According to the American Institute on Stress, the incidence of stress among college students is on the rise. Eighty percent of students report that they feel stressed sometimes or often, and 34 percent of them report having even more intense feelings of depression. It’s clear that not even young people with bright futures are immune from the anxieties of modern society.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the reasons for all this angst. We will also provide some tips for coping with stress and taking care of your mental health.
Why Is There so Much Stress Among College Students?
Getting into college is a rigorous and demanding endeavor. Each year, more students than the year before are applying to institutes of higher learning, while only around 65 percent of them are getting accepted. This fact is not news to students who have been working hard to get into college, and this alone has caused an underlying current of stress laid down long before they ever walk into their first freshman class.
The application process itself is grueling. Students must attempt to outdo their peers in grades, extra-curricular activities, and test scores to make those applications stand out. All of this increased effort leads to a lack of sleep; something people in this age range need an extra dose of.
And these are just the stressors that happen before acceptance.
After students are accepted, they are faced with keeping up with even more intense coursework and demanding schedules. For many, it is their first time away from the safety net of friends and family, so they have to navigate an entirely new support network and unfamiliar surroundings. And let’s not forget about the enormous financial burden of school and the constant concerns about how to pay for each new semester.
With so much at play, it’s actually quite easy to see how today’s college students are suffering from an epidemic of stress. While many view college as a carefree and enjoyable experience (and it often is), it is also fraught with demands at the onset.
What Exactly Is Stress?
Stress is a part of the human experience, and technically it begins at birth. It’s how the body and brain react to any external force, be it good or negative. It’s a normal response that helps people navigate throughout life and learn the skills they need to function. Without it, we would not have the instinct to run from a burning building or remove ourselves from harm’s way.
However, prolonged stress caused by life’s various challenges carries physical and mental health risks. It is those mental health risks that we are primarily concerned about in this article.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. All of which can be challenging at best and debilitating at worst. College students have not typically been viewed as an at-risk population for these conditions until more recent years. Still, psychologists now agree that students are seeking help for these issues more than ever before.
How Can College Students Deal With Stress?
It’s crucial for students to recognize when and how they are experiencing stress and come up with a plan for coping with it in a healthy manner. The good news is that more resources are available than ever before, and with a little help, you can manage the stress in your life instead of letting stress control your life for you. First, let’s talk about outside resources.
Outside Resources for College Students Dealing With Stress
In the past few decades, the stigma of mental health issues has slowly decreased, bringing with it an increase in services available to people of all demographics to get the professional help they need. If you find your problems are too overwhelming, seeking out this type of assistance is vital. While you may feel hesitant at first, know that there are people ready and willing to help you if you have the courage to ask. Some of these resources include:
•Your school’s RA or your student advisor
•University counseling services
•The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
•The American Institute of Stress
Additionally, if your stress level has reached a point where you feel unusually depressed, hopeless, or suicidal, don’t be afraid to reach out and tell someone.
By the time you have reached this state, it is common that you cannot make wise or healthy choices for yourself, and you need intervention. Sometimes, just talking about this “elephant in the room” is enough to ease your suffering enough to get help.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help people in emotional distress.
Other Ways College Students Can Cope With Stress
If you haven’t reached a point where your stress levels feel severe enough for outside intervention, but you want to take some steps to help yourself before you are in crisis, this next set of tips is for you.
You’ve probably heard it already a hundred times, but sometimes it takes the 101st time for something to sink in. Meditation works. It is a proven method for combatting stress and bringing the body and mind back into a state of harmony and balance.
There are dozens of places, methods, and ways to practice meditation, and all you need to do is find just one that works for you. There’s no need to sit in silence for hours on end for the practice to be effective, either. A few minutes a day of walking meditation might do the trick. You could opt to listen to a guided audio recording while lying in a quiet room or go to a center near you and take a class. Perfection is not expected, either. You’ve had enough of that already.
2. Eat Right
Again, here is something you’ve been lectured about your entire life, yet are you doing it? A healthy diet can help reduce stress and provide the nutrition you need to solve problems and stay focused. An abundance of caffeine, convenience foods, and those with little nutritional value weaken the body’s defenses and contribute to other issues.
The same goes for hydration. Even low levels of dehydration can cause brain fog, fatigue, and confusion. The next time you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, try reaching for an ice-cold glass of water. It has been proven to stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce your fight or flight response.
Yes, you know about this one too already, and now that you are at school, you probably have no excuse to avoid it. A brisk walk around campus, jumping on the treadmill at the fitness center, or even a fun game of badminton to get your blood moving will work. You don’t have to become a fitness guru, just set aside some time to move your body.
4. Make Time for Fun
It could be that the demands of the past couple of years have left you little time to do anything enjoyable. Between academic requirements, volunteering, and preparing to get into school, you may have completely forgotten what you like to do for fun.
If this sounds like you, start exploring some opportunities that include activities you enjoy. These should be separate from anything expected or required of you. Instead, you should do something just for you. Maybe you have wanted to try a painting class or go to the sled dog races. Perhaps a trip to the theater has been in the back of your mind. Even getting a massage could fit the bill. The important thing is that it is something that will bring you some satisfaction and distraction from your responsibilities.
Learning how to care for one’s mental health is not a skill most of us are born with. When we experience unusually high stress, it can be surprising and even frightening. However, armed with knowledge, you can become a pro at handling whatever the next four years throws at you.
How you learn to react to the stressors of college will help you navigate past graduation and through the many changes and experiences that will happen throughout your life. Take advantage of all the resources you have available to make sure you craft the life you want for yourself.
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