotions. Binge eating, along with binge drinking, self-harm, avoidance and withdrawal, or physical aggression, are all considered unhealthy or unhelpful coping strategies because they may help you feel better in the moment, but in the long run they lead to even greater problems or physical harm. If you are worried about yourself or a friend who is struggling with any of these problems, its ok to ask for help. Talk to your RA, or consider scheduling an appointment at the Student Counseling Center.



Binge Drinking: A Way to Have Fun or an Unhealthy Coping Skill?

Happy Spring Break! After finishing a tough quarter, many of us are feeling the urge to relax this spring break. Some of us may be going home or visiting with friends we haven’t seen lately. Others may be celebrating passing classes and finishing finals. Binge drinking is one way that many students say they relax and have fun on spring break. In fact, up to 44% of female and 75% of male college students report that they binge drink. Binge drinking is defined as excessive drinking over a short period of time, and its often referred to as “drinking to get drunk.”

Students report that they binge drink for a lot of different reasons: to have fun, to unwind or de-stress, to deal with loneliness or the transition to college, to fit in, or to get rid of social anxiety and feel confident. Recent research indicates that often, binge drinking is used as a form of unhealthy emotion regulation, or a way to get rid of negative feelings.  Binge drinking is considered an unhealthy strategy because it doesn’t change or get rid of the underlying situation that caused the negative feelings in the first place, and it can cause harm to your body and make you feel sick. Binge drinking has been shown to be related to unintentional injury, assault, increased risk for suicide, and alcohol-related health problems.

Spring break is a time to relax, take a break, and connect with family and friends, so skip the hangover and try one of these activities instead:

  • Volunteer in your community or church
  • Go for a hike with friends
  • Check out a new park
  • Take a class that’s always interested you (cooking, photography, yoga, anything!)
  • Plan a stay-cation and be a tourist in the city
  • Treat yourself to a massage

If alcohol will be involved in your spring break plans, make sure you are making the best choices for yourself and drinking safely. Drink lots of water, plan how much you want to drink before going out (use this BAC calculator to help!), make sure you have a safe way to get home, and count your drinks accurately.

If you are worried that your drinking is getting out of control or you are using alcohol to cope, its okay to ask for help. The Student Counseling Center has a number of great resources. If you are worried about a friend who may be struggling with drinking, consider reaching out to them and offering support.



Regulating Emotions during Finals Week

College students face a lot of different stressors throughout the year, but finals week can be even more stressful than other weeks. Feeling worn out at the end of the quarter and still needing to perform well on final exams and papers is a lot to deal with! During increased times of stress, we are more likely to experience negative emotions and may be more likely to turn to maladaptive emotion regulation strategies. We are also more likely to neglect our own self-care.

Even though time is particularly tight during finals week, there are some adaptive emotional regulation strategies that we can try to incorporate into our routines. Using some of these pre-emptive coping skills may even help us head off some of the secondary stress associated with maladaptive strategies like not getting enough sleep or eating too much junk food. Here are some ideas:

  1. Get enough sleep. It can seem like there isn’t enough time to get your normal amount of sleep, but experts recommend getting at least 7 hours. When you get less sleep, its hard to focus and be productive, which may lead to assignments or studying taking longer than usual. Skipping sleep may not save you any time in the long run.
  2. Avoid alcohol and drugs. These may help you feel better in the moment, but they impact your functioning and performance in the following days. Alcohol and drug use can interfere with your normal sleep pattern and impact your mental abilities.
  3. Eat nutritious food. Eating nutrient rich food will provide your body with the nourishment and energy it needs. Many students eat more foods that are high in sugar during finals week, which may give you a temporary boost in energy, but will eventually lead to a “sugar crash.” If you have a sweet tooth, fresh fruit is a great option!
  4. Be active. Even if you don’t have much time to spend on an intensive workout routine, even a 10-15 minute walk can help improve mood and makes your body feel better. It also gives you a break from your studies.
  5. Unplug from social media. College students often report spending a lot of time procrastinating by scrolling through their social media sites or watching cute animal videos. Sometimes these things can offer you a break from studying, but if you notice that you are spending too much time on your social media, consider unplugging, disconnecting WiFi and data, or uninstalling apps during finals week. You can always reinstall them next week!
  6. Talk with friends and family. Reaching out to supportive people in your life is a great way to reduce stress and feel better!

Make sure during finals week that you also take some time for self-care. It doesn’t have to be anything too long or extensive, but it will help you feel better despite all of the finals stress. Check-out the self-care wheel for more ideas!

Self-Injury: Fact vs. Myth

Last week, the international community recognized Self-Injury Awareness Day. Self-injury is very common among college students, and approximately 17-35% of college students report self-injuring. Self-injury is the direct and deliberate act of harming one’s own body, with or without the intention of suicide. There can be many different reasons for why someone self-injures, but many times it serves as an emotion regulation strategy, or a coping skill.

