Spotlight Topics

Welcome, and Welcome Back, to CSUN

We know that going to college can be a rewarding process — and sometimes quite stressful. We are here to help. You don't need to be sick to go to counseling; you just need to feel stuck.

Starting college for the first time or returning to a new semester may bring on emotions that may include:

  • Loneliness
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Homesickness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety

Some students may find themselves struggling with new situations such as:

  • Roommates
  • Adjusting to new expectations in school
  • Getting to know new students and faculty
  • Learning to balance the demands of school with home life and work

Although this can be an intimidating time for students, the semester can mark a new beginning and a new start. As alone as you may feel, many of your fellow classmates are having similar emotions. This can be a time when you can turn around your grades, become connected to other students and find groups and clubs to join. Joining clubs and organizations can help you to feel connected, understood and may improve self-esteem.

Are you feeling alone?

Being at college is often a person's first time away from home, and the huge change can lead to feelings of loneliness. In fact, loneliness is one of the most common experiences for college students for a variety of reasons, perhaps due to loss of contact with family members and friends or a change in group activities. Loneliness is not always connected with being alone; it may be a warning sign that you're feeling disconnected from others. It is fully possible to feel lonely at parties, at lunch with friends, or in your dorm room with your roommates around. Feeling lonely may lead to a variety of negative side effects:

  • Feeling isolated
  • Feeling inept at forming friendships
  • Fear of taking risks in meeting new people
  • Self-consciousness

What can you do to avoid feeling lonely at school?

  • Actively seek out new situations where you can connect with people who share your interests. Once place to begin is the Matador Involvement Center. You’ll find campus clubs, fraternities and sororities, and opportunities to volunteer. You could also look into local off-campus groups.
  • Check out the groups available through University Counseling Services. There's even a Say Goodbye to Shy group!
  • Learn to be assertive in social situations. Start by saying hello to someone in a class whom you've never spoken to before. If you see someone who looks interesting, make the first move and say hello.
  • Enjoy developing your social side, and don't judge new people by past experiences with others. Every new situation is an opportunity.

Connecting with others

CSUN students come from many different cultures and traditions that meet and intersect at various venues. The university is a microcosm — or a mini-snapshot — of the multiculturalism that gives vibrant life to Los Angeles. While it is an exciting place to thrive, being thrust into the campus social environment can be overwhelming. Some students experience for the first time what it's like to be connected with others from their ethnic background or those who share similar interests. University Counseling Services provides opportunities for students to come together and get support around issues they deal with on a regular basis.

These groups provide an outlet for sharing interests and traditions, so you don't have to go through college alone. Instead, you get the opportunity to join a community of new and encouraging friends.


Depression is treatable and involves emotional and psychological aspects that are linked to an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. It is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. You can't make yourself well by trying to "snap out of it." The direct causes of depression are unclear; however, it is known that emotional and psychological factors can bring on a depressive disorder, such as:

  • Relationship difficulties.
  • Stress.
  • Personal loss.
  • Emotional disorders.
  • Poor nutrition.

Who gets depression?

  • Depression affects about 19 million people in the United States each year.
  • Nearly half of all college students report feeling so depressed that they found it difficult to function during the last school year.
  • Ten percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression.
  • The first episode of depression often occurs in the young adult years.

Symptoms of depression:

-Prolonged sadness

-Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns

-Irritability, anger, worry, agitation and anxiety

-Pessimism and indifference

-Loss of energy and persistent lethargy

-Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

-Inability to concentrate and indecisiveness

-Inability to take pleasure in former interests and social withdrawal

-Unexplained aches and pains

-Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

Types of depression

Major depressive disorder

If left untreated, major depressive disorder can last months to years. Not everyone experiences depression in the same way. Some people may experience primarily behavioral changes, some mainly emotional changes and still others mostly physical changes.


The depressed state of dysthymia involves long-term, chronic symptoms that are less severe but impact the ability to be happy.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a condition in which a person experiences extreme highs (mania) and lows (depression). During a manic episode the person's mood is excessively high, irritable or aggressive. It is common for a person who is manic to think nothing is wrong with his or her behavior even though it is distressing to friends and family.

