Exclusively written by Ginger Bane for stress.org

Stress is leading to cases of anxiety and depression – so much so that it has become an epidemic in itself. The college arena is particularly volatile: competitiveness is a huge factor in fueling the epidemic as the number of applicants increases with each coming year. To illustrate this, the National Association for College Admission Counseling recorded that out of all the college applicants in 2018, which was a 4% increase from the previous year, only 65.4% were accepted. Stress has become such a prominent concern that the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey outlines that 45% of college students seek counseling because of it. With the ratio of student-to-counseling staff at 1,731:1, communities must find ways to significantly lessen the stress felt by students, if not eliminate it altogether.

What causes college stress?

Although students may experience stress in their elementary and high school years, college is an entirely different ballgame and a major life transition. College Parents of America says that variables like culture shock, homesickness, adjustments in social life, in addition to academics, may grow too overwhelming for some to handle.
College stress may begin to build up as early as in the early stages, such as the admissions process, and it carries over until they receive their acceptance letters. Then there is the stress felt in choosing a major, and discerning if it is the right fit especially if pursued as a career path later on. This could even be coupled with the tension of choosing to either follow one’s own desired path or following the demands of one’s parents.

Competition is also bound to be present in whatever field is chosen, and the line between healthy and unhealthy competition is very fine. Securing and maintaining a high GPA is one of the largest concerns because of the domino effect it has on students’ lives: Batch rankings, graduate school acceptance, and job offers, not to mention scholarship opportunities may be at stake.

This brings us to a major stressor––the financial burden that higher education in itself poses. Tuition fees in both community and private colleges increase every year. Overlooked costs like room and board and school supplies may even force students to get part-time jobs, which they will have to balance with their studies. All these variables reinforce one another and contribute to the stress epidemic.

What can students do to fight stress?

Students have resorted to finding their own remedies for stress. ‘Self-care’ has become such a buzzword in the topic of mental health and it can be achieved in a number of ways, from just getting enough sleep, to meditating and practicing their creativity.

It’s important to note that the need for getting a sufficient amount of sleep increases in adolescence. Phil Gehrman, an assistant professor of psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, claims that sleep is extra important for adolescents because this is the period of onset for various mental health conditions.

Meditation is one of the simplest ways to lower stress levels at any time and in however much time you have available. It boosts calmness and awareness, addressing anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and insomnia. Many mobile applications have even been created to help students practice meditation and mindfulness through guided sessions.

Aside from meditation, students can turn to other healthy coping mechanisms. Everyone has their own ways of expressing their creativity, and whether that be through writing, painting, woodworking, or anything of that sort, seeing something that you made come to fruition according to your own rules is both rewarding and destressing. Exercise has also long been a natural antidote to stress relief. Endorphins produced during workouts help you produce feel-good neurotransmitters and improve your overall mood. While these are all undertakings of students, they should know that they are not alone. Universities must also do their part.

What can universities do to fight stress?

In order to address the surplus of mental health issues plaguing college students, universities need to get to the root of the problem and make adjustments. The welfare and wellbeing of students should be their No. 1 priority. While a lack of space and licensed professionals has prevented some schools from expanding their counseling services to address student stress, several have also seen great success.

A 2017 Report from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors shows that at least 155 counseling centers added new clinical positions over the course of a year because it has been proven that this helps maintain students’ health and improve enrollment rates. Sometimes, students just need additional lifelines. Duquesne University’s Center for Student Wellbeing also provides crisis support lines, therapy groups, and workshops that help students connect with others to discuss their problems, and a website that grants them easy access to information about their issues. At times, these issues are debilitating, so it is important that universities put students at ease with unwavering support and understanding. Maryville University claims that flexible start dates and personalized support are some of the things provided by top universities to help students succeed. Students place their trust in these institutions, and they need the assurance that their mental health is taken seriously and that they can still excel at their own pace when need be. This then goes hand-in-hand with additional support from home.

What can parents do to fight stress?

Parents can either contribute to or mitigate the stress their children face from universities. We mentioned that there could be tension when parents try to persuade their children to pursue a certain major or career path, and this should be avoided at all costs. Author and film producer Vicki Abeles says that educational expectations have already spun out of control. Parents should not try to add to these expectations, especially if they are doing so for their own gain, to lessen the burden of their own anxieties. Doing so could lead their kids to develop a toxic mindset associated with achievement and success.

On the other hand, for some parents, there is the temptation to coddle their children when they see them going through difficult times. However, it is important that they be practical, while still being understanding and teaching them to solve their problems and reminding them that they are in control––all life skills that can help them in the real world. Parents should also help their children learn how to say yes or not to certain commitments, as this is something that they will have to continue doing even after they graduate. Forbes’ Parenting for Success section stresses the importance of parents having open lines of communication with their children. It is a must for parents to be able to notice the signs of psychological distress and stress, so that they themselves may be able to help their children or even encourage them to seek help elsewhere. Generational gaps may inhibit parents from seeing that mental health and counseling are not frivolous pursuits, and so parents need to take the liberty to suspend judgments and know that there is no shame in seeking help, especially for their own children.

At the end of the day, stress does not discriminate against whom it targets.

The American Institute of Stress offers a number of resources for anyone and everyone who is struggling to cope with their own share of stressors. It’s best to nip it in the bud before it gets worse. 

Exclusively written by Ginger Bane for stress.org