How stress affects college students and what to do about it

Stress among college students continues to grow, and different students cope with stress in campus life in several ways. For proper student health, students and their counselors should learn to identify the cause of stress and devise appropriate stress relief techniques.

Find out how to best cope with stress in college. (Credit: The Dolly Lammy)

Find out how to best cope with stress in college. (Credit: The Dolly Lammy)

Whether you are someone experiencing extreme amounts of stress during college or know someone who is, the below tips give everyone the chance to live a happy, healthy college life.

 Stress experience not one size fits all

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. offered “10 Tips College Freshmen Should Know,” by Ryan Lytle, August 22, 2012, that have some great tips on how college students can easily adjust the transition from high school to college:

  • Get along with roommates: roommates may be able to avoid issues if ground rules are set from the beginning. Having conversations about cleaning schedules or having friends over can ensure roommates are on the same page.
  • Maintain a college budget: keep track of all expenditures to hold yourself accountable for extracurricular spending, which might include clothes shopping and nights out with friends, to name a few.
  • Be proactive about fighting college stress: alleviate the stress of making new friends, doing well in class and enhancing your resume by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly or seek out counseling services on campus

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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