Unhealthy habits usually don’t occur in isolation. According to a new study by researchers at SUNY Binghamton, “the adoption of one harmful behavior, such as heavy alcohol use, can lead college students into a vicious cycle of poor lifestyle choices, lack of sleep, mental distress and poor grades.” Most failing college students are failing because of their mental health and ability to manage responsibilities of college life, not because of their academic abilities.

How Prepared Can You Really Be for College?

SAT scores and AP classes aren’t really a good indicator of whether you are prepared to handle the load of college life. Many students who had high expectations for themselves in high school never learned how to balance work with play. While college isn’t necessarily all about partying, it is about having the freedom and independence to manage your own time without the guidance of your parents or your teachers. Depending on the size of the school you go to, your teachers may not know your name, let alone many details about your personal life.

While high school teachers may try to bring up topics related to mental health, study skills, and resources available at the school to help struggling students, college teachers are less likely to notice. More often than not, students are shuttled into college and new environments without healthy habits that will prepare them to deal with inevitable stressors. In college, many students struggle to balance academics with basics of self-care, including adequate sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise, and may pick up some bad habits along the way to cope.

The Domino Effect

In the SUNY study, they found that severe mental distress was linked to substance abuse (including excessive alcohol drinking), extreme daytime sleepiness, poor academic attitude and low GPA. While each of these issues can affect stress levels, when combined, students may feel like they are in crisis mode. For students who are already struggling with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, this can lead to overwhelming feelings of failure, inadequacy, and hopelessness. It becomes a vicious cycle as most students turn to unhealthy habits to cope with these intense feelings. Although drinking the blues away and pulling all nighters to cram for a test may seem like effective ways to deal with a situation, it may actually exaggerate the problems you’re experiencing, if not in the moment, then with a hangover or sleep deprivation.

Breaking the Cycle

Substance use can lead to poor self-care habits, which can lead to low motivation, which can lead to poor academic performance, which brings you back to drinking to cope with getting a bad grade. Interrupting the cycle at any one of these chains can affect the progression of the cycle, however holding onto any of them can increase your chances of falling back into the full pattern.

Chronic stress refers to your body’s physical manifestations of stress when you frequently feel on the verge of panic. Your body does not get a chance to recover before your fight-or-flight system is activated again. Taking time off of school gives students time to focus on their mental health and develop healthy habits to cope with stress. It can be hard to prioritize your own well-being when you feel like you are drowning in things to turn in for a grade.

How Adventure Therapy can Help

blueFire PulsaR offers co-ed adventure-based wilderness therapy for young adults 18-28 trying to break the vicious cycle leading to failure in college.  Our students struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges, including anxiety, depression, motivation, trauma, and substance abuse that have affected their ability to achieve success in school and in other areas of their life. Wilderness programs push students out of their comfort zone and helps them to break the cycle of failure to launch by encouraging fun, healthy lifestyle choices. We help young adults  rediscover their inner spark that fuels their motivation and confidence to pursue their interests.

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