Unfortunately, self-injury is an unhealthy method of emotion regulation. It’s an unhealthy strategy because it could lead to negative physical and emotional outcomes. Self-injury can lead to scarring, injury, and in some cases accidental death. Many people who self-injure also fell worse in the long run, and may experience feelings of guilt, shame, or depression.

Although self-injury is very common, there are still many misconceptions about self-injury:

  • Myth: If you self-injure, you are suicidal.
    • Fact: Many people who self-injure, do it to cope with stress and feel better, not to attempt suicide. However, research also shows that self-injury can increase risk for suicide, if a person does become suicidal.
  • Myth: If you self-injure, you are mentally ill.
    • Fact: Some students who self-injure may also be struggling with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder. However, there are many people who self-injure who do not have a diagnosable metal illness.
  • Myth: Only women or alternative students self-injure.
    • Fact: There is no one type of person who self-injures. Students who are high achieving to those who struggle in school may engage in self-injury. Furthermore, research suggests that men are just as likely as women to self-injure.
  • Myth: People who self-injure are manipulative and are looking for attention.
    • Fact: Many students who self-injure do it in private, and may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their injury, leading them to hide their self-injurious behavior. Others may harm themselves in hopes of communicating their need for help, not to manipulate others.

Because self-injury often serves as an emotion regulation strategy there are many alternatives skills that can be used instead of harming yourself. Some people find that letting out their energy physically, like hitting a pillow or squeezing ice in their hand, helps them feel better. Other people find talking to a friend, using self-care, or getting out and about to distract themselves helpful. Here are more ideas of strategies that can used as alternatives to self-injury.

If you are worried about yourself or a friend who self-injures, let an RA or faculty member know. In King County, there is a 24-hour Crisis Line available at (206) 461-3222 or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.



Faculty Spotlight: Emotion Regulation

College students face many stressors on a day-to-day basis. They may be leaving home for the first time, have intense pressure to do well academically, are developing a plan for their future career, may be trying to establish a romantic or social life, and are finding a balance between all of these things. In fact, many reports have shown that college students are experiencing more stress now than in years past. Furthermore, college students’ ratings of their emotional health has been decreasing for the past 49 years!

Often when students are stressed, they experience more negative emotions. Experiencing intense and overwhelming negative emotions can be aversive, so many students try to get rid of their negative feelings. Emotion regulation is a term that is used to describe a person’s efforts to manage, change, or avoid emotional experiences. College students use a lot of different strategies to regulate their emotions, and some of those strategies are healthy, while others are unhealthy.

Healthy emotion regulation strategies do not cause harm and can help diffuse strong negative emotions, allowing for a greater understanding of what caused a particular emotion. Examples of healthy emotion regulation strategies are:

  • Talking to friends
  • Exercising
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Taking a break when it’s needed

Unhealthy emotion regulation strategies are ways of dealing with emotions that may lead to harm, damage, or additional stress. These strategies may also lead to avoidance of problems that will eventually need a solution. Examples of unhealthy emotion regulation strategies that college students use are:

  • Alcohol and substance use
  • Self-injury
  • Avoidance or withdrawal
  • Physical aggression
  • Binge eating and/or purging

Many college students use a mix of both healthy and unhealthy emotion regulation strategies. Some use of unhealthy emotion regulation strategies may be normal as part of the developmental process and learning how to effectively cope with stress. However, there are also times when students’ use of unhealthy emotion regulation strategies becomes a problem. This usually happens when these unhealthy strategies interfere with students’ academics, work, social relationships, physical health, or spiritual health. If you notice a student who is struggling with managing their emotions or their use of unhealthy emotion regulation strategies is becoming a problem, consider reaching out to them to provide support.





Emotion Regulation – How We Change Our Emotions

We all experience emotions in our daily lives; some emotions feel positive and some feel negative. Different situations can be related to different types of feelings, like feeling happy when you get a good grade on your homework versus feeling nervous when you have a big test coming up. College students face a lot of different stressful situations – tests, homework, and balancing school and social life, to name a few. When we feel a lot of negative emotions and they become overwhelming, we have a tendency to want to change those emotions. Emotion regulation is a term that describes a person’s ability to manage and respond to emotional experiences. Emotion regulation skills are similar to what some people refer to as coping skills, or how you deal with negative emotions.

People regulate their emotions in many different ways, sometimes without even realizing it! Some people talk to or text a friend when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and then they feel better. When we do this type of thing, we may not even be aware that we were actually regulating negative emotions. There are many other ways that people adaptively regulation their emotions, like exercising, writing in a journal, meditating, taking a break when you need one, and getting adequate sleep. These types of strategies, or “coping skills” are considered healthy ways to regulate emotions.

There are also unhealthy coping strategies that people use. Examples of unhealthy strategies include self-injury, abusing alcohol or other substances, avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations, binge eating and/or purging, and aggression. These are considered unhealthy because they may result in unanticipated damage and harm, or they may lead to avoiding dealing with situations that will eventually require a solution. This month the Wellness Blog will be focusing on these different types of emotion regulation strategies, and how regulate your emotions in adaptive ways.