Fostering Student Wellbeing

For Faculty: Fostering Student Mental Wellbeing

prepared in collaboration with the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center

It's long been known that stress impacts academic performance and individual flourishing. Significantly stressful life events have also been known to negatively impact quality of life in all areas. This has all been established long before the recent pandemic which has wrought a traumatizing amount of stress on all of us. Even before the pandemic, a 2015 study showed that 65.7% of college students reported "overwhelming anxiety" and 58.7% reported "more than average" or "tremendous" stress in the previous year. This data is unsettling enough, but research shows that more students (and faculty) are facing intense stress and anxiety in the wake of the pandemic and the pandemic's impact on learning environments.

As faculty, we must take care of ourselves and manage our own stress to help cultivate lower-stress learning environments for our students. Remind students to take time for self-care, such as making sure they get adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise, finding time for relaxing and fun activities, and talking to supportive peers, family, and faculty/staff.

It is also important to be aware of the following signs that something more serious may be going on in your student's life:

  • Poor emotional control. Examples include: open hostility; outbursts of emotion that are disproportionate to the event; uncontrolled crying or inappropriate laughter.
  • Excessive moodiness or worry, or dramatic changes in mood.
  • Depressed mood that lasts for longer than 2 weeks.
  • Expressions of universal mistrust or paranoia.
  • Suicidal talk or behavior.
  • Scars, scabs, burn marks may indicate purposeful self-harm.
  • Missing classes or work often might be due to severe depression or substance abuse.
  • Significant changes in grooming, appearance; extreme changes in weight.
  • Significant changes in quality of work; decrease in performance or failure to complete assignments.

Such dramatic changes in a student’s behavior may indicate a more serious mental health concern and should be addressed by talking to the student one-on-one to express concern and make a referral to theUniversity Counseling and Wellbeing Center (UCWC).  If you have concerns about a student but aren’t sure how to proceed, the UCWC staff are available to consult with you regarding your next step.  We are available at ext. 6204.  Our website also contains information for faculty and staff on “Recognizing and Assisting Troubled Students.”

For Students: Managing Mental Wellbeing

When students are asked about which health and wellness issues cause the most disruption to their school performance, the number one answer is “Stress.”  The most important thing you can do to manage your stress level is to attend to your basic needs.  This is what we at the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center like to call “Self-Care 101.”    Here are some things that can help:

  • Make sure you eat healthy food regularly.  Skipping meals robs you of the energy you need to mobilize your coping resources.
  • Get plenty of sleep, but not too much!  Most people need from 6-8 hours of sleep every night.  Go to bed and get up at around the same time every day, and avoid studying or reading in bed.
  • Do some kind of physical activity that you enjoy – running, swimming, playing sports, working out.  Even walks around the campus can help you feel better emotionally and help reduce stress.
  • Talk to friends and family who are supportive.  Isolating yourself can make things worse.
  • Avoid using drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate.
  • Find activities that are relaxing and soothing to you and make at least a little time for those activities each day.  Listen to your favorite music, take a hot bath or shower, meditate, watch your favorite television show, paint a picture.
  • Give yourself permission to not worry about your problems for part of each day.
  • Write down things you need to remember so you don’t have to “hold” them all in your mind.
  • Attend to your spirituality.  Go to church, synagogue or mosque.  Pray, read uplifting books, speak to a spiritual leader.
  • Find humor in your life.  Spend time with people who make you laugh.  Watch a funny movie.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, try to remember what has helped you in the past.  Make a list of these things and do them.

If you find that your usual strategies for managing stress aren’t working, you may need more help.  In a recent survey, 35-45% of college students reported having at least one time in the past year when they felt too depressed to function.  Ongoing difficulties with sleep, excessive moodiness or crying, difficulty concentrating that interferes with studying, extreme anxiety, or depressed mood that lasts longer than two weeks are a cause for concern.

The University Counseling and Wellbeing Center(636 Fisher Hall) offers free and confidential counseling for all currently enrolled students.  If you think you might be suffering from depression or another mental health issue, you can call our office for an appointment at ext. 6204.  If you’d like more information first, visit the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center's website.

Further Reading 

The Annual State of Mental Health in America Report from Mental Health America

Hoyt, Lindsay Till, Alison K. Cohen, Brandon Dull, Elena Maker Castro, and Neshat Yazdani. 2021. "‘Constant Stress Has Become the New Normal': Stress and Anxiety Inequalities Among U.S. College Students in the Time of COVID-19." Journal of Adolescent Health 68 (2): 270-76. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.10.030.

Yang, Chunjiang, Aobo Chen, and Yashuo Chen. 2021. "College Students' Stress and Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of Academic Workload, Separation from School, and Fears of Contagion." PLoS ONE 16 (2): 1-16. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0246676.

American College Health Association. "American college health association-national college health assessment II: Reference group executive summary spring 2015." Hanover, MD: American College Health Association 132 (2015).

Grace, T.W. (1997). Health problems of college students. Journal of American College Health, 45, 243-250.

Damush, T.T., Hays, R.D., & DiMatto, M.R. (1997). Stressful life events and health-related quality of life in college students. Journal of College Student Development, 38, 181-190.