Getting treatment for depression

The good news is that depression is highly treatable. Medication and/or counseling can help. Up to 80 percent of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning treatment.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, contact:

University Counseling Services: (818) 677-2366

CSUN Helpline: (818) 349-4357

Sunday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-midnight
Friday-Saturday, 7-10 p.m.

Student Health Center (818) 677-3666

Off-campus resources

Northridge Hospital Emergency Services (818) 885-5396

Olive View Emergency Services (818) 364-4340

Helpful online resources

The National Institute of Mental Health 

The National Mental Health Association 


Coping with Natural Disasters

Disasters can make us feel vulnerable, whether we are impacted directly or indirectly. Events such as wildfires can seem to have no rhyme or reason as to how they start and the damage they inflict upon people's property and their lives.

Why is this event so stressful?

  • Loss. The loss associated with this fire may take years to fully assess. Life as we knew it, especially for those who live in the fire zone, may never be the same. People's homes and entire communities may have been destroyed, and life as usual may be disrupted for an indefinite period of time. We may experience the loss directly or indirectly.
  • Lack of control. Part of what makes disasters so unnerving is they reveal our limitations as human beings. Despite our best efforts, natural disasters can and do escape our ability to control them and the damage they can do. Innocent people can get hurt, property is destroyed, beautiful areas are ruined, and we can feel helpless.
  • Abrupt change of reality. A previously safe and enjoyable area is now unsafe.
  • Fear of additional destruction. We don't know what will happen next, so we are in a state of alert.
  • Uncertainty. We don't know when this fire will be contained, or if others loom on the horizon. If we are relocated, we don't know when we can return, and what may be facing us when we do. If we are assisting others, the indefinite nature of this event can also be stressful.
  • Trauma associated with seeing so much destruction so close at hand. Seeing the tremendous destructive power of fire and the possibility of being in harm's way can be very disturbing.
  • Feelings that there should have been some way to prevent such a disaster from happening.
  • Media coverage. When we view and review the damage repeatedly, we can all be impacted by the disaster.
  • Emotional overload. We might be feeling like we can't catch our breath between disasters.

For more information about coping with disasters and other psychological issues, you may want to visit the American Psychological Association Help Center. It is an online resource that features articles and information related to psychological issues affecting your daily physical and emotional well-being.

For more information about our services and how we might be helpful, please contact:

University Counseling Services
California State University
Bayramian Hall 520

To make an appointment, call (818) 677-2366.

Breaking Free: Only I Can Define Me

"It's What's Inside that Counts!" Although we often want to believe this message, society tells us that appearance matters. The media bombards us with extreme, often unattainable, images of how we should look. Anyone who watches television, glances at magazine covers or views the many ads for diets, fitness or cosmetic surgery gets the message: "It's what's outside that counts."

It is striking that these media images are absorbed by all of us and accepted as fact while they fuel our aspirations for a "better body." Unfortunately, this can lead to a negative perception of ourselves and "negative body image," which refers to dissatisfaction with one's physical appearance.

What is body image?

Negative body image is:

  • A distorted perception of your shape (your perception of parts of your body does not match how they really are).
  • You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • You feel ashamed, self-conscious and anxious about your body.
  • You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

Positive body image is:

  • A clear, true perception of your shape — you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person's physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

Why should I be concerned about body image?

Unfortunately, many college students are affected by a negative body image and face the risk of developing eating disorders. At CSUN, 60 percent of students surveyed indicated that they knew someone who has (or had) an eating disorder. Of respondents 28 percent have (or have had) an eating disorder themselves; 10 percent of those surveyed were male.

According to the Center for Change, 86 percent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to lose weight. It is important to combat negative body image because it can lead to depression, shyness, social anxiety, self-consciousness and lack of confidence, as well as putting one at risk for developing eating disorders.

What steps can I take to develop a positive body image?

We all have days when we feel awkward or uncomfortable in our bodies or dissatisfied with our appearance. The key to developing a positive body image is to recognize and respect our natural shape and become more aware of the media, cultural and social messages that influence us.

