Feeling more dread than excitement at returning to college? Kathleen O'Sullivan spoke to counsellor Kay McSweeney about how to combat the back to school blues.
The second semester in the academic year can bring the feeling of a new beginning to many third level students.
 
For most students, exams are completed with results awaiting, they spent their time off recuperating with friends and family after a hectic few months and they’re ready for round two. The overwhelming doubt and uncertainty experienced by many students prior to and during the first semester of the college year is generally over.
 
However, for many others, having to return to college after the lengthy Christmas break can cause different degrees of stress and the “Second Semester Blues” may kick in.
 
Counsellor Kay McSweeney is based in the southwest region. She feels there are many factors contributing to these blues. Speaking to her about the topic, she said that student’s feelings towards returning to college are very much influenced by past experience.
 
“Returning to college for each student after Christmas break will hold different thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The emotions we hold have to do with the past defining moments we have had in our life. If a person always had a negative thought about returning to school, the negative thought will fuel negative feelings to occur which will remain until same is explored."
 
Not only can past experiences have an influence, but also other people in our lives.
 
“The thoughts he or she may be having about college may have been influenced by what their parents thought of their own schooling, how parents feel about returning to their own workplace after time off and the negative experiences the adult child may have had within the education system. 'New Year’s Resolutions' can often put added pressure on students to succeed in the new year, making them dread the semester ahead, thus contributing to the so-called “Second Semester Blues”.
 
If a student is feeling the pressure after the festive period, Kay advises against resolutions: “It may not always be advisable to set new year's resolutions at the beginning of the year if one is not emotionally in the right place. If one does not exceed in their goa,l it may fuel negative thoughts and feelings to occur. Self-awareness is important here, the more self-aware we become the truer we are to ourselves and our capabilities."
 
Some common factors that make the return back to college more difficult for students are homesickness, exam and result worries and financial struggles. Homesickness is usually quite unique to different students; it depends on their home life.
 
“The purpose of family is that person is supported to become emotionally independent and to belief in one's capabilities to care for oneself," Kay said. “As we all come from different family systems homesickness is very individual and if one is not coping professional help should be considered as his/her thoughts and feelings about parents, leaving home, feeling lonely, feeling unsafe and insecurity needs to be explored."
 
Regarding exams, a lot can be done to prepare: “A lot of exam stress can be avoided by preparation and getting the required help from tutors. The work needs to be done, it's down to good planning and organisation."
 
For most students, the thought of going back to college after the long Christmas break is a lot more daunting than what actually lies ahead. “Thought of doing anything can sometimes be a lot worse than actually doing it," Kay added.
 
“One negative thought leads to another which fuels our feeling, one can make things real in their own minds before anything happens."
 
However, it is important for students to know when what they are experiencing is more than just the Second Semester Blues. “When one finds everyday life a complete struggle and has difficulty in sleeping, eating, managing a daily routine, has no motivation, is experiencing isolation and insecurity present, one needs to seek professional help. Go to a doctor and speak to friends and family, don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't leave a thought or a feeling snowball. Seek help and ask for advice as soon as possible."