Student Support at EBTC with Martin Browne, Assistant Psychologist

August 20, 2019 | By More

Being a student can be a time of transition, leading to a range of emotions from excitement to fear. Whether going to college for the first time or coming back for another year, challenges and opportunities exist for everyone. Recognising and being honest about this can be really valuable and help people navigate their way through third level education. So, let’s look at some of the challenges that arise, along with the learning opportunities that exist to help people manage these difficulties and make the most of student life.

SOME OF THE CHALLENGES

1) Unknown territory

Going to college can mean moving to a different part of the country or even world. It can be a process of trading well known surroundings for new unfamiliar places.  In addition, third level education brings a focus to a whole host of academic opportunities, many of which will be new and more advanced to what was experienced during secondary school. Our brains take time to adjust to all of this change. While this is happening, our internal state can move between excitement and feeling overwhelmed or low.

2) Relationships

At the beginning and indeed throughout college, there can be lots of new faces to contend with. Meeting new people and hearing new points of view is a really good way to broaden our perspective on life. However, it can also be confusing and tricky to navigate at times.

At the same time as we are making new friendships, old friendships can begin to change. Friends from secondary school or our hometown might be taking different paths in life and it can be difficult to find common ground from which to base the friendship from. This is no one’s fault, but difficult emotions such as loneliness and low mood can emerge and thought patterns can become unhelpful as we navigate through this process.

With external relationships in a possible state of flux, our relationship with ourselves can also change. The way that we relate to ourselves has a direct impact on our mental health and also on the way we interact with others and so it’s important that this is attended to.

3) Managing academic pressure

Academic learning challenges many aspects of our thinking processes. For example, one important area is our ability to make effective use of our memory. The topic of memory is broad and multidimensional. However, for the process of learning, the ability to encode, store and retrieve information is of high importance across all facets of memory.

It is now known that the presence of certain conditions can either deplete or enhance our potential to encode, store and retrieve information. High levels of anxiety can hijack our capacity to learn effectively. Instead of having access to the full range of our thinking abilities, our attention is narrowed to focus entirely on the perceived threat (whatever that might be). This can challenge our ability to learn effectively and this can result in further anxiety as we fall behind in studies, creating a negative loop.

KEEPING OUR HEADS ‘OUT’ OF THE SAND

It can be easy to ignore or deny the presence of such difficulties and to distract ourselves from them in the short term. However, the academic year moves around quickly and before we know it the impact of these difficulties become apparent. A delay in seeking support can have a negative influence on college attendance and grades, leading to difficulties in successfully completing courses. Recognising early warning signs is vital to combat this, for example;

  • Is getting to lectures and tutorials becoming a struggle?
  • Do you find yourself beginning to withdraw from people?
  • Is your interest in normally enjoyable activities lessening?
  • Are sleeping habits changing, i.e. getting too much or too little?
  • Is alcohol or the use of other substances becoming more regular?

Recognising these early signs in an honest way without being too hard on ourselves can allow our attention to turn toward possible solutions. Early intervention is key in terms of preventing the situation from getting worse and learning how to address and better manage current difficulties. Indeed, such a call to action at this point can be hugely beneficial not only in successfully navigating academic demands but also in gaining skills applicable to other areas of life. 

WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP WITH THESE CHALLENGES?

The good news is that there are many things that can help us manage our emotions and adjust at these tricky times. Bringing some attention to our thoughts and feelings and becoming more aware of how the challenges we face are affecting us opens an opportunity for us to learn new ways of managing our emotional and psychological responses.

We know from research that developing self-compassion can really help us cope with difficult and intense emotions. Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) describes compassion as an active process, involving sensitivity to the distress of self and others along with a willingness to try to relieve it. In CFT, the focus is on developing a balance between the three emotion regulation systems – drive, threat and soothing (see diagram below).

More specifically Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) aims to help people develop skills to regulate their threat systems, enhance their soothing systems and engage with their drive systems from a position of motivation and curiosity. Whether we are facing into the unknown, trying to navigate relationships or trying to get through our assignments and exams, bringing some compassion to the situation will help us to find some sense of emotional and psychological balance.

A Compassionate Mind Approach (Balancing our emotional systems)

Get in touch

If you feel that you would like some extra support to help you make the most of third level education you can make an appointment with Assistant Psychologist Martin Browne. Martin has a wealth of experience working with students in third level education and has used a range of evidence-based approaches to help build students capacity to engage with and manage third level education in a more balanced and helpful way.

If you would like to book an appointment with Martin or have any questions about student support, please contact the clinic on 091 727777 or get in touch via the contact us page.

Martin is available for appointments each week on Mondays 9am – 1pm & 6 – 9pm

Price: The fee for an appointment with Martin is €50

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