The Renfrew Center Foundation offers the following suggestions:

  • Base compliments on attributes other than size, weight and shape.
  • Minimize diet and weight talk.
  • Don't equate thinness with happiness.
  • For more tips, visit the Renfrew Center Foundation.

Where can I go for help?

Eating disorders, body image, eating and exercise problems, and dieting are sometimes sensitive subjects to discuss. University Counseling Services (UCS) offers free and confidential counseling. It is a place where you can talk to caring counselors about your concerns. UCS also holds an eating disorders group that offers a safe and supportive place to discuss how we feel about our bodies and our relationship with food and exercise. To make an appointment or sign up for the group, call (818) 677-2366 or stop by our office, Bayramian Hall 520.

The Klotz Student Health Center also offers resources, including free nutritional counseling sessions. Call (818) 677-3666.

Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating (JADE) offers suggestions, resources, events, and a free and confidential eating disorders screening.

L-G-B-T-Q — What?

L stands for lesbian, a woman whose primary emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attractions are to other women. 

G stands for gay, a man whose primary emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attractions are to other men.

B stands for bisexual, men or women whose primary emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attractions are to both women and men.

T stands for transgender, a broad term that includes cross-dressers, intersexuals, transsexuals and people who live substantial portions of their lives as other than their birth gender. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity and/or expression differ from conventional expectations. (Gender identity refers to the internal sense of being male or female, while gender expression refers to how someone presents his or her gender to the world through style of dress, mannerisms and so on.) A transitioning transgender person is someone who is modifying her or his physical characteristics and manner of expression to, in effect, satisfy the standards for membership in another gender. Transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Q stands for questioning, someone whose sexual and/or gender orientation is currently in question. (Sometimes, the Q stands for queer, a term that has been reclaimed by some LGBTs.)

What people in these groups have in common is that they challenge the heterosexist norms of mainstream society and are stigmatized as a result; otherwise, the LGBTQ community is very diverse with respect to ethnic and cultural backgrounds, physical ability, religion, personality traits, socioeconomic class and many other attributes.

You are not alone

While many LGBTQ individuals do not fully understand their sexual or gender identity until adolescence or later, such as in college, most grow up with an awareness that they are somehow different, and with some unclear ideas about what that difference might be. Most commonly, LGBTQs grow up in an environment that covertly, and sometimes overtly, makes them feel that they are bad people, second-class citizens, abnormal or morally wrong. Whatever the message, these individuals can be vulnerable while questioning their identities and often do so in isolation. When they do find a way to recognize and perhaps label their differences, it is often done without the tools they need to integrate this new information into their overall identity. Many LGBTQs feel that they must remain hidden and invisible for fear of rejection, maltreatment and discrimination. It can be quite stressful living in a society where homophobia and heterosexism exists on a large scale.

Common mental health issues in the LGBTQ community:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Family problems
  • Relationship issues

For LGBTQ people, "coming out" is a complex process of understanding, accepting and valuing one's sexual and/or gender identity. Coming out includes both exploring one's identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBTQ people. LGBTQ individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone is heterosexual and gender conforming. The coming out process is very personal. It happens in different ways and occurs at different ages for different people. It is usually advisable to come out first to those who are most likely to be supportive.

If you are gay, lesbian or bisexual, or think you might be, it may be helpful to keep in mind the following suggestions as you move toward self-acceptance:

  • Coming out is a lifelong process. You have the right to choose when, where and to whom you come out.
  • Use caution and test the waters. Talk about gay issues first to see the reactions of significant others in your life.
  • Don't expect immediate acceptance. Many people will be surprised by your revelation. They may need time to adjust and to re-examine old stereotypes and myths.
  • If you are rejected by someone after coming out, don't lose sight of your own self worth. Remember, you are just as valuable and worthy as you were before you told that person.
  • Clarify your own feelings about your sexuality before sharing them with others. Remember that coming out may be a difficult process and may require the assistance of a counselor or support group. LGBTQ people are a potential natural support system because they have all experienced at least some of the steps in the process of coming out.

