Help! My friend is so focused on academics that it’s affecting their health. How can I help?


Dear Friend,

I have a friend who really wants to go to university overseas at the expense of their mental and potentially physical health. I’m worried they are focusing too much on their goal and relying on academic validation. How can I talk them out of thinking traps and learn the skills I need to counsel them appropriately?

Signed, Concerned



Dear Concerned,

It’s lovely that you care about your friend so much and want to help them. Mental and physical health are indeed important, and focusing too much on academics can harm our overall well-being.

It’s very easy to get stuck in a thinking trap, and it can feel impossible to crawl out of one. It definitely takes some work to recognise these negative thought patterns and break free.

Having said that, here are some tips we hope can help you and your friend.

Express your concerns clearly

Breaking free of thinking traps requires active participation from your pal, too; it’s not something you can fix all by yourself. Express your concerns to your friend honestly and without judgment. Tell them you understand their desire for academic achievement but that you are concerned about how the pursuit of this goal affects them.

Familiarise yourself with a few common thinking traps, such as the ones we mentioned earlier, before chatting with your friend. If they say something like, “If I don’t get into x university, I will be a failure in life,” then you can point out how it is a very black-and-white way to approach the issue and that there are many wonderful universities and paths to success. Adopting this approach could help them recognise their negative thinking patterns and collect their thoughts.

Make sure to really listen

When you start the conversation, be patient and listen; resist the impulse to give advice before your friend can explain their concerns. Practice active listening; ask open-ended questions such as “How does that make you feel?” to get more details, and occasionally take a moment to summarise what they’ve told you so they know you’re listening.

Giving them time to express their thoughts and feelings can help you understand their point of view and show them you care. It is a good way for you to connect with your friend and prove you are a trustworthy person they can open up to, and they will no doubt appreciate knowing that they have your ear.

Be prepared for resistance

Be aware that your pal may dismiss your concerns or say they are making a necessary sacrifice to reach their goal. You can express your worries and offer help, but you can’t force people to change. You also don’t have to be their sounding board for all their complaints after you’ve expressed your concerns; this could be very frustrating for you.

If they launch into a rant about something you’ve discussed before, change the topic or offer up a suggestion for a mindfulness or self-care activity instead. This can be as simple as saying, “You always sound so stressed when you talk about maths class. I have a video of a cat and pig who are best friends that might cheer you up”.

Hong Kong places so much importance on academic achievement that it’s become normalised for students to neglect their mental health in pursuit of grades. We’re happy you’ve recognised the negative impact on your pal, and we hope these tips can help.

You’ve got this, Friend of a Friend


Source: Young Post