Stress can come on suddenly or it can build up over time, either way, too much stress can lead to some very undesirable outcomes for college students.
Stress is NORMAL...and can sometimes keep you alert and reactive.
Having high levels of PROLONGED stress is when problems start to occur (mental, physical, and academic problems)
34.4% of college students report that stress has negatively impacted their academic performance
So why are college students stressed?
No matter what your background is, college is a time of change and often increased expectations. Many college students are trying to balance school, work, social, and home life. The more roles we have the less time we have for each. Some reasons for increased stress during college are:
greater academic demands
possibly living on your own for the first time
financial worries about the cost of school
worries about being in the right major/getting the right job after school
less time with friends and family
increased exposure to new ideas, new people, and identity/beliefs conflict
Increased reliance on technology
your phones may be increasing your stress level
Why are college students so stressed?
What does stress look like?
People experience stress in very different ways and for very different reasons. An important part of managing stress is to know yourself and assess yourself often. Some symptoms of increased stress are:
problems eating or a change in eating habits
problems sleeping, over sleeping, or experiencing nightmares
increases use of alcohol or drugs
feeling "blah" often
problems making decisions
increased procrastination (putting things off)
increase anger or feelings of hostility
friends and family recognize a change and say "you look stressed out"
increased urge to cry or become very emotional
physical pain i.e. headaches, back or shoulder pain, stomach aches
frequent colds or infections
frequent accidents or minor injuries
weight gain, due to lack of motivation and increase Cortisol from stress
How does stress affect college students?
Stress can sometimes work in your benefit, acting as an alarm when something important needs to be accomplished. Stress can remind us to get things done and to do our best, like when we are nervous about an exam so we put extra effort in to studying, leading to a good test performance. Increased prolonged stress however can cause mental, physical, and academic complications and concerns.
Academic complications are a bi-product of mental and physical strain due to stress, such as:
decreased ability to concentrate on your assignments
inability to retain as much information, increased forgetfulness
increased irritability and restlessness, making it difficult to sit through class
decrease sleep or over sleeping, leading to missed classes
increased risk of injury, leading to missed school time and assignments
lowered immune response, leading to increased illness and time out of class
lack of motivation in completing assignments and/or feeling overwhelmed
These are just a few issues that stress can cause as you work to complete your degree program and/or coursework. Reducing stress and identifying stress triggers are an important part of your college success plan.
Some aspects of our lives that cause stress to build up are easier to address than others and some times we need quick stress relief before we plan for long term solutions to reduce stress. Here are some short and long term ways to reduce stress while in college and throughout your life.
Breathe: It may sound simple but when faced with an immediate stressful situation you need to take time for some deep breathing. One of the first physiological responses to stress is shortness of breath, which actually creates more anxiety. Deep breathing reduces anxiety, helps you focus, gives your body some much needed oxygen, and allows time to pass in order for you to make more rational decisions.
Rationalize: Sudden stress is often brought on by fear. Rationalize your fears. For example - If you are experiencing severe stress while studying for an exam, think about what your fear is and if it is rational. If you fear failing the exam, is your fear based on what you've "heard" about the professors exams (unfounded fear), is it based on your lack of preparation for the exam (founded fear), and also what is the real outcome of doing poorly on the exam? will you really fail the course? do you know how many points are associated with the exams in the course? Rationalizing your fears can help you reduce stress by only focusing on facts and not unfounded assumptions. Ask yourself is this worth being so upset about right now? - you do have a choice!
Prioritize: Stress can also come from the feeling of being overwhelmed. Sometimes we have so many things to do and don't feel we have enough time to do it all, or where to even get started. List all the things that you need to do right away. Then prioritize the list and place your focus on the top few (the most important). You can get to the rest tomorrow or soon after.
Don't procrastinate: Procrastination, or putting things off, just allows your tasks to build up. Deadlines do not often change so staying on task and managing your time will help you to reduce your stress throughout the entire semester. For more on beating procrastination click here to review this Time Management Workshop.
Take care of your health: Eat well, visit your Dr. for yearly check-ups, get enough sleep (at least 7+ hours per night), exercise regularly; this can be as simple as going for a walk or jog a few times a week.
Manage your time: A schedule that is out of control makes you feel out of control. Managing your time is a skill and takes practice to set up helpful routines and learn tips and tricks to get the most out of your time. Tell your time what to do and you will have time to take care of yourself and what is important to you. Click here for more information about Time Management.
Recognize your limits: There is a such thing as taking on too much, even if it's just temporary. Expecting yourself to endure periods of time where you are over extended is inviting stress into your life. Know your limits and learn how to say No, to yourself and others.
Maintain a good support system: Let friends and family help you when you feel overwhelmed and stress out.
Don't be a perfectionist: Producing quality is what we should all strive for, but perfectionism is time consuming and stress inducing. Hyper focusing on small details will take longer and are likely to go unnoticed. Do your best on everything you do, but set boundaries and deadlines for yourself and stick to them.
Anticipate stress: Prepare yourself for stress. Be strategic and decide which challenges you are ready to take on and which challenges you need to postpone for a bit. Look ahead at your course syllabi and plot out weeks of heavy reading, assignment due dates, and exam dates for each class. This way you can look ahead and plan for a stressful week, where you may be preparing for two exams at the same time. A one page full semester calendar for planning can be found on the time management page.
Schedule time for yourself: Make yourself a priority. Often when we over extend ourselves the first thing we cut out is self care. Neglecting your needs and not taking time to recover from difficult days or tasks will increase your stress significantly. Manage your time so that you have more of it for yourself and what helps you to relax. Reward yourself often! Some suggestions below:
To Reduce Stress - Take Care of Yourself!!!
**High levels of stress can trigger, but can also be a symptom of other mental health issues. If you feel your stress is out of control or is being caused by something out of your control, please consult your physician and/or stop in at the NCCC Wellness center for some information and assistance.
For more information about stress management, friendly staff and Licensed Counselors are available to assist you @