Where can you go for help?

You can stop by University Counseling Services (UCS), located in Bayramian Hall 520, or call (818) 677-2366 to inquire about our services. UCS is comprised of mental health professionals who are sensitive to diversity issues and are willing to work with you individually. UCS also currently offers a weekly LGBTQ support group for both graduate and undergraduate students.

The Los Angeles area, like many big cities, has a wealth of resources available to those who identify as LGBT or are questioning. The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC), operating in five locations, offers a wide variety of services including:

  • Low-cost counseling
  • Addiction-recovery services (including 12 step)
  • Free HIV/AIDS care and medications for those most in need
  • Housing, food, clothing and support for homeless LGBT youth
  • Essential services for LGBT-parented families and seniors
  • Services for couples experiencing domestic violence
  • Legal services
  • Health education and HIV prevention programs
  • Transgender services
  • Cultural arts programs and social activities
  • Referrals and more

For more information, call (323) 993-7400 or visit LAGLC’s primary location:

McDonald/Wright Building
1625 N. Schrader Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028-6213

Helpful online resources

CSUN Pride Center: pride.csun.edu

UCLA LGBT Resource Center: www.lgbt.ucla.edu

The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC): www.lagaycenter.org

One National Gay and Lesbian Archives: www.onearchives.org

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF): www.ngltf.org

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): www.pflag.org

Dealing with Holiday Stress

Many people experience intense feelings during the holiday season. It is the time of the year that tends to stimulate feelings associated with past memories and expectations. It is also a time for family gatherings and the feelings associated with being or not being with your family. The extremes of the holiday season (i.e., food, drink, emotions, expectations and memories) create an atmosphere for increased stress. This article briefly describes common stresses that arise during the holiday season and offers strategies for dealing with the stress.

Stresses associated with the holiday season

  • Lack of money to buy gifts
  • Not feeling as "jolly" as the media makes us feel we should during the holidays
  • Experiencing the holidays differently as you grow older
  • Having to deal with family dynamics at home
  • Overindulging in food and liquor
  • Feeling rushed to get everything done (i.e., shopping, studying, baking)
  • Missing friends and family who are not present during holiday celebrations
  • Feelings about commercialism of the holiday
  • Fear of not celebrating the holiday the way you want

Helpful hints

Try something new: For those of you who are not looking forward to going home and dealing with some of the hassles there, think about how you won't let yourself get "hooked" into past ways of dealing with your parents and siblings.

For example:

  • Write down how you predict that person(or people ) at home will "bug" you.

Say to yourself, "I am not going to give that person the power to interfere with my much deserved break."

  • Write down how to respond to the problem differently than you have in the past. Think about ways that will allow you to feel better about yourself while you are at home.

To help you clarify and become aware of what you want out of the holiday season (i.e., relaxation, a conversation with your brother, spiritual connection, etc.) and how you want to feel during the season (thankful, forgiving, happy, extroverted, introverted), write down the answers to such questions as:

  • What are my expectations for the holiday season?
  • What do I want out of the holiday season?
  • How do I want to feel during the holiday season?
  • What do I need to do to meet those expectations?
  • How do I want to feel when my expectations are not met?

What are my expectations for the holiday season?

The best way to ensure that you will feel rushed is to procrastinate and get everything done (gift buying, telephone calls, cards, making plans) at the last minute. Try to enter the specific holiday (Christmas, New Year's) feeling relaxed, comfortable and ready to enjoy what you are going to do. Give yourself some breathing room. The more stressed and rushed you feel, the more likely it is that you will have a hard time getting into the spirit of the occasion.

The holidays: a time for giving and receiving

If you are feeling down or anxious because you don't have the funds and/or the time to buy or make the type of gifts you think your family and friend would like, remember this:

  • One way to be a meaningful giver is to be an excellent receiver.
  • Thoughtfulness and thankfulness are ways to be a meaningful giver, which others will appreciate.
  • Do what you can. There is no need to apologize; that will only distract you from what you are giving or receiving.

