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Perfection and The 21st Century College Student

College counseling centers have been recently overwhelmed with a ever increasing number of students seeking mental health services.  Two such issue that appears to be gaining prevalence are increased anxiety and panic related disorders.  Let’s face it, college can be stressful, but have the pressures and demands of higher education really increased that much?  My answer would be no and I have seen two specific trends that support my position.

The first trend, Low Frustration Tolerance, is not exclusive to college students, and has been impeding the success and overall emotional functioning of many young adults in this country.  Low Frustration Tolerance is exactly what the name suggests; an inability to cope or deal with life stressors, oftentimes resulting in emotional breakdowns, depression, and anxiety. In essence, we are raising a generation of adults who lack the basic skills to deal with life on life’s terms. Overprotective and enabling parenting patterns have contributed to an increase in the number of young adults who are unprepared to manage healthy levels of stress, failure, rejection and basic independent living skills.

The second trend, Perfectionism, is a much more complicated tendency, whose roots can not be adequately explained in a several hundred word blog (but consider the longterm consequences of state performance, high school exams, where students are “scared” into doing well so as to ensure increased or sustained funding for their school district).  With perfectionism, students tend to focus on fears related to poor performance.  Papers, presentations, quizzes and exams illicit anxiety and panic that completely overshadows the learning process.  The student buys into the false perception that obtaining a  4.0 is more important than just doing one’s best.  Interestingly, poor performance or the perception of poor performance can then lead to low frustration tolerance, thus creating a harmful cycle of fear, disappointment and emotional dysregulation.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are two very popular approaches that can assist individuals in increasing their levels of frustration tolerance while also developing coping skills that will allow them to effectively combat the uncomfortable symptoms of stress, anxiety and panic.

If you are a student or the parent of a student who struggles with anxiety related academic issues, then please know that their is help and relief from these self destructive and emotionally charged beliefs.  Please visit your campus counseling center or contact a private therapist to begin the process of making your college experience one that is rewarding, fun and memorable.

 

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