It is generally believed that stress is a process of utmost importance for one’s survival. It prepares body for some serious near future action that will be taken place in order to deal with danger. For example, when you must run from a tiger that is hunting you down or if you decide to face one by yourself because you perceive it as an enemy you might be able to win. This is also called fight-or-flight response and for ages it has shown herself as a reliable method in dealing with life threatening situations.
Is college a place where to constantly exercise how well your fight-or-flight mechanism works? Full of potential enemies lurking in the dark corners just waiting for you to turn your back so they can eat you alive? If your college is anything like a regular college than most likely not. All the lurking enemies and dangerous situations has a cause which is the way you perceive things and, therefore, usually can be dealt with by putting yourself under the microscope and tackling misconceptions and cognitive distortions. The best way to do that, regarding severity of your issue, is by making an appointment with psychologist or psychotherapist (with stress disorders it is useful to look for a specialist in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT).
How common is stress in college students?
Stress, depression and anxiety have been found to be the prevailing mental health issues among college students1. Moreover, survey shows that three out of four students have experienced at least one stressful event in the past year and 20% of surveyed students have thought about suicide. With that being said, an increasing number of students are seeking treatment for these mental health issues . Nevertheless the amount of students that look for help are not higher than 25%, a report, done by Unihealth, states. If you are a student yourself, you probably can agree that anxiety can become overwhelming during your time in college. In my experience, students often talk a lot about anxiety among each other, but rarely do they take the matter seriously thinking that why bother to pay too much attention to it when everyone struggles with stress and seems fine. Stigma, which influence on mental health behavior varies across different cultures, might also detain students from going to psychologist. This indicates that mental health issues are real problems that students face when picking up a college and their severity and influence on well-being should not be underestimated.
A little stress in your life may actually be beneficial
This physiological reaction to perceived danger affects many areas of life only if most of encountered situations are actually perceived as dangerous (I here stick to psychological definition of stress as there are two schools of taught and the other, more frequently used in medical or biological context2 defines stress as bodily reaction to external or internal stimuli that stresses the body), including academic achievement, social life and, of course well-being. It is said that stress is phenomenon that comes into existence when one starts to interact with the surrounding environment. Therefore, it is necessary to say, that stress and anxiety is not “all bad”. In fact, there must be sufficient level of stress caused reactions in one’s body in order for it to function. This is called “good stress” or “eustress”3 and certain level of this kind of stress is necessary for students, as it partakes positive motivational contribution in their academic efforts and life in general. At the same time, if academic workload is too big or a student cannot keep up with the continuous demands from different areas of life, then stress can become too much, which is “bad stress” or “distress”3 that may have different forms. If you want to do well in life, you should firstly find how to keep your stress level optimal.
Changes in ones life is the biggest stressor
Stress, as well as depression and anxiety, reveals themselves as a consequence of numerous educational, social, environmental and psychological adjustment2. These changes include suddenly stumbling upon the new teaching methods that professors exercise in college, different academic requirements that demands additional mental resources or the realization that there won’t be as much spare time as before. At the beginning of first semester students may experience something similar to transfer shock that, if not dealt with, later cause complications.
Besides environmental changes, there are also real-life problems that have to be dealt with that usually cause stress like finding a job or entering in a relationship. As research shows, students usually struggle with academic commitments, financial pressures or lack of time management skills1. Along with these, students also report that they experience higher stress levels when there are changes in their sleeping habits, vacations/breaks, eating habits, increased workload and, of course, new responsibilities that comes with entering the college.
Signs of stress
Presence of distress usually can be determined by particular academic, physical, emotional and cognitive and/or behavioral warning signs (for detailed list click here). It is not necessary for all signs to be present as symptoms of stress differ for each individual. Constantly experiencing high levels of distress can lead to burnout. In order to prevent it, you must learn to spot these signs by becoming more aware of your bodily feelings and emotions. Here comes in handy different kinds of meditations that can help you achieve that.
The key takeaway here is that well-being and less stressful life cannot be achieved in one day or by completing specific task ( e.g. becoming rich or getting a girlfriend/boyfriend and or something like that). It is rather a way of living that requires constant attention and care and knowledge about how to live “a better life”. It is not easy, but the outcome is definitely worth the struggle.
- Marthoenis, Meutia, I., Fathiariani, L., & Sofyan, H. (2018). Prevalence of depression and anxiety among college students living in a disaster-prone region. Alexandria Journal of Medicine.
- Yikealo, D., Tareke, W., & Karvinen, I. (2018). The Level of Stress among College Students: A Case in the College of Education, Eritrea Institute of Technology. Open Science Journal, 3(4).
- Behere, S., Behere, P., & Yadav, R. (2011). A Comparative Study of Stress Among Students of Medicine, Engineering, and Nursing. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 33(2), 145.