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
- 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
- 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.