“There is no such thing as a stress-free life. Scientists have not yet presented any evidence that a person can have a stress-free life. You can manage stress, reduce it, alleviate it, but never eliminate it.”
Gudjon Bergmann, an American author and columnist
Stress in college students. What’s behind that short sentence? Is it a tribute to modern anxious society or a real, multifaceted problem that people must address immediately? We lean toward the second option, as numerous studies and research support it. In 2018, the American College Health Association (ACHA) stated that according to their estimates, approximately 45% of American college students reported experiencing “above average levels of stress.”
Today, we will discuss the causes of college stress and give you some practical advice on dealing with this unwelcome student life companion.
Further in the article:
Causes of Stress in College Students: Fundamental Concepts
Gallup estimates that in 2021, 4 out of 10 adults worldwide experienced significant anguish that interfered with their daily routines. It is reasonable to assume that at least one was a student. Stress is a well-known phenomenon that has a significant impact on student life. It is a complicated reaction frequently resulting from a mix of high academic standards, societal pressures, and personal aspirations. Also, stress takes on a specific shape at college, as youngsters must confront their parents’ expectations and their own objectives more than ever before.
So, why is college so stressful? What are the factors that ruin the school experience for students? There are enough for a separate article; thus, we will discuss only the most prominent ones:
- Academic demands. While the drive to succeed academically is admirable, it often increases student stress due to complicated assignments, demanding tests, and strict deadlines. A student’s desire to succeed can unwittingly increase distress levels.
- Social pressure. Although the need to fit in and build social connections is a “common task,” it often causes much stress. Feeling depressed can come from meeting new people, high social expectations, and balancing studying and socializing.
- Finances. Few students do not work outside of class to meet their basic needs and even pay for their education. Money is a significant stressor for average students.
- Personal goals. The college provides a framework for personal growth and aspirations, but these same goals can also turn into unbearable pressures. The stigma of creating a prosperous future with a fabulous job, a two-story house, a loving family, and a golden retriever adds to the stress.
- Comparison with peers. It is human nature to compare oneself to those in similar positions, circumstances, or facing the same challenges. Students are no different from other adults in this regard and often feel overwhelmed by comparing themselves to classmates who they perceive to be more successful in their studies or social life.
- Time constraints. Learners must balance multiple obligations, such as classes, homework, part-time jobs, and personal commitments. Many scholars need to fulfill these responsibilities and feel overwhelmed and stressed.
- An uncertain next chapter. College is a period of transition to an adult life in which students stand on the brink of the unknown. Career options, life after college, and uncertainty about the future can all contribute to raised levels of student stress.
Unfavorable Effects of Stress on College Students: Consequences to Address
Many prominent organizations, like the Red Cross, the National Institutes of Health, the American Psychological Association, and others, emphasize the relationship between excessive stress and mental and physical well-being. They are all in agreement that heavy anguish has detrimental effects.
- Damage to mental and emotional well-being. Nervous tension can cause significant damage to a student’s mental health. In terms of consequences for psychological health, it can manifest as feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and irritability. Those interfere significantly with a student’s ability to lead an everyday life and study. Constant worrying and struggling with oneself can lead to severe mental health disorders, such as depression.
- Unstable physical health. The connection between the mind and body is undeniable, and student stress exploits this relationship. In the context of physical well-being, it can lead to frequent headaches, digestive problems, and even a complete weakening of the immune system.
- Impaired academic performance. Being more than just an “annoying misfortune,” stress can be a serious obstacle to academic success. When students struggle with it, their cognitive functions can slow down, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making. This cognitive fog is one of the effects of stress on college students that can significantly impact their ability to perform well in school.
- Strained relationships. The effects of anguish extend beyond one person and affect their relationships with others. Elevated stress levels in college students can lead to irritability and reduced patience, straining friendships and family relationships. The inability to cope with distress can inadvertently cause a rift between loved ones.
- Diminished quality of life. Stress diminishes the quality of life for students with its ability to overshadow joy. The bright moments of student life can be overshadowed by nervous pressure, making their lives muted and less fulfilling.
Mechanisms to Cope with Stress in College Students
We have already addressed the nature of stress in students and found that this phenomenon is widespread and requires attention. To cope with it, there are efficient mechanisms approved by the world’s leading experts in the mental health field. However, there are also ineffective methods people rely on to overcome stress. They only deepen anguish and its destructive effects on the body. Let’s discuss them.
Healthy ways to cope with stress in college
Robust coping mechanisms are based on self-care and mindfulness. They are designed to manage stress in college and strengthen an individual’s emotional and mental health.
- Mindfulness and meditation. Practicing mindfulness helps to appreciate the present moment and accept its challenges meaningfully. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can help you create a space for calm and balance.
- Regular physical activity. When you experience stress, steady, moderate exercise is not only good for your physical health, but it’s also a powerful antidote to feeling overwhelmed. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, natural mood enhancers that effectively fight college stress.
