Stress is something we’ve probably all experienced to some degree. If you’re a college student feeling overwhelmed and are having a hard time with time management, chances are you’re suffering from college stress.
Stress is particularly common among college students, but college stress is manageable. Read on for a deep dive into what kind of stress college students experience and tips on how to mitigate and manage it.
What Is College Stress?
Before we can define college stress specifically, let’s take a look at the basic definition of stress itself. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, stress is “a constraining force or influence” that can be physical or psychological.
In this case, we’re of course talking about psychological stress due to external school factors. High levels of unchecked stress can lead to health problems.
College stress is a particular kind of student stress college students experience because of the conditions of college life. The American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment 2015 survey found high rates of stressful life events related to mental health issues. Stress was usually related to academics, family issues, social relationships, finances, and sleeping difficulties.
Below are a few examples of factors that can bring on college stress.
New residential college students might be used to living at home with family members and having a tight web of support around them. For most college students, departing for college is their first experience living away from home. Moving to a different location and having different surroundings can be a major source of stress, especially for students who make a major geographic or cultural shift for college.
After high school, where every day is more or less the same with a constant daily schedule of classes, college is very different. Depending on their class schedule, some college students don’t even have to attend a class every day. This usually means they have to learn to work independently and learn key stress management skills like time management.
Most college students experience a bit of an academic shock at the beginning of college. Workloads are very different in college and the ability to work independently becomes much more important than it was in high school.
Coursework and assignments for one college class are usually much heftier than those for high school classes. Students who need extra support and guidance might feel overwhelmed and have a harder time than others. Ideally, these struggling students will have access to university resources to help manage stress and their college transition. Naturally, academic performance can suffer if levels of stress and anxiety go unchecked.
For many traditional college students, college presents a pretty big leap in responsibilities. When in high school they may have had to be responsible for maintaining their grades, in college, they are responsible for so much more.
College students have to learn to take care of themselves in their daily life in a way that they likely did not have to do in high school. Depending on the school and the overall environment, students may have to learn to cook and provide for themselves in a way that they have not had to do in the past. Others will have the help of dining halls and meal plans, but they will likely still have their own learning curve to deal with.
Besides making sure that they maintain good hygiene and feed themselves, they also have to contend with social pressure and anxiety, especially in the beginning as they acclimate to a new social climate.
College is a different, uncharted social environment for new students. Sure, some might know some of their peers from high school or from their hometowns, but they are still in a new environment with brand new people and factors.
Social anxiety is a leading college stressor because students are trying to make friends and find a sense of belonging in college. This, compounded with academic stress and other forms of stress discussed here, can make social anxiety even worse.
College students have widely cited health concerns as a major cause of college stress. These may be concerns over physical or mental health. Chronic health issues, including mental health issues, often cause higher levels of stress over the ability to keep up with academic demands.
Finally, let’s not forget financial pressure. The cost of tuition alone has quickly become staggering. Add room, board, and fees, and the cost of one year of college can take years to pay back.
Students who understand the weight of their family’s financial sacrifice may feel stressed because of the financial pressure on their academic success. Others, who may be receiving more financial aid, may feel pressure to do well because their financial aid is likely contingent upon a certain baseline GPA. Meanwhile, student loan levels have continued to rise in the last decade and along with them, student loan and college stress.
How to Treat and Reduce College Stress
Knowing how to manage and reduce stress is crucial for college success. Effective stress management techniques can make all of the difference in turning a stressful college experience into a successful and rewarding one. Here are a few commonly-recommended coping techniques.
With good time management techniques, students often feel like they have more ownership over their time. A major cause of stress in general, not just college stress, is feeling overwhelmed and like you just don’t have enough time to do everything that’s on your plate.
The first step to effective time management is usually organization. Some people choose to get organized by using a planning tool, like a physical planner or a digital calendar. Writing down what you have to do and when sounds pretty basic, but it’s extremely helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes just seeing a to-do list on paper makes it feel more manageable than when it’s just in your head.
Sure, this term may feel overused but it’s overused for a reason: self-care is so important. Self-care just means that you actively work to take care of yourself and your needs each and every day. Typically, it also refers to an intentional activity that you do for yourself like going for a stress-relieving run, taking a long bubble bath, or watching your favorite TV show. It means taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and doing something that makes you feel good.
Mindfulness is a catchall term that includes any activity that requires a full presence of mind or attentiveness. The most common and popular form of mindfulness is meditation, an activity that is by definition the absence of activity.
Mindfulness can be about focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind, but it can also be about paying attention to what you are doing in the present. For example, you can go for a mindful walk to relieve stress in between classes. You can also be intentional about eating a meal mindfully while avoiding your phone or any other media or reading material that could distract you from the actual food. Mindful eating can lead to eating more satisfying meals and feeling reinvigorated to take on the rest of your day.
Last but not least, a major way for college students to combat stress is by seeking out the resources available to them. Most college campuses have in-house counseling services dedicated exclusively to students. These mental health professionals specialize in college stress and in other issues that affect college students and young adults in general.
Though seeking out mental health counseling used to be taboo, it is becoming less frowned-upon and more encouraged these days, especially for young people. According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of college students making appointments at college counseling centers has grown faster than the rate of overall college enrollment.
To meet the growing demand, counseling services on some college campuses have expanded to meet students where they are. Some counseling centers offer workshops or give presentations on how to handle college stress specifically. Typically, a university’s academic tutoring center also provides these kinds of workshops and services.
Is College Stress Manageable?
The reasons a college student may be experiencing college stress are many. It makes sense that such a big life change brings on quite a bit of stress and even anxiety. That said, it’s important to take a step back and remember what it’s all about.
College is about taking a step forward in your education and working toward your overall goals. By using the resources available to you on campus, you can reduce stress and mitigate the negative effects of college stress. Ultimately, it’s important to make the decisions that are right for your future and for your mental health.