10.6 Emotional Health and Happiness
- Explain the common causes of anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions in college-age people.
- Describe changes you can make in your life to achieve or maintain emotional balance.
- List characteristics of healthy relationships.
- Describe the steps of conflict resolution.
Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health—and maybe more so. If you’re unhappy much of the time, you will not do as well as in college—or life—as you can if you’re happy. You will feel more stress, and your health will suffer.
Still, most of us are neither happy nor unhappy all the time. Life is constantly changing, and our emotions change with it. But sometimes we experience more negative emotions than normally, and our emotional health may suffer. Use the Emotional Self-Assessment to evaluate your emotional health.
Check the appropriate boxes.
|1. I sometimes feel anxious or depressed—without disruption of my everyday life.|
|2. I sometimes feel so anxious or depressed that I have trouble with routine activities.|
|3. I sometimes feel lonely.|
|4. I sometimes feel that I have little control over my life.|
|5. I have sometimes just wanted to give up.|
|6. Negative emotions have sometimes kept me from studying or getting my work done.|
|7. Negative emotions have affected my relationships with others.|
Write your answers.
Describe your emotional mood on most days.
Describe what you’d ideally like to feel like all the time.
What specific things are keeping you from feeling what you’d ideally like to feel like most of the time?
Are you happy with your relationships with others?
What do you think you can do to be a happier person?
When is an emotion problematic? Is it bad to feel anxious about a big test coming up or to feel sad after breaking up a romantic relationship?
It is normal to experience negative emotions. College students face so many demands and stressful situations that many naturally report often feeling anxious, depressed, or lonely. These emotions become problematic only when they persist and begin to affect your life in negative ways. That’s when it’s time to work on your emotional health—just as you’d work on your physical health when illness strikes.
Anxiety is one of the most common emotions college students experience, often as a result of the demands of college, work, and family and friends. It’s difficult to juggle everything, and you may end up feeling not in control, stressed, and anxious.
Anxiety typically results from stress. Some anxiety is often a good thing if it leads to studying for a test, focusing on a problem that needs to be resolved, better management your time and money, and so on. But if anxiety disrupts your focus and makes you freeze up rather than take action, then it may become problematic. Using stress-reduction techniques often helps reduce anxiety to a manageable level.
Anxiety is easier to deal with when you know its cause. Then you can take steps to gain control over the part of your life causing the anxiety. But anxiety can become excessive and lead to a dread of everyday situations. There are five types of more serious anxiety:
- Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. The person may have physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions), or both. Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away.
- Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
- Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) is a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by one’s own actions. Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work or school, and other ordinary activities. Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking.
These five types of anxiety go beyond the normal anxiety everyone feels at some times. If you feel your anxiety is like any of these, see your health-care provider. Effective treatments are available to help you regain control.
Loneliness is a normal feeling that most people experience at some time. College students away from home for the first time are likely to feel lonely at first. Older students may also feel lonely if they no longer see their old friends. Loneliness involves not feeling connected with others. One person may need only one friend to not feel lonely; others need to feel more connected with a group. There’s no set pattern for feeling lonely.
If you are feeling lonely, there are many things you can do to meet others and feel connected. Don’t sit alone in your room bemoaning the absence of friends. That will only cause more stress and emotional distress. You will likely start making new friends through going to classes, working, studying, and living in the community. But you can jump-start that process by taking active steps such as these:
- Realize you don’t have to be physically with friends in order to stay connected. Many students use social Web sites to stay connected with friends at other colleges or in other locations. Telephone calls, instant messaging, and e-mail work for many.
- Understand that you’re not alone in feeling lonely. Many others like you are just waiting for the opportunity to connect, and you will meet them and form new friendships fast once you start reaching out.
- Become involved in campus opportunities to meet others. Every college has a wide range of clubs for students with different interests. If you’re not the “joiner” type, look for individuals in your classes with whom you think you may have something in common and ask them if they’d like to study for a test together or work together on a class project.
- Remember that loneliness is a temporary thing—it’s only a matter of time until you make new friends.
If your loneliness persists and you seem unable to make friends, then it’s a good idea to talk with your counselor or someone at the student health center. They can help.
