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Social Sci LibreTexts

10.6: Emotional Health and Happiness

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Explain the common causes of anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions in college-age people.
    2. Describe changes you can make in your life to achieve or maintain emotional balance.
    3. List characteristics of healthy relationships.
    4. Describe the steps of conflict resolution.

    Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health—and maybe more so. If you’re unhappy much of the time, you will not do as well as in college—or life—as you can if you’re happy. You will feel more stress, and your health will suffer.

    Still, most of us are neither happy nor unhappy all the time. Life is constantly changing, and our emotions change with it. But sometimes we experience more negative emotions than normally, and our emotional health may suffer. Use the Emotional Self-Assessment to evaluate your emotional health.

    Emotional Self-Assessment

    Check the appropriate boxes.

    Daily Sometimes Never
    1. I sometimes feel anxious or depressed—without disruption of my everyday life.
    2. I sometimes feel so anxious or depressed that I have trouble with routine activities.
    3. I sometimes feel lonely.
    4. I sometimes feel that I have little control over my life.
    5. I have sometimes just wanted to give up.
    6. Negative emotions have sometimes kept me from studying or getting my work done.
    7. Negative emotions have affected my relationships with others.

    Write your answers.

    1. Describe your emotional mood on most days.



    2. Describe what you’d ideally like to feel like all the time.



    3. What specific things are keeping you from feeling what you’d ideally like to feel like most of the time?



    4. Are you happy with your relationships with others?



    5. What do you think you can do to be a happier person?



    Problematic Emotions

    When is an emotion problematic? Is it bad to feel anxious about a big test coming up or to feel sad after breaking up a romantic relationship?

    It is normal to experience negative emotions. College students face so many demands and stressful situations that many naturally report often feeling anxious, depressed, or lonely. These emotions become problematic only when they persist and begin to affect your life in negative ways. That’s when it’s time to work on your emotional health—just as you’d work on your physical health when illness strikes.


    Anxiety is one of the most common emotions college students experience, often as a result of the demands of college, work, and family and friends. It’s difficult to juggle everything, and you may end up feeling not in control, stressed, and anxious.

    Anxiety typically results from stress. Some anxiety is often a good thing if it leads to studying for a test, focusing on a problem that needs to be resolved, better management your time and money, and so on. But if anxiety disrupts your focus and makes you freeze up rather than take action, then it may become problematic. Using stress-reduction techniques often helps reduce anxiety to a manageable level.

    Anxiety is easier to deal with when you know its cause. Then you can take steps to gain control over the part of your life causing the anxiety. But anxiety can become excessive and lead to a dread of everyday situations. There are five types of more serious anxiety:

    1. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. The person may have physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes.
    2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions), repetitive behaviors (compulsions), or both. Repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away.
    3. Panic disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
    4. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
    5. Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) is a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by one’s own actions. Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work or school, and other ordinary activities. Physical symptoms often accompany the intense anxiety of social phobia and include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking.

    These five types of anxiety go beyond the normal anxiety everyone feels at some times. If you feel your anxiety is like any of these, see your health-care provider. Effective treatments are available to help you regain control.


    Loneliness is a normal feeling that most people experience at some time. College students away from home for the first time are likely to feel lonely at first. Older students may also feel lonely if they no longer see their old friends. Loneliness involves not feeling connected with others. One person may need only one friend to not feel lonely; others need to feel more connected with a group. There’s no set pattern for feeling lonely.

    If you are feeling lonely, there are many things you can do to meet others and feel connected. Don’t sit alone in your room bemoaning the absence of friends. That will only cause more stress and emotional distress. You will likely start making new friends through going to classes, working, studying, and living in the community. But you can jump-start that process by taking active steps such as these:

    • Realize you don’t have to be physically with friends in order to stay connected. Many students use social Web sites to stay connected with friends at other colleges or in other locations. Telephone calls, instant messaging, and e-mail work for many.
    • Understand that you’re not alone in feeling lonely. Many others like you are just waiting for the opportunity to connect, and you will meet them and form new friendships fast once you start reaching out.
    • Become involved in campus opportunities to meet others. Every college has a wide range of clubs for students with different interests. If you’re not the “joiner” type, look for individuals in your classes with whom you think you may have something in common and ask them if they’d like to study for a test together or work together on a class project.
    • Remember that loneliness is a temporary thing—it’s only a matter of time until you make new friends.

    If your loneliness persists and you seem unable to make friends, then it’s a good idea to talk with your counselor or someone at the student health center. They can help.


    Depression, like anxiety and loneliness, is commonly experienced by college students. It may be a mild sadness resulting from specific circumstances or be intense feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Many people feel depressed from time to time because of common situations:

    • Feeling overwhelmed by pressures to study, work, and meet other obligations
    • Not having enough time (or money) to do the things you want to do
    • Experiencing problems in a relationship, friendship, or work situation
    • Feeling overweight, unhealthy, or not in control of oneself
    • Feeling that your new life as a student lacks some of the positive dimensions of your former life
    • Not having enough excitement in your life

    Depression, like stress, can lead to unhealthy consequences such as poor sleep, overeating or loss of appetite, substance abuse, relationship problems, or withdrawal from activities that formerly brought joy. For most people, depression is a temporary state. But severe depression can have crippling effects. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but the following are most common:

    • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
    • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
    • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
    • Irritability or restlessness
    • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
    • Fatigue and decreased energy
    • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
    • Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
    • Overeating or appetite loss
    • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
    • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems

    If you have feelings like this that last for weeks at a time and affect your daily life, your depression is more severe than “normal,” temporary depression. It’s time to see your health-care provider and get treatment as you would for any other illness.

    Suicidal Feelings

    Severe depression often makes a person feel there is no hope—and therefore many people with depression do not seek help. In reality, depression can be successfully treated, but only if the person seeks help.

    Suicidal feelings, which can result from severe depression, are more common in college students than in the past. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in American college students (after accidents). In most cases, the person had severe depression and was not receiving treatment. Recognizing severe depression and seeking treatment is crucial.

    Depression can strike almost anyone at any age at any kind of college. It is a myth that high-pressure colleges have higher suicide rates or that students who feel compelled to excel because of college pressures are more likely to commit suicide. In reality, anyone can be ill with severe depression and, if not treated, become suicidal.

    Following are risk factors for suicide:

    • Depression and other mental disorders or a substance-abuse disorder (more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors)
    • Prior suicide attempt
    • Family history of mental disorder, substance abuse, or suicide
    • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
    • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures

    Warning Signs for Suicide

    • Being depressed or sad most of the time
    • Having feelings of worthlessness, shame, or hopelessness about the future
    • Withdrawing from friends and family members
    • Talking about suicide or death
    • Being unable to get over a recent loss (broken relationship, loss of job, etc.)
    • Experiencing changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or eating habits

    If you or a friend is in a crisis and needs help at any time, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.

    If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help by calling the hotline number. Many campuses also have twenty-four-hour resources. In an emergency, call 911. Try to ensure that the person does not have access to a firearm or other potential tool for suicide, including medications.