Feeling depressed

Many people feel depressed at some point during the holiday season. Many times it is the anticipation of the holidays being over, going back to school, finals, etc. The best way to deal with your feelings is to talk with someone about your feelings. Holding in your feelings usually creates more tension and discomfort.

General coping mechanisms to help deal with the holiday season

Create realistic expectations. For example, say to yourself: "It's okay that I don't always feel joyous during the holiday season. Sometimes I may feel disappointed, sad, angry and depressed."

Plan ahead. If it is really important that you do something special on New Year's Eve, plan ahead, take the risk and reach out to those you want to be with. Especially if your expectations are high, don't wait for somebody to ask you to do something.

Holiday stress cannot be eliminated, only managed. Take care of yourself. You deserve it!

For more information about stress and other psychological issues, you may want to visit the American Psychological Association Help Center. It is an online resource that features articles and information related to psychological issues affecting your daily physical and emotional well-being.

How to Help a Friend

College life can be very exciting. It is a time of new experiences, and you are in the midst of many significant life changes. You are likely juggling many responsibilities and parts of your life, such as academics, family, finances, identity, friendships, dating, extracurricular activities and "me" time. In your personal life, you may have relationships with many people, including family members, friends, partners, roommates and peers at school. Within these multiple relationships, there may be times you feel concerned or worried about someone you care about. For example, you may find yourself in the role of being a "therapist" to a friend or roommate. A family member, friend or roommate may tell you directly about his or her stressors or concerns; other times, he or she may not express these things directly, but you notice changes that concern you. You may feel unclear about how to handle these situations or intervene, and it can be overwhelming and confusing.

Here you will find information about signs and symptoms of distress that may help you to identify distress in someone you know. You will also find suggestions for how to approach and intervene with someone you are concerned about. This information and these suggestions will not cover every situation you may find yourself in; therefore, it's very important to know how to access resources and when to seek others' help, including professional assistance.

Signs and symptoms of distress

It is particularly important to notices changes in others that are different from prior observations. If someone you know exhibits many symptoms, it may indicate a greater level of distress.

Changes in appearance

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Appearing excessively tired or fatigued

Academic problems

  • Not going to class at all, decrease in class attendance or excessive tardiness
  • Missing exams, not doing or turning in assignments or completing them late
  • Avoidance of classroom participation
  • Disruptive classroom participation (e.g., dominating discussions, excessive questions, interrupting others, hostile comments)

Social isolation and withdrawal

While some people are shy and not as sociable as others, a sudden withdrawal from social contact is a warning sign of distress. For example, you may notice that a roommate, who used to be friendly and social, no longer interacts with you or others in the residence halls. This person may decline invitations to join you or others for meals or to go out, and seems to now prefer to be alone.

Extreme emotions

  • Irritability, anger, hostility or conflict with others (e.g., friends, roommates, faculty or staff, family, etc.).
  • Frequent crying spells.
  • Excessive anxiety — the individual may talk about being under a lot of pressure, feeling tense, stressed, burned out and overwhelmed. Physical symptoms of anxiety include muscle tension, shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate, numbness, dizziness and chest pain.
  • Depressed mood — this can include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, sleeping and eating problems, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. 

Unusual or odd behavior

  • Suspiciousness and/or paranoia (e.g., feeling others are spying on them, trying to hurt them)
  • Hearing voices and/or seeing things that are not there
  • Talking or laughing to self
  • Disorganized speech/behavior or inability to communicate
  • Very rapid speech
  • Disoriented or forgetful
  • Poor eye contact

Drug or alcohol abuse

  • Intoxication
  • Blacking out
  • Use of substances negatively impacts person's relationships and/or academics
  • Behavior seems out of character for the person (when intoxicated)
  • Driving under the influence

Safety concerns

  • Statements expressing hopelessness or helplessness
  • Fixation on morbid content or death
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Making threats to harm or kill self
  • Making threats to harm or kill another

How should I approach someone I am concerned about?