Depression, like anxiety and loneliness, is commonly experienced by college students. It may be a mild sadness resulting from specific circumstances or be intense feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Many people feel depressed from time to time because of common situations:
- Feeling overwhelmed by pressures to study, work, and meet other obligations
- Not having enough time (or money) to do the things you want to do
- Experiencing problems in a relationship, friendship, or work situation
- Feeling overweight, unhealthy, or not in control of oneself
- Feeling that your new life as a student lacks some of the positive dimensions of your former life
- Not having enough excitement in your life
Depression, like stress, can lead to unhealthy consequences such as poor sleep, overeating or loss of appetite, substance abuse, relationship problems, or withdrawal from activities that formerly brought joy. For most people, depression is a temporary state. But severe depression can have crippling effects. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but the following are most common:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
If you have feelings like this that last for weeks at a time and affect your daily life, your depression is more severe than “normal,” temporary depression. It’s time to see your health-care provider and get treatment as you would for any other illness.
Severe depression often makes a person feel there is no hope—and therefore many people with depression do not seek help. In reality, depression can be successfully treated, but only if the person seeks help.
Suicidal feelings, which can result from severe depression, are more common in college students than in the past. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in American college students (after accidents). In most cases, the person had severe depression and was not receiving treatment. Recognizing severe depression and seeking treatment is crucial.
Depression can strike almost anyone at any age at any kind of college. It is a myth that high-pressure colleges have higher suicide rates or that students who feel compelled to excel because of college pressures are more likely to commit suicide. In reality, anyone can be ill with severe depression and, if not treated, become suicidal.
Following are risk factors for suicide:
- Depression and other mental disorders or a substance-abuse disorder (more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors)
- Prior suicide attempt
- Family history of mental disorder, substance abuse, or suicide
- Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures
Warning Signs for Suicide
- Being depressed or sad most of the time
- Having feelings of worthlessness, shame, or hopelessness about the future
- Withdrawing from friends and family members
- Talking about suicide or death
- Being unable to get over a recent loss (broken relationship, loss of job, etc.)
- Experiencing changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or eating habits
If you or a friend is in a crisis and needs help at any time, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.
If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help by calling the hotline number. Many campuses also have twenty-four-hour resources. In an emergency, call 911. Try to ensure that the person does not have access to a firearm or other potential tool for suicide, including medications.
Achieving Emotional Balance
Emotional balance is an essential element of wellness—and for succeeding in college. Emotional balance doesn’t mean that you never experience a negative emotion, because these emotions are usually natural and normal. Emotional balance means we balance the negative with the positive, that we can be generally happy even if we’re saddened by some things.
Emotional balance starts with being aware of our emotions and understanding them. If you’re feeling angry, stop and think about the real cause of your anger. Are you really angry because your friend said something about one of your bad habits, or are you angry because you haven’t been able to break that habit? Are you feeling anxiety because you’re worried you might not be cut out for college, or are you just anxious about that test tomorrow?
See the “Tips for Success” for other ways you can achieve and maintain a healthy emotional balance.
Tips for Success: Emotional Health
- Accept that most emotions can’t be directly controlled. But the things you do—such as getting exercise, using a relaxation technique, trying the various stress-reduction methods discussed in this chapter—do improve your emotional state.
- Connect with others. Your emotional state is less likely to change when you keep to yourself and “stew over” the feeling.
- Develop your empathy for others. Empathy involves recognizing the emotions that others are feeling. You’ll find yourself in better emotional balance as a result, and your relationships will improve.
- Be honest in your relationships. If you try to hide your feelings, the other person will know something is wrong and may react the wrong way.
- Understand that negative emotions are temporary. You may be feeling bad now, but it will pass in time. But if a negative feeling does last a long time, recognize that you likely need help resolving it—and that help is available.
- If you’ve just become a college student, know that the first term is usually the hardest. Hang in there. Once you’ve developed effective study habits and time management skills, each term will be easier and happier than the one before.
Romantic relationships are often as much a part of a rich emotional life for college students as for anyone else. But the added challenges of college, especially while also working and maintaining a family life, often stress these relationships. You may have to give extra attention to a relationship to keep it healthy and avoid conflicts that lead to unhappiness and other problems.
Ideally, a healthy relationship should have these characteristics:
- Both partners should respect each other as individuals with unique interests and personality traits. Don’t expect your partner to be just like you; embrace rather than reject differences. Both partners should be supportive of each other.
- Both partners should trust each other and be honest with each other. You must feel that you can open up emotionally to the other without fear of rejection. Starting out with deceptions is certain to cause eventual problems.
- Both partners should be understanding and have empathy for each other. Good communication is essential. Many relationship problems are rooted in misunderstandings, such as when one partner doesn’t make the effort to understand what the other wants or needs.
