An Open Letter to College Students…

Dear College Student,

I wanted to share a couple thoughts with you – whether you’re a 1st year or a 4th year – that might help you as you begin another academic year.

  1.  Have courage. It’s the secret sauce that allows you to move forward and accomplish things, even if you’re scared. Believe in yourself and take heart! 
  2.  Slow down and breathe deeply. Deep breathing reduces stress, increases confidence, and helps with blood flow throughout our entire body. 
  3. Fake it until you make it when needed. Research indicates that the act of smiling actually puts us in a better mood – if you smile long enough, it actually makes you feel happy. And people respond more positively when you project friendliness and confidence. This is a great technique for interviews, new acquaintances, etc.
  4. Remember everyone struggles at times. You’re not alone. 
  5. Reach out and ask for help when needed. It’s a sign of strength. 
  6. Challenge negative self-talk. Start by first recognizing the self-defeating talk (e.g., “I’m going to fail”) and then look for alternative statements (e.g., “This is going to be hard”) and a different perspective (e.g., “I’m going to do my best”). 
  7. Practice self-compassion and treat yourself the way you would a close friend. That means acknowledge daily victories, character growth, and things you like about who you are becoming.
  8. Seek out a mentor. Research shows that a good mentor enhances student success. 
  9. Come visit us (your profs!) during office hours. We want to help. 
  10. Do your reading. Or at least skim what’s been assigned to you.
  11. Study in the room you’re going to be tested in, if possible. Research indicates that if you study for a test in the same (or even similar) environment that you will be taking the test in, you are more likely to remember the information. [It’s all about context and state dependent learning.] 
  12. Practice kindness. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it online.
  13. Put judgment aside, especially if it’s negative. Don’t make any conclusions about a new situation for at least a week. The more emotional we feel, the less logical our thoughts become, so when we are inundated with “newness” it’s beneficial to wait until the dust settles before making a value judgment.
  14. Share mealtimes and linger with others at the table after dinner. And put your phones away; Instagram can wait!
  15. Interact face-to-face whenever possible. Research shows that face-to-face communication establishes more trust, rapport, and credibility – not to mention activates more areas of our brains thanks to mirror neurons!
  16. Remember your identity is still being formed, so choose your friends wisely. We become more like those we spend time with.
  17. Ask someone out on a date at least once a semester (if you’re single, that is)! Interacting with someone you’re attracted to builds your social courage, relational skills, and your confidence. Plus, research shows that building relationships face-to-face helps us find balance and promotes academic success! [And yes, we also learn how to deal with rejection at times. I’d argue that’s a good – albeit hard – thing.]
  18. Avoid hooking up. Research shows that hookups result in feelings of depression and loneliness for those who were otherwise showing no symptoms of depression prior to hooking up.
  19.  Exercise regularly. It’s a natural anti-depressant and endorphin booster!
  20. Say no when you need to. FOMO is OVER.RATED; setting healthy boundaries is not!
  21. Don’t share, buy, barter, sell, or steal Adderall — or any medications — from roommates, friends, or anyone. Misusing stimulants can have serious consequences.
  22. Sleep when it’s dark out for at least 7 consecutive hours. And nap when you need to (but not at the expense of regularly missing class). When we are well-rested we think better!
  23. Go to the doctor when you are sick. WebMD and your roommate are not adequate tools for diagnosing problems.
  24. Read local, national, and global news. It helps give you perspective.
  25. Get outside – daily! – and soak up the sunshine; vitamin D is a brain booster and supports the health of our immune system.
  26. Explore your new community. Try to find the best places to eat, play, volunteer, and hang out. Not only will you feel more like a local, but you’ll feel a part of the community at large.
  27. Set goals with incentives. Reward yourself when you’ve worked hard and have put in your best effort.  Grades aren’t the only reason to #treatyoself
  28. Practice gratitude. You’ll have more friends, feel happier, and be less anxious if you find things to be thankful for each day. (Research-backed!!)
  29. Expect great things.
  30. And always remember this: YOU BELONG. And, the Creator of the Universe loves you. Wow.

Blessings to you!
Professor Gurney

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