  • Speak to them in a private place, not in front of others; this minimizes shame or embarrassment.
  • Give them your undivided attention. Don’t answer texts or phone calls, conveying the message that you are genuinely interested, concerned and want to help.
  • Express your concerns. This should be done in a nonjudgmental way and should focus on specific behaviors that concern you (e.g., "I've noticed that you have not been going to class or coming down for meals," "I notice you have been drinking more than usual.").
  • Listen attentively. Focus on their words, thoughts and feelings so you can truly hear them and try to understand what is going on from their perspective.
  • Communicate support and understanding.
  • Avoid comments or questions that may be perceived as critical or judgmental (e.g., "Why have you been avoiding going out?" "Why are you not eating?" "Why are you losing weight? You don't look good.").
  • If you are concerned about his or her safety, ask the person directly about thoughts of suicide. Do not be afraid to talk about it. Be very straightforward and know that your question is not going to cause them to act on their suicidal thoughts, if they have any. In fact, people who are suicidal usually want to communicate their feelings. A way of asking this difficult question can be, "I can see that this is a difficult time for you and you are feeling very upset right now. Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or killing yourself?"
  • Let the person know that you care about him or her and want to help. If he or she is a CSUN student, encourage him or her to contact University Counseling Services (UCS). Let him or her know that you are familiar with this resource, believe that these services can be helpful and are willing to accompany them to the office. If he or she is not open to going to UCS, you can still give him or her the phone number and location, so he or she may choose to go at a later time.
  • If you are unsure of what to do or how worried you need to be, contact UCS. Staff there can consult with you about a particular situation, offer suggestions and provide support. They can also assist you in finding resources off-campus for non-CSUN students.
  • You may also talk to a faculty member, student leader or an RA about your concerns.


  • Ignore the situation and hope it will go away.
  • Be judgmental, critical or minimize the person's pain or distress.
  • Forget to take care of yourself (e.g., you are not a therapist/professional, listening to a distressed person you care about can be emotionally draining)
  • Become that person's therapist and attempt to handle and solve their problems for them. It is important not to take on this responsibility and recognize your limits.
  • Tell the person what to do. Instead, help him or her identify options and alternatives, including potentially talking to a therapist.
  • Hesitate to contact CSUN Police Services or the local police if you believe the person is in danger of hurting him- or herself or others.

Need emergency assistance right away?

If you or someone else is experiencing a potentially life-threatening situation and is in need of immediate attention, call either 911 or CSUN Police Services at (818) 677-2111.

Emergency hotlines/resources 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273- TALK (8255); hours of operation: 24/7

New Hope Helpline (crisis intervention services and support): (714) 639-4673; 24/7

Valley Trauma Center (crisis support services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence): (818) 886-0453; 24/7

211: this telephone number provides information on Los Angeles County services, food and shelter assistance, and a variety of other services (free, 24 /7, multilingual)

Drug Helpline: (800) 559-9503

Eating Disorders Information and Referral Line: (800) 931-2237

Grief and Loss

The experience of having someone close to you die, as well as the feelings of loss that follow the death of a loved one, has been reported as among the most intense and stressful experiences an individual will endure in a lifetime. Is grieving normal? Yes.

About 5-10 percent of our population is grieving the loss of a loved one at any given time. Grieving can be both intense and stressful, and it is a stressor that has physical, psychological and social consequences for individuals and families.

Physical consequences

People who are grieving tend to neglect themselves, so we may see increases in smoking, drinking and drug use, all of which may lead to a deterioration in health or the exacerbation of an already existing medical condition.

Psychological consequences

The loss of a loved one hurts, and it may lead to feelings of depression and loss, increase substance abuse as a means of coping with the loss and pain, suicidal thoughts, exacerbation of an existing psychological or emotional condition, and a decrease in self-esteem.

Social consequences

Loss can have social ramifications. The survivor may feel isolated, alienated from others, lonely and misunderstood with the sense of having no one to turn to. Family conflicts may arise, and depending upon the loss, there can be a loss of status, of one's role in the world, of one's sense of identity.

