University challenge

Sara Eames discusses remedies to help new students cope with being away from home – and suggests a few for parents too

When children grow up and leave home there are all sorts of chal­lenges and changes to be con­fronted, both by the children and their parents who may feel left behind. Fortunately homeopathy can come to the rescue in many ways both for physic­al and emotional problems. This is a particularly pertinent topic at this time of year when so many teenagers are embarking on their university careers.

It is well known that all life events, however pleasurable, come with extra stress and the time when offspring flee the nest is no exception. In fact it is often only one of many important changes happening at the same time. Parents are often taking stock of their own lives and relationships and may also be encounter­ing physical deterioration and illnesses for the first time. This is often com­pounded by the caring for or loss of elderly parents and some are unfortu­nate enough to have to contend with redundancies, financial worries and the stark reality that they will not progress further in their careers. Add to this mix­ture a teenager who might well have been rebellious and a worry for a num­ber of years and who then suddenly dis­appears and it is not hard to see why problems can occur.

Although there are these multiple challenges this transition time can also be very rewarding. Relationships can be developed and strengthened and new plans can be made for the next stages of life. More space in the house can often be an advantage and I have yet to meet a parent who seriously misses the old take-away boxes and dirty washing strewn around the house, or the dis­turbed nights when children come home later than planned. Most of all however must be the satisfaction of slowly real­ising that your children can actually manage on their own and to see them maturing and planning their own futures.

Remedies for the teenagers
I thought it would be useful to suggest a small box of remedies which can be prepared for children when they leave. Even if they don’t need them all them­selves I have often seen children brought up on homeopathy offer remedies to their friends as well.

The most important remedies for an individual are the ones that they have responded well to in the past, so if your child is lucky enough to have found their constitutional remedy that has to be in the box, and it’s not a bad idea to give a dose a week or so before they leave so that they are in good health for the chal­lenges ahead. Similarly if they have some remedies which always help in acute sit­uations, such as early stages of infections or for anxieties, then these should be included too.

Otherwise it’s probably best to think about the sort of problems your child might encounter and put in some of the more common remedies that can help. When students first arrive at university they are usually thrown in to a fairly manic programme of activities. They meet the people who they will live close to and study with and are offered all sorts of entertainments and diversions, usually by folk who want them to sign up and join things and part with their money. The average first year student will drink and spend far too much in the first few weeks away from home. How­ever during this same time they will have to navigate their way through often com­plicated registration processes and make choices about modules which can have quite an effect on their whole university career. It is not uncommon for students who arrive late, or unprepared for the registration process, to find their first choice modules already full. That’s a really disappointing start, so if you can it’s probably a good idea to try to get your child to think about what they want to do and where they will have to go.

Probably the most useful remedy for the first few weeks will be Nux vomica, the homeopathic standard for over indulgence of all sorts. It can also be an anxious time and Rescue Remedy can be a great help. Other more specific anxiety remedies can include Silica which is useful in a shy child who finds it daunting to meet and talk to so many new people, Lycopodium which is indic­ated where the person looks confident on the outside but is petrified that people will discover his inadequacies and Arsenicum album for someone who has a tendency to be a perfectionist and will become more restless, anxious and meticulous when under stress.

In spite of all the activity, many students have periods of home-sickness, especially if it their first time away from home. This is quite normal and a few phone calls and the passage of time are usually enough to see them through. Remedies which can also help include Capsicum, Ignatia and Phosphoric acid. Others may find it hard to sleep with all the frenetic activity around and Coffea is the remedy which can help with sleep­lessness from over-stimulation.

Once the initial excitement has worn off there are the new challenges of time management with much less structured academic work, learning to look after oneself, survival on a small income and new relationships to be explored. All stu­dents will manage some of these better than others. For the student who finds it very hard to organise themselves, get out of bed and make it to their lectures in spite of good intentions a dose or two of Sulphur can work wonders. Others may find it hard to join in with the general swing of things at university and start to feel that they are missing out on the fun. They can become rather resentful, self-pitying and withdrawn and then Nat mur can often make things much easier.

Academic challenges can also cause problems. Many teenagers who go on to university are used to being one of the high fliers at their school and can find it hard to adapt to being more average amongst their new peers. Again Arsenicum or Natrum mur can be useful, depend­ing on how the person reacts and another very useful remedy in this sit­uation is Lycopodium. For them it is extremely important to be seen in a good light and they have particular difficul­ties in accepting a slightly less perfect view of their achievements.

The average student does not have a lot of money or time to be spent on cook­ing and looking after themselves, especially now that self-catering is more common, so as well as homeopathic remedies it is a good idea to pack a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement which they might remember to take at least some of the time! “Freshers’ flu” is a common occurrence due to the com­bined pressures of a new environment, hectic lifestyle and mixing with many new and different people, so vitamin C and an immune booster such as ecchi­nacea can also be a great help.

Case studies
James aged 19 has gone straight from school to university. He has always been a sociable and successful boy, keen on sports and able to pass exams fairly easily. After two months away from home he is finding life a bit more of a struggle. He has made good friends since he started at uni, but is gradually miss­ing more and more of his classes. He fully intends to go to them, but each morning stays in bed. He is already behind with his coursework, but seems incapable of doing anything about it. He is sharing a flat with three others in a hall of residence and his room is becom­ingly increasingly chaotic. When his parents visited him, they were concerned about him and brought him to see me. He gave an extremely plausible account of what he planned to do to improve things, but somehow I doubted that he would. I prescribed three doses of high potency Sulphur and within a week he was able to get out of bed by nine in the morning. In fact he felt so much better in himself that he now takes the Sulphur himself when needed and it has not been necessary to see him again.

Emily a 20 year-old girl has had a year off after school which was spent working and travelling. She had a serious relationship while on her gap year which did not last when she returned home. Since going to uni she has become rather more withdrawn and has not socialised much. She is feeling rather sorry for herself but does not talk to anyone about it as she hates people to feel sorry for her. She has also devel­oped headaches around her period time. I have treated her parents in the past and her mother rang me. We managed to persuade her to talk to me on the phone as she was not in London and I prescribed her high potency Nat mur. There was not an immediate response, but gradually over the next two months she became more engaged in university life and when she came to see me on her next vacation, she seemed to be coping much better and I gave her another course of the Nat mur which she was to take if she began to feel worse again.

Both these cases reminded me of how a timely dose of a homeopathic remedy can make a tremendous differ­ence to the life of an individual.

Remedies for parents
When children leave home parents can react in as many varied ways as their children, but there are a few basic reme­dies which can often help. Ignatia is the classic remedy for acute loss and grief and may well help if you are feeling weepy, or have a very changeable reac­tion and are finding it hard to sleep at night.

There are often mixed feelings when children leave and some parents feel angry that they have been left and that their children only contact them when they want something. Staphisagria can often help then. Others may feel purely abandoned and be very weepy and then Pulsatilla can really change things.

Some parents can feel relieved when they have a bit more freedom again, but don’t enjoy it too much as a large per­centage of children come back home after they have finished at college and can’t afford to live independently!

Sara Eames BSc MB ChB DGM MFHOM is the Director of Education and a physician in the women’s and children’s department of the RLHH. She also has a private practice in north west London.