First-year university students advised not to be too hard on themselves

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      The first year of postsecondary education can be extremely stressful for those making the transition straight out of high school.

      But it doesn't have to be so dreadful. 

      That's because UBC research indicates that students who reported higher levels of self-compassion were more engaged and motivated in their studies.

      The faculty of education's school of kinesiology also found that these students felt more optimistic, energetic, and alive during their first semester.

      "Our study suggests the psychological stress students may experience during the transition between high school and university can be mitigated with self-compassion because it enhances the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, which in turn enriches well-being,” lead author Katie Gunnell said in a UBC news release.

      Gunnell conducted the research as part of her PhD studies; she's now a junior research scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa.

      According to the news release, self-compassion can include "exercises to avoid negative self-judgment or feelings of inadequacy".

      One way to do this is writing by compassionately about something negative that happened, and by not being too critical of oneself. 

      “Research shows first-year university is stressful,” UBC kinesiology professor and study coauthor Peter Crocker said in the news release. “Students who are used to getting high grades may be shocked to not do as well in university, feel challenged living away from home, and are often missing important social support they had in high school. Self-compassion appears to be an effective strategy or resource to cope with these types of issues.”

      The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences after questionnaires were collected from 189 first-year UBC students over a five-month period.

      The research has been released as UBC is trying to shine a light on student's mental health.

      Since UBC president Santa Ono was hired last year, he's tried to put this issue at the forefront of the university's mission.

      Ono has previously revealed that he faced mental-health challenges as a young man. Since moving to Vancouver, he's told the media on several occasions that he's eager to support better mental health on UBC's campuses.