Experts on death and dying believe that grief is universal and predictable. It has been observed since antiquity. And while recognizable patterns in large groups have been noted, individual reactions are generally dependent upon sociocultural factors, preexisting personality traits and the strength of the relationship with the deceased.

Each individual grieves in a unique way, with varying levels of intensity and duration, and with different outcomes. Some signs and symptoms of grief include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Physical discomfort
  • Feelings of distress

Overall, grief has a purpose and serves a healing function that enables the individual to eventually reinvest in life and in new relationships. When the grief work proceeds without complication, the mourner is able to reach a point of resolution and reinvestment. The tasks of grief work include:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss
  • Accepting that grieving is painful
  • Adjusting to a changed environment without the help or companionship of the deceased
  • Withdrawing much of the energy invested in the deceased and reinvesting in new relationships

Grief experts have summarized the grief experience by saying that when your parents die, you lose your past; when your spouse dies, you lose your present; and when you child dies, you lose your future. The process is the sequence of emotional reactions to the loss that follows a predictable course that is both painful and healing. It is a reaction that should be allowed to take its course without being inhibited, delayed or prolonged.

Although the process is not necessarily linear, with symptoms tending to wax and wane, here is an overview of the stages of grief.

Phase one: Shock and avoidance

  • One to two weeks after learning of the loss
  • Begins upon immediately learning of the news of the death or diagnosis of the terminally ill
  • Symptoms include disbelief, emotional numbness, crying, sobbing, tearfulness, physical symptoms
  • Confusion, disorganization, “dazed and confused,” helplessness — possibly intensified if the death is unexpected or sudden
  • Shock has a purpose: it shields us from the sudden and intense pain of the loss

Phase two: Acute grieving

  • Emotional numbness subsides and awareness of the death sets in
  • Mourner feels sad, perhaps with new symptoms such as insomnia and fatigue
  • Possible guilt over past actions toward the deceased or anger for being left by the deceased
  • Mistaking strangers who look like the deceased
  • Attempts to make sense or find meaning in the death

Phase three: Resolution and reestablishment

  • A gradual detachment of emotional energy in the deceased and a reinvestment in new relationships
  • Symptoms begin to subside
  • Renewed interest in social activities, in people, in life
  • Reflects an adjustment not a recovery — one does not “get over it,” but one gets “used to it”
  • Memories no longer viewed with sadness, but with pleasant nostalgia and tenderness

The ending of the grief process is not necessarily an ending of symptoms as much as it is the beginning of other life phases for the individual. Time remains the most crucial dimension: one to two years for the loss of a spouse; two to five years for the loss of a child; for the loss of a parent, it depends upon the age of the child at the time of death.

If you have lost a loved one, either recently or in the past, University Counseling Services can help you work through your grief and move forward in your life.

Graduating to the real world

As you approach graduation, do you ever secretly wonder how you'll function once you leave the structure of student life? Do you ever question whether you'll be able to manage adult responsibilities and expectations? Do you ever wonder whether you sufficiently learned what you needed to in order to succeed in your designated career?

Despite your understandable excitement about no more homework, final exams, and academic requirements do you secretly wonder if you'll miss the comfort of the lesser expectations placed on a growing student rather than those on an experienced professional?

College students work diligently to reach their goal of an academic degree, but as the day of graduation approaches they may be secretly perplexed by the onset of feelings of ambivalence. In fact, some people may consciously postpone or even unconsciously sabotage their own graduation because of this unaddressed ambivalence. Furthermore, they may secretly believe they are the only person feeling this sudden desire to remain a student.

The truth is that few life transitions, even happy ones, occur with pure joy and no doubt. It is, therefore, perfectly normal to feel anxious or confused when the graduation ceremonies and celebrations are over. One way to address the ambivalence is, of course, to explore the feelings underlying the anxiety but also to become familiar with practical steps to facilitate functioning in the real world. These include topics such as money and finances, health care, careers, time management and procrastination prevention, emotional well-being and so on.

The following are suggestions provided to address some of these areas.

