Going off to college for the first time can be a tough time for young people just leaving high school. No one ever knows exactly what to expect, and the heightened academic pressure and new surroundings may be overwhelming.
All of those factors can lead to a lot of stress, but researchers from the University of British Columbia have found one way that new students can ease that burden. The key, they say, is to give yourself a break, be practical, and practice some self-compassion.
"Research shows first-year university is stressful," said Peter Crocker, co-author of the study. "Students who are used to getting high grades may be shocked to not do as well in university, feel challenged living away from home, and are often missing important social support they had in high school. Self-compassion appears to be an effective strategy or resource to cope with these types of issues."
So, what exactly is self-compassion? In basic terms, it’s a way for someone to avoid negative self-judgment and cope with feelings of inadequacy – perfect for the student who feels they aren’t performing up to their usual standards.
The researchers point out that self-compassion is comprised of several different factors, including self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Having self-kindness means that a person is not overly critical of themselves; common humanity involves accepting that failure is a part of life that everyone must deal with; and mindfulness is described by living in the moment and staying calm and collected.
While conducting the study, the researchers found that students who had high levels of self-compassion benefitted in several ways. In general, these people were more energetic, optimistic, and motivated than those with lower levels.
The researchers conclude that colleges and universities would do well to consider methods of increasing self-compassion for first-year students as a way to increase overall well-being.
"Our study suggests the psychological stress students may experience during the transition between high school and university can be mitigated with self-compassion because it enhances the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which in turn, enriches well-being," said lead author Katie Gunnell.