New Beginnings: Coping With Triggers at School or Work

For many, the start of a new year brings excitement and opportunities with an increased cognitive load that can be met with positive coping skills. For others, the new experiences and routines, however positive and exciting, can tip over into a mood episode triggering depression, crippling anxiety or mania.

It’s important to understand the signs of potential distress and to know where to turn for support. 

Whether this fall brings new academic pursuits at college or university, a new job or even a return to regular routines after the summer, this season and all it brings can often be a trigger. For those who live with mood disorders and those who might be experiencing them for the first time, reading the signs is important.

There are the usual suspects: sleeping too much or hardly at all; eating too much or not enough; and feeling generally unwell. There are other specific areas to be aware of as the fall unfolds.

Substance use

Early fall can be a time of renewed socializing for young adults. For some, it might be a time of experimentation, while for others it might be a time of increased partying as new friends are made and old friends are available after the summer months. Unfortunately, binge drinking has become endemic in our society and is common on campuses, particularly during the return to school. Public Health Ontario provides this educational infographic about the new guidelines for healthy alcohol consumption

On campus and at home, cannabis use can become more frequent and can negatively impact those who are experiencing anxiety and depression. Evidence has shown that cannabis is not always the benign relaxation drug its adherents suggest. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has compiled this evidenced-based graphic guideline for lower risk cannabis use.   

New friends and situations may present opportunities to experiment with other substances. Experimentation that may seem almost a right of passage may lead to more profound reactions for those experiencing the early stages of a mood disorder, anxiety or depression. Being illicit in nature, friends and family may not be aware of the extent to which young adults are consuming illegal substances. 

Sexual experimentation

Landing in a new environment can offer exciting opportunities to experiment with sexuality and gender roles. Often this can be a positive opportunity to express oneself fully or to explore expressions of sexuality that have been previously off limits or inaccessible. 

For someone dealing with a mood disorder like bipolar, increased sexual activity with few boundaries can lead to shame, broken relationships and bewilderment. 

At another extreme, anxiety can prevent some from forging intimate relationships altogether, leading to increased feelings of isolation and poor self-concept. 

Greater opportunities for sexual exploration can be fraught for anyone; increased awareness around consent and the backlash against misogynistic campus and cultural traditions have made everyone wary. For those coping with emerging anxiety, depression or mood dysregulation, sexuality and its expression can be dangerous territory.

School or work environment

By late September, some young adults may be beginning to feel uncomfortable. An inability to meet the basic expectations of getting to class and completing assignments can leave one feeling overwhelmed.

For those entering the workforce, getting to work on time, feeling uncertain of expectations, and feeling uncomfortable in the work environment can create a feeling of dread. Still, others might feel stuck in a workplace situation that doesn’t fit — perhaps this means being underemployed or having difficulty finding work that is meaningful. Any kind of disconnect between the envisioned career hopes and the reality of how it is unfolding can be challenging.

Regardless of the specifics, feeling hopeless about a situation that has spun out of control or gotten away from you can lead to a crisis. 

Personal

On a personal level, some young adults may feel disconnected from friends and family. This can be particularly acute for those who are away from home for the first time. Loneliness can be debilitating and, for some, shameful in a period which is touted as one of the best times in life. 

While those with existing partners may be struggling with long-distance relationships, others may be unable to forge new relationships. Not being able to meet personal goals, such as developing an intimate and supportive partnership, can lead to feelings of sadness, low self-esteem and even despair. 

All of these can lead to a crisis point. Knowing where to find help can prevent a difficult period from becoming an acute crisis.

Hope & Support are Available — Here’s Where to Look

Immediate help 

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, contact Talk Suicide Canada here.

Support on campus

By now, every institution has student wellness services. Many universities and colleges offer a wide array of support in group settings on broad topics such as coping with anxiety, time management, and emotional regulation. For example, McMaster University students can sign up for Mental Health 101

Increasingly, many institutions now offer individual counselling and crisis intervention. This landing page for George Brown College’s student wellness is a good example of the mental health support many institutions are offering their students. Still, others work closely with local mental health providers and refer complex mental health needs to community professionals. 

Ranked #1 in Canada for mental health support for students (Macleans, 2021), it might be worth a look at Brock University’s offerings to see what is possible when mental health is prioritized by an institution. 

Many colleges and universities encourage students who live with mental health (and other) challenges to register with Student Accessibility Services (SAS). For students with diagnosed mental health needs, SAS programs and staff can assist with accommodations specific to each student’s needs. 

Good To Talk is an online service available to post-secondary students in Ontario. You can search for help by topic or by school name. The key issue remains to get the help needed in a timely fashion as staff report overwhelming requests for assistance.

Support in the workplace

Depending on the nature of the workplace setting, there are likely to be supports available ranging from Employee Assistance Programs(EAPs) in large organizations to a boss with an open ear. To learn more about EAPs, this link provides a helpful overview.

EAPs typically cover the cost of some sessions with trained therapists. They might also cover group therapy options. It’s well worth asking about what is available to you at no cost or at a reduced cost. 

When speaking with a co-worker or boss, reveal as much as you feel comfortable. Ask about policies for flexible hours, reduced workload or assistance that might be available. Ask about a mentoring program at your place of work. Having a mentor on the job can alleviate stress and help to develop strong support systems. 

Online support

There’s been a surge in online assistance platforms and apps.  As with anything online, consume wisely. A good place to start is with trusted organizations.  

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) offers BounceBack, an online mental health program which also offers one-on-one coaching. 

Wellness Together is an online service offered by a series of well-respected national organizations in the mental health landscape in cooperation with the Government of Canada. Services include information, one-on-one sessions with a counsellor, and peer support communities.  Wellness Together also offers a companion app called PocketWell.

Family and Friends

Share as much as you are able with a trusted friend. While mental health issues can be addressed openly and many young adults are becoming more familiar with how to listen, it can take some courage to start the conversation.  

Consider what you need and ask for it. Do you need a friend to accompany you to an appointment? Do you need someone to listen to what you have been experiencing? Set boundaries around how much you want to share if you find that helpful. 

While you might feel as though you don’t want to burden your family and friends, this is often a false assumption. Allow those you love the opportunity to be with you and offer support as they are able.

Early intervention 

You know yourself best. When changes in your behaviour or mood begin to cause you concern, don’t wait. Talk to someone — a friend, a family member or a professional. 

Our societal awareness around the need for mental health care has come a long way and there are many ways to seek the help you need. 

The first step is up to you! With the right help, there is always hope for a better tomorrow. You are not alone.


Eli’s Place will be a rural, residential treatment program for young adults with serious mental illness. To learn more about our mission and our proven-effective model of care visit our website.

Kate Kostandoff is a member of the Eli’s Place Board. A retired high school teacher, she lives with her family in Port Hope, Ontario.

Share this article

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Subscribe to recovery matters

Join our community of support

Our newsletter and blogs offer consistent, original content designed to inform and educate. We explore mental health from diagnosis to treatment and resilience to recovery. Our outlook includes both a systems point of view and personal perspectives.