Friends with (success-inducing) Benefits: How to Help You and Your Friends Succeed in College

Connecting with others in college has often been viewed as a distraction from the ultimate goals of your education. But recent research is showing the clear benefits of a social network of friends to personal well-being and academic success. Bonus: all parties reap the rewards of friendship!

Here are ways you can help each other succeed:

Support each other’s work.

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Even pets can help!

Any of your friends can proofread your papers or remind you of due dates. And you can build friendships from your academic interactions.

  • Talk to your classmates and set up study groups.
  • Create a reading group where you share the reading load and write up summaries for group members.
  • Schedule opportunities to engage with your classmates outside of class.

These types of friendships have been shown to have the most positive academic impact on everyone’s academic success.

Affirm each other.

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A high five while jumping in the snow is one of the best affirmations.

Celebrate efforts together. After your friend has been studying non-stop for an exam, go to a soccer game together to celebrate being done studying. As a reminder: focus on the effort rather than the outcome. An A on a test is great, but your friend will feel more supported when you notice the time she put into studying instead of the grade received.

Support healthy behaviors.

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Generally doing anything that makes you feel like a kid again counts as health-supportive.

Hang out while moving your body – go for bike rides, walk and talk, play a round of golf – whatever sounds fun. Be body positive and food positive – no body- or food-shaming allowed! Encourage sleep and find ways to help your friends sleep well. Earplugs, white noise machines, and light-blocking window shades or eye masks are helpful gifts to friends or roommates.

Avoid stress competition.

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Stress is not a competition.

We know the typical answer to “how are you doing?” is “stressed” or “busy.” But this perpetuates the idea that to be a UNC student means you’re constantly stressed. A better answer? “Life is full right now.” Or telling your friend something fun you recently did and asking them what they’ve been doing to take a break.

Listen.

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Even the walls recognize the importance of listening.

Feeling genuinely heard and accepted is one of our most important needs.  Providing empathy and acceptance is one of the most soothing things one can do for another.

As the listener:

  • Try to give your full attention.
  • Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact.
  • Use body language to show you’re paying attention. Nodding your head and mirroring your friend’s feelings with your facial expressions can make people feel heard.
  • Listen non-judgmentally – meaning resist the impulse to judge who is right or wrong, good or bad, should or should not have done something.
  • Try not to make assumptions.
  • Reflect back what you hear and ask the person with, “did I get it?”
  • Ask, “What would help?”
  • Don’t be too quick to “fix” the problem or give advice.  Make sure you show you understand what the other person’s needs and feelings are first.

Be like family.

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Hugs for the win!

What did your family do to support you that you loved? Some ideas:

  • Cook each other dinner.
  • Ask if your friend needs anything when you head to the store.
  • Invite your friend to join you on outings.
  • Celebrate milestones together.
  • Be authentic with each other.

Ultimately, you have an opportunity at UNC to create the community you need to be successful here. Sometimes that takes a bit of vulnerability to put yourself out there or to be honest with someone about your current challenges, but we guarantee it’s worth the effort.

Having trouble getting connected? If you’re in the residence hall, check in with your RA or Community Director staff. If you’re not living on campus, look into student organizations that fit your interests.

This blog was written by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator. 

Study Drugs: Why the Cons Outweigh the Pros

You’re new at UNC-Chapel Hill or returning from a summer away, but either way you can’t wait to jump into all of the exciting opportunities, classes, clubs, organizations, and events this campus has to offer. The sheer number of opportunities is one of the reasons this school is so great. There is such a range of interests, from clubs focusing on academics and future professions, to music and theater, to Greek life, to politics, to sports, and to so much more. But before you sign up for all 15 activities that have peaked your interest, it’s important to make sure that you have enough time to devote to everything you sign up for. Getting good grades, trying to stay involved on campus, while maintaining a social life can put students at risk of using stimulants, or “study drugs” to help them keep up.

What are people’s reasons for using Study Drugs?

Drugs including Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin are prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). However, a black market for these drugs has grown on college campuses in recent years, including at UNC. Some students are turning to these “study drugs” under the mistaken belief that these drugs will provide a magic fix that will help them stay focused, improve efficiency, and better their grades during periods of high stress.

 

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Photo by Joshua Brown, Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Why does it seem like everyone is doing it?

While it may feel like you constantly hear stories about friends and classmates utilizing these study drugs, the rates of misuse are not as high as they may seem. According to a study conducted by The Coalition to Prevent ADHD Medication Misuse, 75% of students believe that some of their peers have illegally used ADHD prescription stimulant medication. However, a recent survey conducted at the University of Texas found that 87% of students do not use study drugs. While high rates of illegal drug use for academic purposes are untrue, that does not mean that a problem does not exist. In 2011, the National Institute for Drug Abuse found the 9.8% of college students had illegally used Adderall and the rates have continued to increase, especially at universities with competitive academics and admissions processes.

I need to focus, why should I NOT use Study Drugs?

Stimulant medications such as amphetamines (e.g., Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) are prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD. People with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and staying focused and are more hyperactive or impulsive than their peers. These stimulants increase dopamine in the brain, which creates calming and focusing effects on individuals with ADHD. People who take these drugs who do not have ADD or ADHD can suffer from dangerous medical side effects, such as restlessness, hallucinations, and irregular heartbeat, among others. Long term misuse of study drugs can even cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep.

Beyond dangerous physical side effects, there may be academic and legal consequences of the misuse of study drugs as well. Misusing study drugs violates UNC’s drug and alcohol policy (link this), as well as the law. Those who are caught misusing study drugs can be subjected to suspension, fines, or even jail time.

While study drugs can improve focus and motivation to study, a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t.

What can I do to increase concentration and focus without using study drugs?

  •         Get enough sleep – your brain cannot retain the information you are studying if you are tired. Try to get at least 6-7 hours a night during high stress times and 8 hours on other nights. Power naps are another great way to revitalize your brain. A 20 minute nap boosts alertness and motor learning skills like typing. Naps of 30-60 minutes are good for decision-making skills, memorization, and recall. 60-90 minute naps help to make new connections in your brain and to solve creative problems.
  •         Create a To-Do list and a schedule – this helps you to remember what/how much work you have to do and is a good reminder when you want to take a break or get on Facebook to manage your time efficiently
  •         Take breaks when you need it! While a break may seem counterintuitive when you have an insane amount of work, you will be more productive and more efficient if you let your mind rest every once in awhile. Use these breaks to practice other healthy and self-care behaviors such as going to the gym, eating a well-balanced meal/snack, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or another activity that distracts you from the information you are studying. Breaks, of an hour or even just 5 minutes, will promote good studying and information retention.
  •         Make use of The Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling located in SASB North, Room 2203 (919-966-2143). This office offers services including peer mentoring, The Learning Center, The Writing Center, and Men of Color Engagement.
  •        The Learning Center offers peer tutoring, academic coaching, reading skills help, study groups, test prep resources, skill-building workshops, and other services for students. They also offer support for students with ADHD and other learning disabilities.
  •         If the stress is becoming too much, Counseling and Psychological services (CAPS), is located within Campus Health, and offers counseling services where you can discuss your stress and develop strategies and plans to healthily combat it