Stress affects college students differently

No matter how stress affects you, there are many ways to relax.

No matter how stress affects you, there are many ways to relax.

Stress among college students is growing, and different students cope with stress in campus life in many different ways. For proper student health, students and their counselors should learn to identify the cause of stress and devise appropriate stress relief techniques. (Hiding in dorm rooms to avoid stressful issues is not one of the recommended solutions.)

In “Healthy mind, healthy body: Student health centers are expanding their services to include mental health care” for Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 24, 2013, Vikki Conwell reported the findings of the spring 2012 American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment: “More than 44 percent of student respondents reported feeling hopeless within the last 12 months, 85 percent felt overwhelmed, and 29.6 percent felt so depressed it was hard to function. In the last 12 months, 12.1 percent had been diagnosed or treated for anxiety and 10.6 percent for depression.”

Different stressors for different students at different universities

All students do not experience stress the same way. Many factors affect a student’s reaction to stress. In “Student stress: Whose is worst?” for Inside Higher Ed, posted June 17, 2011, Allie Grasgreen discussed a University of San Diego study of its students. The study used a variety of demographic factors—such as being a first-generation student, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and disability—to hone in on top student stressors.

“Using open-ended focus groups, they asked students to identify their top three stressors and then sorted them by rank, frequency and severity between groups. So, for example, while students with disabilities were stressed by social issues most frequently, that form of stress was most severe for students of color,” Grasgreen reported.

Other findings:

  • Students at a lower socio-economic level were more stressed by academics, financial issues and retention.
  • LGBTQ students were most stressed by campus social climate.
  • Part-time working students were stressed by finances and time management.

Stress reduction for freshmen

Freshmen are unique in that everything about college life is new to them: you’re away from home, in a new environment, with new responsibilities (like self-management of time and study) and personal freedoms, with a diversity of friends and teachers. You face the stress of academic performance, time management, roommate conflict, fitting in, long-distance relationships with high school sweethearts, etc.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling Center in “Adjusting to college” offered some stress reduction tips specifically for freshmen:

• “Connect with other students.  If you talk to other students, you are likely to discover that they share similar questions and concerns. Your R.A. is an excellent person to go to when issues arise. She or he is equipped to help you solve problems and refer you to appropriate resources.”

• Get involved with student organizations, make new friends, meet different people and participate in social activities.

• Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, get physically active and consult the wellness center.

Problem-focused or emotion-focused

Reaction to stress is also dependent on what type of person you are: problem focused or emotion focused, according to researchers Lazarus (1991) and Folkman (1984). Problem-focused people determine the root cause of their stress and seek to remove it or control it. “Problem-focused coping targets the causes of stress in practical ways which tackles the problem or stressful situation that is causing stress, consequently directly reducing the stress,” explained Saul McLeod in “Stress management—Problem focused coping with stress,” in Simply Psychology, posted in 2010.

To relieve stress, problem-focused people try to understand the situation they’re in and face up to their problems. They ask questions, research the Internet, talk to teachers, consult with friends. Once they understand and evaluate the pros and cons of their options to deal with the stressor, they can respond appropriately and avoid that stressor in the future (such as managing their time better). Problem-focused stress relief does not work in situations beyond your control (death of a loved one, terrorist attack).

Emotion-focused coping, on the other hand, aims to reduce negative emotional responses (embarrassment, anxiety, fear), which may be the only way to deal with stress when the situation is beyond your control. To relieve stress, emotion-focused people talk about their problems with others, pray for guidance, keep themselves busy or distracted or ignore the problem. Unfortunately, emotion-focused stress reduction may only delay a person dealing with the actual cause of the stress.

For more information on stress at college, consult’s psychology and education libraries.

How do you relieve the stress of college life? Let us know in the comments.

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