Many high school students look forward to the freedom, independence, and fun promised by college, but the reality of this major life change can hit much harder than you may expect. The American Institute of Stress reports that around eight in every 10 college students experience stress frequently—especially during freshman year. Factors such as moving away from home for the first time, having to make new friends, and keeping up with classes can make college a big challenge—not to mention dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic and all the changes that has brought about. To top it off, the situation becomes even more difficult when students suffer from some burden of financial stress. With all this in mind, let’s explore why stress management is important for your health and the best ways to go about it.
Why stress management is important for students
College is an ideal time to hone (or create) your stress management strategy, as stress is something you’ll have to live with throughout your life. When present in excess or chronic, stress hormones can make you ill, contributing to a host of conditions such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that around 42% of college students state that anxiety is a concern, while around 30% feel that stress has impaired their academic performance. Finding ways to cut down on stress will help you reduce symptoms and enjoy the best that college life has to offer while keeping a healthy school-life balance.
Seeking professional help
If you find that stress and anxiety are getting in the way of your daily tasks and obligations as a student, or that they’re stopping you from making the most of social opportunities, seek professional help to nip the problem in the bud. Your campus counseling center is a good place to start, and many colleges have psychology departments that offer free counseling. (You may also be able to take advantage of these services remotely; check with your school to see if it’s a possibility!) If you prefer to see an external counselor, try someone recommended by a family member or friend. Recommendations and online feedback are good ways to see what others think about a professional.
Stress management techniques
One “gold standard” approach taken by therapists to reduce student stress is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on how you feel and think about a situation and how it’s intricately linked to how you behave. With CBT, your therapist may ask you to keep a journal to identify situations that trigger your stress or anxiety. They may then suggest behavioral changes with the significant ability to affect the way you view situations. They may also help you learn to challenge negative thoughts, replacing them with more realistic ones that lead to healthier behaviors.
Natural approaches to stress
Students should certainly try to tackle stress from a multifaceted perspective. Many natural methods have been found to be highly effective at reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. You could try yoga, Tai Chi, or mindfulness meditation. One study by University of Oregon researchers found that meditation not only reduces stress in college students but also boosts academic performance as measured by test results. Another study by Coventry University showed that mind-body interventions such as meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi can actually reverse the molecular reactions in our DNA that cause mental and physical illness.
Don’t forget self-compassion
One last tip to remember when you’re feeling burned out is to simply be kinder to yourself. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that self-compassion could be the key to making it through your first year of college in a healthy and happy state. Researchers stated, “The psychological stress students may experience during the transition between high school and university can be mitigated with self-compassion because it enhances the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.” These qualities in turn enhance a student’s well-being.
Stress can sometimes spur you on to do your best work, but if it becomes chronic, it can trigger conditions like anxiety and depression, which could hamper what should be a special time in life—your first year in college. Seek help if you feel overwhelmed and try out a few mind-body techniques as well. Finally, remember to be as kind to yourself as you would to others; this is the essence of healing, energizing self-compassion.
For more articles and advice on taking care of your stress levels and mental health, click on our "stress management" tag.