According to a 2008 mental health study by the Associated Press and mtvU, eight in 10 college students say they have sometimes or frequently experienced stress in their daily lives over the past three months. This is an increase of 20% from a survey five years ago.
Rising Stress Levels Alarm Health Educators
The Stanford Daily News
Tuesday February 29, 2000
By JOANNE WU
No time for sleep, no time for playing games, no time for going to parties. You must get that six-figure job, you have to get an “A” in this class, and you must succeed. These days, it seems like stress levels are skyrocketing on college campuses, and Stanford is certainly not immune to the pressures of a fast-paced world.
“I think that the pressures and demands on students have increased in some interesting ways, and students face different challenges,” noted Carole Pertofsky, director of Health Promotion at Cowell Student Health Services.
According to a 1999 survey released last month conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA, 30 percent of freshmen entering college last autumn reported feeling stressed compared to only 16 percent in 1985. Over 260,000 students at 462 colleges contributed to the survey.
Much of the stress can be attributed to the changing lifestyles and attitudes of students.
“I’m sometimes astonished at how future-oriented our students are and the degree to which success is measured by materialism,” Pertofsky said. “For example, up until recently, I never heard groups of students discussing ‘success’ in terms of being millionaire CEOs by age 30. Having serious data profiles of their ideal mates. Questioning whether they should pursue their ideals in a public service capacity, yet intensely worried about not being able to keep up a lifestyle compatible with their friends in other fields. I think these are real stressors.
Besides worrying about their careers and activities, students also have to face the fast pace of life created by modern technology.
Technology has made [life] more stressful, with e-mail and cell phones – you never get any break from it all,” said junior Sharon Chen, a peer health educator in Otero.
One possible advantage for new students is that they might be better informed of what to expect from college life.
Junior Miranda Ip, a peer health educator in Florence Moore Hall, said, “Incoming freshman are a lot more aware of the stresses that they will encounter as college students – whether that prepares them to deal with it better is still debatable.”
According to the research report, students do not appear to be resorting to unhealthy means of coping with stress. In fact, the proportion of freshmen that smoke, as well as the level of drinking among freshmen, have both decreased nation-wide.
At Stanford, according to Pertofsky, “Smoking has remained fairly consistent. About 20 percent of Stanford undergrads smoke less than four times a year. Only 8 percent report smoking regularly.”
“Regarding alcohol – we see a trend toward the extremes. More students do not drink at all (20 percent in 1997 versus 17 percent in 1993), but the heavy drinkers drink more, and drink more often. This is also a national trend,” Pertofsky said.
“I feel like students generally deal with stress in healthy ways – the most important of which is relying on friends and a strong support system,” Ip said.
“Smoking and drinking, I feel, are constant factors, but I have the impression that these two venues are used most frequently by a small subset [of the] population – not the average student population.”
However, even though students may not show the effects of stress in unhealthy habits, the psychological and social effects of stress can influence students in less apparent ways.
“One of the most serious consequences is that while students are so busy packing resumes, they are missing out on the great stress relievers – connecting with other people, having a rich and varies social life and cultivating hobbies and interests that are truly satisfying as opposed to ‘resume packers,’ ” Pertofsky said.
Interestingly, the survey showed that women reported feeling stress more often than men. While 39 percent of women said that they experienced stress, only 20 percent of men attested to being stressed.
Still, despite the survey’s results, men may actually experience the same level of stress as women, but are just more inhibited in reporting these feelings. Men may feel the need to express independence more than women and can be less likely to acknowledge a need for help.
In their activities, women spent more time studying, volunteering, participating in student groups and doing housework. Men, on the other hand, reported spending more time participating in sports, watching television, partying and playing video games.
“I think women are more stressed out than men, in general,” Ip said.
“Maybe it’s because their attitude nowadays focuses on what must be done now for future rewards – women are taking less time out to relax and de-stress. Extracurriculars pile on and impinge on free time, whereas [for men] this free time could be spent simply hanging out and shooting hoops.”
“Every student health survey indicates that women self report higher stress levels,” Pertofsky said. “My hunch is that although men more easily deny discomfort, women do face particular challenges.”