- Effective time management. A balanced schedule gives you control amidst many assignments, exams, and personal commitments. Effective time management builds confidence, balances time between different tasks, both academic and domestic, and prevents stressful situations.
- Healthy social connections. Seeking support from friends, family, or a counselor can help ease student stress. Sharing thoughts and feelings can help strengthen bonds, validate feelings, and lower stress levels in college students.
- Creative expression. You can turn feelings of pressure into something positive. Make it a habit to turn to creativity when you feel overwhelmed and “out of your depth.” Pick a brush, pencil, pen, or laptop and start creating. Art, music, or writing allows you to transform negative emotions into something beautiful.
- Healthy lifestyle choices. Nourishing the body with nutritious foods, adequate sleep, and hydration help the body to cope with and even resist stress.
Unhealthy ways to manage stress for college students
Outside of healthy coping mechanisms, some approaches promise relief but bring only temporary solace. Though “easier,” these methods can only increase school stress and even lead to detrimental consequences.
- Substance abuse. The appeal of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol as an escape from stress is a slippery road. Instead of easing the burden, you will only multiply problems, harm your health, and complicate an already difficult situation.
- Procrastination. It is easy to fall into the trap of procrastination, but it can be challenging to get out. This approach may give you a short-term respite, but in the long run, it has devastating consequences. Deadlines don’t disappear; they just pile up and overwhelm, creating more confusion and increasing stress levels.
- Isolation. Seclusion and shutting out the world may seem like a reliable defense against student stress. However, this misguided approach of avoiding problems or stressors only creates feelings of loneliness and exacerbates negative emotions.
- Excessive screen time. Seeking refuge by scrolling through social media and withdrawing from real-life obligations isolates people from the real world, increasing stress and anxiety.
- Unhealthy eating habits. “Stress eating” is a relatively common coping method chosen by students and most adults. This behavior does not bring any benefits. Short-term relief is followed by inevitable consequences, such as weight gain and even obesity. This, in turn, increases the stress levels in college students and negatively impacts their overall well-being.
Learners must understand the distinction between healthy and harmful practices for managing stress in college. The former fosters growth and resilience, whereas the latter traps people in a cycle of short-term respite and long-term misery.
What Students Say About Stress in College: Tips from Survivors
It is a common truth that everyone has a different stress tolerance threshold; some people tolerate it better and less painfully than others. According to the 2021 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory research, there is a physiological reason for this. There is a part of our brain called the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). It is responsible for self-awareness and response to the stressor.
Motivational stories always inspire us and strengthen us to fight our demons. We invite you to read our authors’ short stories about how they cope with school stress and take some pieces of advice away for yourself.
Cristel Roberts, a nursing student and single mom
Being a nursing student is no easy task in itself. Being responsible for her son doesn’t make it any easier. Here’s what Cristel says about how she copes with college stress. “Creating a structured schedule is my anchor,” she confides. “I allocate specific time slots for focused studying and cherished moments with my child. Although the life of an adult who is a mother and a student is full of surprises, careful time management is the key to my successful stress management.”
Akari Saito, a marketing student and international scholar
Amid the bustling streets of New York, Akari, an international student pursuing marketing, finds solace in connections. “Navigating a foreign land can be daunting,” she admits. “But forming bonds with fellow international students turns challenges into shared experiences. We explore the city, laugh, and inspire each other. In those moments, stress dissipates, and the sense of belonging grows.”
Xiu Zhang, a business administration international student
Xiu, a determined business administration student, uncovers a unique strategy within the realm of networking. “Engaging with seniors who have walked this path offers insights beyond textbooks,” he shares. “Their guidance equips me with practical tips, bridging the gap between theory and practice. The wisdom they share empowers me to manage stress in college and navigate challenges with newfound confidence.”
Patric Johnson, an assistant engineer, husband, and parent
In the whirlwind of responsibilities, Patric, a fourth-year student, adeptly balances roles as an assistant engineer, a devoted husband, and a dedicated parent. “I’ve discovered that involving my family amplifies support,” he reflects. “Studying alongside my child while my spouse manages dinner cultivates a nurturing environment. As we learn together, I conquer the school stress and strengthen our familial bonds.”
Leticia Adamson, Ph.D. in English Literature and ESL Program Head at CustomWritings.com
Guiding the literary realm and leading the ESL program at CustomWritings.com, Leticia imparts wisdom gained through years of experience. “Setting realistic expectations is paramount,” she asserts. “Breaking tasks into manageable steps minimizes overwhelm and fosters steady progress. Embrace the journey, and remember that each accomplishment, no matter how small, brings you closer to your goals.”
Each of these stories is unique, as is how these students cope with being overwhelmed and distressed. There are many effective methods of managing stress in college; your task is to find the ones that work for you.
How to deal with college stress? Addressing student stress is not just a matter of momentary relief; it is a step toward maintaining mental, emotional, and physical well-being and creating a favorable environment.