When college students experience loss and trauma, it may feel as if their whole world has stopped spinning even when classes carry on around them. They may need to take time off school to handle other responsibilities or may continue to show up to class but struggle to retain any information. They may feel at a crossroads as they try to decide the next steps they should take for their personal healing and whether this may interfere with their academic and career goals. Coping with loss and trauma as a college student is particularly difficult for young adults who lack healthy coping mechanisms and a reliable support system.
Why are College Students Vulnerable to Loss?
Change is inevitable during young adulthood, although it is difficult to adequately prepare for these transitions. As they go through these changes, there is a lot of uncertainty in their lives, which makes it harder for them to stick to a “normal routine” when they experience loss. College students may be more vulnerable to stress, breakups, and identity issues during this period of their life.
Loss is not necessarily always associated with a significant traumatic event. Young adults may grieve the loss of many relationships or experiences that are perceived as less serious. However, when smaller losses add up on top of other obligations, it may feel too overwhelming to handle.
The four most common types of loss include:
- Physical loss of a loved one. Grief is a common reaction to death that doesn’t have a statute of limitations. The process of grieving is often delayed when the nature of the loss is unexpected.
- Loss of the love of a loved one. Breakups, parent divorces, changes in friend groups, and abandonment can feel just as devastating as the physical loss of a person sometimes. Often, this loss of social support can be messy, rather than gradual. Arguments can completely warp one’s sense of self-esteem if young adults believe that these hurtful messages are true.
- Loss of physical ability. Serious injuries are often life-changing events, especially when there is no time to prepare. Athletes who have had to stop playing sports due to injuries often question who they are without the activity they’ve spent years centering their identity around.
- Loss of sense of self. During life transitions, young adults often question their sense of self. It takes a period of adjustment to re-establish who they are and who they want to be, especially after trauma and loss.
Coping With Loss and Trauma
- Don’t set expectations for what grief may look like. Grief is not a linear process. Young adults will find themselves looping back to different stages over time. This does not mean that they have not made progress in moving forward. They may feel flooded at unexpected times–judging this experience as inappropriate or unnecessary does not give them space to heal. For some, allowing themselves to fully grieve can lead them to find a greater sense of purpose.
- Create a routine with activities that they enjoy. This provides some structure and can help young adults anticipate what to expect on a day-to-day basis. This is particularly important if they have decided to take a gap year to focus on themself. Between self-care and exploring interests, following a routine can help them stay motivated for their long-term goals when thoughts of hopelessness occur.
- Recognize when you may need to take steps to find additional support. A change in environment may help you make peace with events you’ve been struggling to process. Transitional living programs offer a built-in support system for young women who would benefit from accountability in pursuing their academic and personal goals, especially after loss or trauma. These programs offer both individual therapy and group therapy in a nurturing environment.
Journey Home Young Adult Can Help
Journey Home Young Adult is a transitional living program for young women ages 18-23 struggling with emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders that have affected their academic and career goals. Journey Home creates an environment conducive to healing where young women can learn healthy coping skills while becoming more well-equipped to launch into adulthood. Students are encouraged to take college classes and receive additional academic support from mentors to help them stay on track and manage their stress.
To learn more about how loss and trauma affect college students, contact us at 801-444-0794.