Learning about stress management for students starts at the beginning. Understanding what stress is and how you can identify it is the first step to managing it. Stress in college students is a growing issue that should be addressed.
In this blog, we’ll review the symptoms and causes of stress as well as productive and healthy ways to cope with any stressors college students may be faced with.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physical reaction to your emotions. When you experience an emotion that triggers stress, your adrenal glands release a hormone called epinephrine and cortisol. These hormones are known as fight or flight responses.
While these hormones have the potential to save your life in threatening situations, they can also have long-term negative effects on your metabolic rates, memory function, and blood sugar regulation.
Stress in college students usually takes three main forms:
- Acute Stress– This is the most common form of stress. It refers to day-to-day stressors such as waking up late for a class or receiving a bad grade.
- Episodic Acute Stress– This is when a student experiences acute stress multiple times over an extended period. This type of stress may bring on migraines or tension headaches.
- Chronic Acute Stress– This occurs when a student can’t avoid a long-term stressful situation. For example, if a student is having trouble in a major course they may start to either gain or lose weight, experience sleep deprivation, or develop anxiety.
Symptoms of Stress
When students are provoked by stressors they can experience a variety of symptoms. These symptoms could be physical, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive.
Some common physical symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- Headaches or stomachaches
Some common emotional symptoms include:
- Hostility, irritability, or other mood swings
- Increased worrying
Some common behavioral symptoms include:
- Binge eating or lack of appetite
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Decreased sex drive
- Erratic sleep habits
Some common cognitive symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Loss of concentration
- Negative outlook
Every student experiences stress in different ways which is why it’s important for students to be aware of all the ways stress can present itself. Depending on the type of stress and how severe it may be, students can develop one or many of these symptoms.
It’s important for students to remember that their stressors or behavioral health diagnosis don’t define who they are as a student.
7 Causes of Stress in College Students
Before learning about stress management for students, you should understand what the main stressors are for college students. Below we’ve listed the seven most common reasons students find themselves overwhelmed and stressed throughout the school year.
The cost of a college education has increased substantially over the last few years. As of this year, a study showed that about 46 million U.S. borrowers collectively owe more than $1.75 trillion in student loans.
As the cost of expenses and college tuition increases, the stress levels of students have increased as well. Many students are now not only juggling their coursework and other extracurricular activities, but they are also putting in hours of work to help with the overwhelming costs of college.
There’s nothing wrong with having a part-time job while attending a college or university. However, it can become a problem if students begin to spread themselves too thin with growing responsibilities. Learning how to properly manage your time can help with your obligations and work to relieve some stress.
2. Homesickness and New Levels of Independence
Going to college means experiencing a new level of independence. A recent study showed that about 66% of college students experience homesickness. While this is a natural part of growing up, it can be a difficult transition for certain students, especially those who are living out of state for the first time.
The most important thing to remember about homesickness is that it’s completely normal. If you’re struggling with the transition between living at home and moving away to college, there are many ways you can learn to cope with feelings of homesickness. Remembering that you still are connected with your friends and family from home can help bring some relief.
3. Living Among Strangers
In addition to discovering new levels of independence, many college students feel isolated or lonely if they don’t know many people in their new town or city. It can be hard for students to start over and make new friends as well as adjust to campus life.
Some college students may also be uncomfortable cohabitating with new roommates. It can be difficult for new students to learn how to live with strangers. Finding a balance between safety and privacy is important for students to live comfortably and relieve any stress that may come from adjusting to their new environments.
4. Coursework and Exams
College students often experience a much heavier and tougher workload than they had in high school. Depending on their major, coursework will vary for each student. Many students may even struggle with deciding on a major or track to follow throughout their time in school.
Coursework and exams may be one of the most common reasons for elevated stress levels in college students, but it’s also one of the most manageable. With help from advisors, counselors, and professors, students can learn how to manage their workload and also leave time for themselves.
