Returning to (or beginning) college can be some of the most precious times.  With so many life-changing and beautiful opportunities, college is exhilarating, but it can also be a stress-filled time.   Results from recent studies show that the high demand from academics, altering sleep and eating patterns, homesickness and lack of communication with family, and financial concerns can test even the most qualified students.  In fact, approximately 80 percent of college students say that experience stress daily, and nearly 25 percent believe this stress has had an impact on their academic performance. These daily stressors can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns in college students that can potentially hold these students back.  The buildup of these burdens is also one of the key causes of college students choosing to drop out.

Studies have found that the top interventions for coping with these problems may be prevention.  Being proactive and handling future demands before they seem overwhelming can offset the effects of transitional changes.  Also, utilizing brief techniques for stress management accompanied with proven methods for increasing positivity, has been proven to be beneficial for college students.

A study looked at individuals aged 18-22 years, otherwise known as college-aged, in two intervention programs:  a coping skills group, which informed students on adaptive ways to manage stress, and a cognitive training program, that utilized several games to develop working memory, attention, control/inhibition, or shifting/cognitive flexibility.  Once the students had been in training for six weeks, a post-intervention measure uncovered noteworthy decreases with both conditions on social stress, anxiety, and executive function issues. The students in the cognitive training performed considerably better on measures of better behavior regulation and controlling ADHD symptoms — critical skills in managing the academic demands of college.

Based off of these findings, prevention programs have the ability to work exceptionally well in lessening symptoms.  However, there is still a flip side. Lessening symptoms have the ability to keep students from entering a downward spiral, but there are additional deliberate interventions that can be utilized to help students increase joy and experience a persistent well-being.  These interventions are mainly being pulled from a fresh, innovative field: positive psychology.

The science of positive psychology, developed from the work done by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, has concentrated on five factors that assist people in thriving and collectively identify the elements of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement (PERMA).  The work done by Seligman as well as many researchers around the world, has created a new sub-discipline in the psychology field, that involves using precise interventions, and new tools to increase positivity. Essentially, these principles aim to increase positive emotions, while shaking off the aftereffects of a setback.

Daniel Lerner and Alan Schlechter, two NYU professors that teach classes on the science of happiness, are now authors as well.  Their new book U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life) uses research from Seligman and others and applies it specifically to college students.  These connoisseurs know first-hand what students need and how to adapt their work appropriately.

To me, this book is revolutionary and I wish it had existed when I was in college. It is easily accessible and offers students the most wide-ranging collection of applied interventions, accompanied by research to help them not only survive but thrive. In a lively, well-written and down-to-earth presentation, the authors present students the tools to assist them in not only managing their struggles but finding sustainable ways to succeed in college and beyond. Amongst these interventions are the essential elements of cultivating optimism, developing resilience, and refining goal setting. This book would make a great gift for your college-bound person.

Don’t forget that there is a wide range of “normal” during college transition. Nearly 70% of incoming freshman change their major, and the sheer volume of new people, expectations, and physical changes requires some normal periods of adjustment. What prevention and proactive strategies offer is a way to soften these natural transitions and offer authentic hope for not only getting through but doing well in college.