It doesn’t matter if you’re in the first year of your undergrad or about to embark on your doctoral thesis, college is hard and at times it can be stressful.
We spoke to college counsellor Michael Ledden to find out what triggers stress amongst students and how you can learn to deal with it.
Do you think stress among students is on the rise?
I would say from my work that it appears that anxiety is very much on the rise with students as opposed to general stress. Academic stress is always a given in university life, but I see a lot of students becoming anxious as a response to personal or academic failures. This can be crippling for students and makes getting to lectures or getting work done even harder than before. It can pull students into a cycle that can be hard to break out of alone.
What are the main causes of stress for students?
Although it is hard to generalise as every student is different, from my experience I’ve noticed that many students place a high level of expectation upon themselves. They expect to always do well socially and academically, which may not always practically be possible.
Often this can stem from internalised unrealistic expectations about the nature of life and success. Many of the students I have seen also happen to be foreign nationals studying abroad. It should not be underestimated how difficult it can be to relocate to another country to study.
Do you think social media plays a role?
I think that social media could play a role. Social media encourages us to project the best version of ourselves out into the world. It can encourage us to filter out the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. We don’t approve the photos that don’t flatter us, however, in real life it is hard to get away from how we are feeling.
Today’s generation of students are practically the first group to have grown up with social media in their formative years, so I think there is a lot of very interesting research that could be done into this area.
How can students tell if they’re experiencing too much stress?
Normal signs for students are raised heart rate, tension in the body, difficulty concentrating, distraction, poor sleep, stomach problems, or irritability.
Stress is basically the body’s fight or flight system that is ramped up because we are experiencing something as a threat. Normally our bodies go into this state when faced with a physical danger, but return to normal when the danger goes. With stress, we can remain in this state for an indefinite amount of time. It can be really good to do some relaxation to combat stress as well as the things we know work for us, whether that’s exercise, cooking, shopping or whatever.
What can students do to help relieve stress?
There are many things that students can do to reduce stress. A good work-life balance is critical even in University. Playing sports or getting regular exercise, looking after sleep patterns, eating right, drinking enough water and not overdoing it on nights out make a big difference.
Mindfulness meditation is something I always advocate with students as it helps get them more into the present moment and helps anxiety. Student counselling services are always there as well if stress gets too much.
How can students prevent stress in the long run?
Same as above. Planning and finding a routine in college life can be very helpful. Identify the people who you can talk to and practice healthy habits and you’ll be far less likely to run into difficulties with stress.
If you are experiencing serious problems with stress or anxiety talking to a professional can really help look at what’s going on. Most people will need to talk to someone at some stage in their lives about how they’re managing, so certainly don’t stress about saying you need to talk to someone.