It's definitely in the air. Labor day is quickly approaching and my neighborhood is becoming active with signs of students moving back to school. Late summer & early fall often bring a sense of newness, fresh starts, and excitement. For many this is the beginning of a new phase in life, as a parent and a young adult.
Yet, with all the excitement, there will be students that feel like they are in over their head. The optimism that had carried them to this point can easily shift to being overwhelmed by a greater sense of separation, increased expectations, developing new relationships, keeping up academically & socially, redefining identity, plenty of opportunities to drink & get high, and family much less present on a day-to-day basis. This is a lot of change for anyone, especially someone who may be more sensitive and vulnerable with adapting to new environments.
A common question, for families, is whether their son/daughter can keep up with all the changes. I would say that although it is often unpredictable how one will do in college, being aware of the signs of serious struggle may be key on how things turn out. Here are a few thoughts from my personal and professional experience with setting up conditions to best support yourself or a family member:
1) Have an understanding in regard to a balance with frequency in communication - facetime, phone/text, in-person visits.
2) If you're sensing there is struggle, let them know you want to help and you're in this together - being mindful of not overreacting, arguing, or being judgmental.
3) Being alone in the experience (as a parent or student) may enhance the issues - explore supports on campus or outside help.
4) Set-backs are common and how families thoughtfully anticipate and respond can have a major influence on the outcome.
5) Recognize the things that are going well (that could be overlooked), while providing a message of hope.
"I want to live my life so close to the bottom that when the system falls apart I won't have far to fall." -Dorothy Day
This quote makes me think about the relationship with truth and values. The greater amount of power and authority attached to a system, or institution, often restricts speaking the truth unreservedly and living out one's values.
Who would you reach out to if you were going through a difficult time and needed someone? If you chose not to reach out, who may know that you’re struggling and how much would you be willing and able to share if they asked?
According to a 75-year study, at Harvard, those who have someone to rely on and help them relax, stay healthier longer and function better emotionally and physically. The findings included decades of blood samples, brain scans, self-reports, and interviews.
The Grant & Glueck study doesn’t necessarily tell us something new, but it emphasizes the impact of isolation and loneliness, while highlighting the importance of meaningful relationships, being seen, accepted, and the ability to be vulnerable in connection with others - as well as seeing one another for who we are.
Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, is quoted in the title of this blog. He says that the study proves that “it’s not how much is in your 401k, how many conferences you spoke at, or blog posts or followers… No, the biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.”
The Harvard study was only done with men, of various socioeconomic backgrounds, from 1939-2014. A recent article in the Boston Globe, The Biggest Threat…, focuses on how social isolation and loneliness have serious effect on middle-aged men. It says men are usually more comfortable saying they are depressed opposed to being lonely. Historically, men usually take time to reach out when in need, if they reach out at all. The article also refers to a 35-year study, at Brigham Young University, also showing similar results with isolation and loneliness, in regard to health concerns and premature death for men and women.
I heard a father of a young adult sharing about the time he spent with his son when he was going through a significant crisis in his life. He said he always thought it was about the quality of time he spent with his son, but it turned out to be the quantity of time spent that really made a difference in getting to know one another, whether going out for a walk, having meals, watching tv together, or quietly being around one another.
These studies span cultural and generational influences, and continued to come up with the same result – a meaningful life is a result of the depth in our relationships – not money, status, or education level. For some of us, taking steps towards deepening our relationships can be the hardest part.