Money and finances:

  1. Keep your credit card debt less than 35%.
  2. Do not use graduation and full-time employment as reason to stop living frugally.
  3. Attend to your daily needs. Hold off on indulgences.
  4. Prioritize and spend according to your priorities.
  5. Remember that student financial aid is also available in graduate school.
  6. Pay bills and attend to financial obligations to others, but also "pay yourself" and save money for your own needs.

Health services:

  1. It's normal to feel anxious about health care after graduation. Just plan ahead so you don't get caught in a crisis.
  2. If you're graduating and know you have a job, check into the company's health benefits, including medical insurance, dental care, vision services and mental health coverage.
  3. If there are no health benefits, consider signing up for Family PACT before you graduate. It's free, is good for a year and will at least take care of reproductive health issues.
  4. Be a savvy health consumer. Remember that the health care industry works for you, so be proactive on your own behalf. If you don't know how to do that, seek assistance at the CSUN Klotz Student Health Center before you graduate so you can receive a quick tutorial.
  5. Have a few websites that you can feel confident utilizing. Some Klotz health center favorites are Web MDCenter for Disease ControlHealth Central, and Go Ask Alice.

Career planning:

  1. Before graduating, take advantage of services and events available to you, such as Career Center's Resumania, Real Life 101, Senior Boot Camp, and the Spring Job Fair. Check the Career Center's website for more information.
  2. When seeking a job, tell everyone and anyone. Be sure to attend events related to your field of interest. Networking and making new acquaintances is the key to every stage of one's career.
  3. Treat your job search as you would a job. Have a daily schedule to pursue your exploration. Keep logs and set weekly or daily goals. Say to yourself, "I will contact five companies by Friday." Research companies of interest as well as occupations and fields that will be most needed in the future.
  4. Nothing is written in stone, especially during these economically difficulty times. You may have to accept a position that is not your "dream" job, but try to stay on track by obtaining a position that is in your field and/or one that will allow you to gain important skills.

Time management and procrastination prevention:

  1. Use time-saving tools such as file folders, appointment calendars, "to do" lists, answering machines, etc.
  2. Use flow charts and, if you are feeling overwhelmed, break down tasks into little pieces and take one day, or hour, at a time.
  3. Prioritize your tasks. Use an A-B-C rating system for items on your "to do" lists with A items being highest priority.
  4. Be able to be flexible when the unexpected happens, such as car trouble or illness. Avoid panic that interferes with problem solving.
  5. Learn to say "no" (tactfully) and to negotiate better deadlines when appropriate.
  6. To avoid procrastination, just get started and avoid perfectionism.
  7. Reward yourself when you accomplish even small goals on stressful projects.

Emotional well-being:

  1. Maintain balance in your life in terms of work versus play, indulgence versus self-discipline, time alone versus time with others and so on.
  2. Be patient with your learning in this new post-college phase, allowing yourself to make mistakes and fail. Many decisions and situations are reversible or can be remedied.
  3. Explore the source of self-criticisms such as hypercritical parents in childhood, need to be perfect and please others,  or the inability to honor oneself.
  4. Learn about healthy relationships. Initially there is often an infatuation phase that is fun but idealistic; when it changes this is not bad, but instead provides a deeper more realistic phase of loving.
  5. Honor yourself. Even if you are in a meaningful relationship, stay connected with your own needs, integrity, self-respect, preferences and goals.
  6. Finally, as the transition from college occurs it is important to celebrate one's accomplishments and not demand that functioning in the real world be polished and perfect. There are always resources and consultants available for assistance so it is important to engage the help of experts when it is needed. There is tremendous learning that occurs in setbacks and the bottom line is that all one can do is be aware, be prepared for hurdles, learn from mistakes, and relax and enjoy the process because before long you, too, will become one of the experienced ones.

Contributions to this article provided by CSUN staff and faculty:

Corinne W. Barker, Ph.D. (University Counseling Services)

Patricia Gaynor, M.A. (Career Counseling)

Gregorio Alcantar, M.S. (Financial Aid)

Amy Reichbach (Klotz Student Health Center)

Jane Santoro, APRN, BC (Klotz Student Health Center)