As we come to the last month of the year, many high-school seniors are finishing their college applications. This year, because of Coronavirus, anxiety is higher as we try to understand how the colleges are going to view applications now that some schools have been closed and kids are learning virtually; national testing is optional at some colleges but still suggested or required at others; and in person interviews are down the tube.
While the application process is arduous and nerve-wracking, after you push send the waiting starts--will you be accepted, rejected, or waitlisted? Did you get into your top pick? Was any merit or scholarship offered? The stakes are high, the deadlines are strict, and you're being asked to make major decisions about your future. This limbo can be a difficult time, filled with self-doubt and what-ifs. The anticipation can make some students tense, irritable, and distracted. How could our kids not be stressed?! So how can our kids take a breath, manage or work off some of this stress?
There are a number of things you can do to help mitigate the physical, mental, and emotional consequences of admissions anxiety. The first one is to go into this with realistic expectations. Colleges are competitive. Chances are, you won’t get accepted to every school you applied to. That's ok, you can’t eradicate the possibility of rejection, but you can anticipate it and come to terms with it in advance, and that can help lessen the anxiety.
Another big hurdle is getting off that comparison train. Every college applicant is unique, and it’s nearly impossible to meaningfully compare yourself to others. Even if another student seems very similar to you, the reality is that you don't know the details of their application, nor what the admissions people are looking for. So how do we do that? How do we stop overthinking and agonizing over what's going to happen? See if instead of worrying you can congratulate yourself --or as a parent congratulate your teen on finishing the application process and setting themselves up for the future. If that fails, which it may, here are some other things to do or not to do.
STOP TALKING ABOUT IT
Seriously, be straight with everyone. Tell your family and friends that you don’t want to talk about it. In most cases, the questions of family and friends are well-intentioned, but constant questions can get on your nerves. Keep well-intentioned family members away by assuring each and every one of them that she or he will be the first to know when you find out. For us parents that means stop asking how they are feeling about it and please stop asking their friends about college too. They are done for now and it only makes them anxious.
In other years you'd just be able to go hang with friends or play soccer or frisbee to get your mind off of it. Today, not so much. Social distancing and all that. Still, get outside if the weather is good. Fresh air can improve your mood as can sunshine. Try zooming your friends or embrace down time by reading a book or watching a movie or bingeing a show. Play with a pet, cuddle a puppy—connect with something or someone. Exercise can be a game changer as it gets endorphins running through us.
It may feel like life right now is too serious to joke around; but that’s when we need it the most. Step away from your computer and endless email waiting and find something else to talk about than college. Find your sense of humor even if it's sarcasm or a dark humor. Laughter releases those awesome endorphins and helps your body relax. Go watch the Simpsons or whatever you find hilarious. Laugh it out.
I know breathing and mindfulness can sound stupid but it really does all start and end with the breath. Deep, slow, fill-your-lungs breaths calm you down. In the time it takes for 3 big breaths, your stress and cortisol levels plunge, physically causing a calmness and settling in your body. When all else fails, just Breathe.
Remind yourself at least once a day that you never ever have to write another college application essay or supplemental essay. Remind yourself that there isn't just one dream school that's right for you. There are pros and cons to all of them, so you will have choices to make. You will find your place.
Feel the relief? Indulge in the relief!