Holistic, Mindful Perspective Can Reduce Students’ Academic Stress
by Jennifer Spencer
As students wind down from the taxing final exam season, the head of Fordham’s Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, offers some suggestions for keeping academic stress in check.
Jeffrey Ng, Psy.D, director of Fordham’s counseling and psychological services office, said that one of the best ways to ameliorate end-of-the-semester stress is to keep things in perspective.
When considering fall 2013 final grades, Ng said having a realistic estimation of what those grades actually do—and do not—signify can have a meaningful impact in setting your student up for future success.
"It’s very important to recognize and understand a grade for what it is, namely an indication of how a student performed on that exam on that day for that class," he said.
“We tend to make internal attributions for successes and 'failures'—to attribute them to who a student is, but that’s only one part of the picture. We need to expand our understanding of human behavior and experience. How students perform on an exam may have as much to do with the circumstances and conditions in their environment as it does with their personality characteristics or attributes.”
Whether you and your student are happy with the end-of-term grades or not, Ng said it’s important to have a conversation with students about their semester that helps you both understand how to learn from the experience.
“It’s important to talk with your students about the challenges and struggles they encountered, as well as the highlights of their semester. This is important whether your student flourished or struggled,” Ng said.
“Exploring the challenges can help students to proactively identify solutions and resources on campus that can contribute to future success,” he said.
For parents of freshman completing their first semester, recognizing the immense transition students have been through these past few months can help put academic performance in context.
“It’s not atypical for students to not perform as exceptionally as they did in high school. There's an adjustment period to college life and college level work, and experiencing some struggles during that transition is not unusual,” Ng said.
While it can be easy to attribute academic successes and challenges solely to time spent in the library, Ng cautions families to look at a student's life holistically.
"We have to live well to learn well. How we're feeling physically, psychologically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually all have a significant impact on our capacity to learn," he said.
Connection with family and friends contributes to a student’s overall well-being and ability to learn. While it can be challenging to navigate a relationship with your student during the transitions he or she faces during emerging adulthood, Ng said that young adults’ desire for autonomy should not be mistaken as a lack of need for a relationship with parents.
"The most important thing for parents to demonstrate is an interest in engaging their students. What that will look like will vary depending on the context of each family, but acknowledging and communicating to students that engagement is important is a pivotal first step," he said.
As students spend time over the Winter Break gearing up for the new academic semester, perhaps one of the best ways they can prepare for success is to implement some new habits to manage stress and simply slow down.
"One of the most empirically supported behavioral strategies for managing anxiety and stress is mindfulness, which is essentially the practice of paying attention to the moment-to-moment experience without judgment and with acceptance," Ng said.
There are many ways in which students can begin to practice mindfulness, whether it's focusing on their breath or taking a few minutes each day to practice some form of meditation.
Fordham counselors even recommend mobile phone apps to help students build some stress-relieving techniques into their days.
Though it can be hard to slow down in the midst of a busy college schedule in the heart of New York City, Ng said mindfulness is a lifelong skill that can help students live healthier and more satisfying lives.
"The urban environment actually provides us with a real opportunity," he said. “If we can cultivate mindfulness in the heart of New York City, we can probably do it anywhere.”