These positive characteristics of a good relationship don’t happen overnight. The relationship may begin with romantic attraction and only slowly develop into a trusting, mutually supportive friendship as well. The following signs may indicate that a dating relationship is not developing well:
- Your partner is pressuring you for sex when you’re not ready
- Your partner seems angry or abusive when you disagree about something
- Your partner seems possessive when others want to spend time with you
- Your partner treats you unequally in any way
- Your partner is emotionally or physically abusive (whether it happens once or many times)
If you recognize that any of these things are happening with someone you’re dating, it may be time to reconsider, even if you still feel attracted. Any relationship that begins this way is not likely to end well.
In any friendship or relationship, conflict will eventually happen. This is just natural because people are different. If a conflict is ignored, or the partners just argue without resolving it, it may simmer and continue to cause tension, eventually weakening the relationship. It’s better to take steps to resolve it.
Conflict resolution is a process of understanding what’s really going on and then finding a solution. The same general steps of conflict resolution can work to solve a relationship conflict or a conflict between any people or groups because of a disagreement about anything. Following are the general principles of conflict resolution:
- Allow things to cool off. It’s difficult to resolve a conflict while either party is still emotional. Wait a few minutes or agree to talk about it later.
- Using “I statements” rather than “you statements,” each party explains what bothers him or her about the cause of the conflict. For example, don’t say, “You’re always playing loud music when I’m trying to study.” Instead, say, “I have difficulty studying when you play loud music, and that makes me frustrated and irritable.” “You statements” put the other person on the defensive and evoke emotions that make resolution more difficult.
- Listen carefully to what the other person says. Then restate the message in your own words to give the other a chance to clarify their thoughts and feelings. Each party should listen to the other and restate the other’s message to ensure the real issue is out on the table for discussion.
- Accept responsibility for your role in the conflict, instead of blaming the other. A good example of accepting responsibility is to say, “I know I’m always studying and need the quiet. I guess that makes it hard for you to listen to your music.”
- Brainstorm together to find a solution that satisfies both of you. Some compromise is usually needed, but that is usually not difficult to reach when you’re calm and are working together on a solution. In this example, you might compromise by going elsewhere to study at selected times when the other has friends over and wants to listen to music, and the other may compromise by agreeing to use headphones at other times and never to play music aloud after 10 p.m.
- Apologize, thank, and forgive. After reaching a resolution, emotional closure is needed to restore your relationship and end on a positive, affirming note. When appropriate, apologize for your past anger or arguing. Thank the other for being willing to compromise to resolve the conflict. In your mind, forgive the person for past misunderstandings and actions so that you do not carry any grudge into the future.
Online and Long-Distance Relationships
Can your relationship survive if you and your partner are living at a distance? This is a common issue for young people going off to college at different schools—and for older college students, too, who may move because of work or school. Sometimes the relationship survives, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important, if you’re making an effort to stay together, for both partners to accept that being apart will add new pressures on the relationship. Accept also that both of you will be changing in many ways. You may naturally grow apart and decide to break up.
Yet often long-distance relationships do survive successfully. If you do decide to work to keep your relationship alive and vibrant, there are things you can do:
- Acknowledge that you are both changing, and accept and celebrate your new lives.
- Don’t feel guilty about being excited by your new life, and don’t try to pretend to your partner that you’re always miserable because you’re separated.
- Don’t be upset or jealous when your partner tells you about new friends and activities—be happy that he or she seems happy. Talk about these changes and be happy for each other.
- If your relationship is solid, it is already based on trust and mutual support, which should continue to give you strength when apart.
- Emotional health is just as important as physical health. We can take steps to reduce the negative emotions that plague us from time to time and gain control over our emotional health.
- Emotional balance results from a variety of things in our lives. We need to connect with others, to be honest and empathetic in our relationships, and to resolve conflicts that can cause bad feelings and threaten our daily happiness. We can learn skills in these areas just as in other areas of our lives.
For each of the following statements about emotional health, circle T for true or F for false:
T F Anxiety is always a mental health disorder. T F It’s normal to feel depressed sometimes about the pressures of studying, working, and other obligations in your life. T F When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to keep to yourself and not try to connect with others until after these feelings pass. T F If someone says he is feeling suicidal, he is only seeking attention and is unlikely to actually try to kill himself.
List at least two things you can do to make new friends at college.
Describe three characteristics of a good relationship.
List the six steps for effective conflict resolution.