5. Loss and Grief
A study reported that ⅓ of college students experienced the death of someone close to them while they were in school. Dealing with loss and grief is difficult for anyone, but it can become an even larger issue if the person dealing with it is in college. Not only are college students living away from home, but it’s a time in their lives when they’re developing new ideas, beliefs, opinions, and emotions.
Learning how to cope with loss and grief is necessary for someone to move on and relieve themselves from the pain they may be feeling. Failing to cope with these feelings can result in students developing behavioral or mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, which would create more stress in their lives.
6. Social Obligations
College isn’t only about school work, campus life brings on other additional social pressures and obligations as well. Students often feel the need to fit in, make friends, and enjoy their time in school. Being exposed to peer pressure and societal expectations can cause an immense amount of stress for students.
Many people think of college as a time to have fun and cut loose, resulting in the use of alcohol, drugs, and other substances. It’s important for students to remember to be responsible and safe when it comes to spending their time outside of class.
Students should also keep in mind that they shouldn’t feel pressured to participate in any activities that make them uncomfortable. Seeking help from counselors and advisors can be good for students who need guidance when it comes to these pressures.
7. Romantic Relationships
As college students begin to settle into their new lifestyles, they are bound to create friendships and romantic relationships. While this can be a very positive experience, it can also trigger certain stressors for students. Navigating new relationships can be an exciting time in a person’s life, but it can be confusing as well.
For a lot of people, college is the first time to explore romance, intimacy, and sexuality. It’s important for students to understand that there are healthy and safe ways to navigate love and relationships throughout their time in school. Students should never be ashamed or afraid to ask for help or talk to someone about any questions they may have pertaining to their sexuality.
4 Stress Management Techniques for Students
When dealing with stress management for students, there are many ways you can learn to cope. Below we’ve highlighted five basic ways you can begin living a less stressful and more productive lifestyle.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Many college students find themselves falling into poor sleeping patterns. A study showed that about 65.5% of students experience poor sleep quality which is linked to mental health problems. There are other negative effects linked to depriving yourself of sleep such as lower cognitive function and academic performance.
Experts say that college students should get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. There are certain tips students can follow to achieve getting a good night’s sleep. Some things like following a sleep schedule, staying away from electronics before bed, lowering caffeine intake, and relaxing before bed can all help you sleep better.
2. Practice Self-Care
Eating healthy, exercising regularly, and putting time aside for yourself all play critical roles in practicing self-care. It can be easy for college students to be overwhelmed by coursework and social obligations, but it’s important for you to stay healthy and active as well.
College students tend to react to stress by binge eating or undereating. It’s important to keep basic nutrition and a balanced diet in mind as you plan your meals. This will help you avoid managing your weight gain or weight loss as well as improve your overall health.
Exercising is one of the best ways to relieve stress. When you exercise, your brain produces endorphins which are feel-good neurotransmitters. This reduces fatigue, enables mental clarity, and enhances cognitive function.
3. Manage Your Time
The key to making college work is time management. Avoiding procrastination and setting realistic goals can help you get your work done efficiently without becoming overwhelmed by stress.
Staying organized with calendars and planners can make all the difference when dealing with school assignments, work schedules, and other extracurricular activities. Developing time management skills will allow you to prioritize your most pressing tasks and help you plan your day or week around your main responsibilities.
4. Identify a Healthy Stress Outlet
There are many ways you can release stress. Whether it’s physical activities, hobbies, clubs, or even meditation exercises, you should make sure you have a way to unwind after a stressful day. Exploring ways you can enjoy your free time can be an exciting and fun way to relieve stress.
If you’re struggling with finding a healthy stress outlet, don’t hesitate to ask for help. College campuses have counselors and resources that can guide you through stressful situations and help you identify healthy coping mechanisms. Remember, managing your stress levels is important to ensure you’re living a healthy life physically and mentally.
In addition, there are always resources and help to be found on your college campus. You can find your school’s campus resources by going online or seeking help from a counselor or advisor. Check your school’s student services to find out more about how your campus is working to aid students in their mental health and wellness.