Tamari Ramishvili | Staff Writer
College proves to be a difficult time for many students. With pressures from parents, peers, professors and schoolwork pushing down on us, it can be inevitable to feel overwhelmed to the point where it’s detrimental to our health. We’re away from home, experiencing independence, freedom, and responsibility. We’re finding ourselves, setting long and short-term goals, striving to achieve academic success, making the right decisions, and learning to live among others as adults. With all of these going on at once, it becomes easy to fall under stress, which can involve many disadvantages.
In 2005, the National College Assessment surveyed 17,000 college students and found that that 25 % of students have felt depressed to the point where it was difficult to function up to eight times in a span of 12 months, and 21 % percent reported to have seriously considered suicide. According to the National Survey of Counseling Center Directors, 154 did commit suicide. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, which is why stress, the main factor that causes suicidal thoughts, ought to be taken seriously.
Stress is a normal psychological and physical response of the body, to the day-to-day pressures and demands of life. It’s the body’s way of alerting and preparing itself for a challenge. The hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline, which speeds up heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. It puts muscles on alert, dilates pupils, produces sweat and glucose to increase the body’s energy, getting us ready for what’s coming.
Some stress is actually beneficial to our bodies and minds; it nudges us to be more alert and aware of our surroundings, especially at a critical time, and also keeps us on our toes when needed. Chronic stress on the other hand, can be dangerous and even life threatening at times. When the nervous system senses continued pressure, it remains activated and continues to pump extra stress hormones over time. This can wear out the body, weakening the immune system, leaving a person feeling overwhelmed or worn out, subsequently causing more damage.
In college, we feel pressure from many different angles. Most of us juggle multiple responsibilities even apart from school, like work, home life, clubs and organizations, and personal relationships. We feel pressured to do well academically, whether the source of that pressure is a parent or our own motivation. We feel pressured by the amount of schoolwork we’re given. We feel pressures of social acceptance, especially if we’re attending a school out of state, or a school significantly distant from home, because we have to start over and make new friends. Most of us are away from home, some for the first time, which can also take a toll. We feel pressure to be on our own and make our own decisions. We even feel pressure from peer pressure.
Because of all of these pressures, college students need to pay more attention to their stress levels and try to better manage them, so it doesn’t lead to academic and social failure, or worse- especially now, with finals quickly approaching. Without the proper care, our bodies experience chronic high- stress levels that lead to serious health problems. Stress is a well known stimulant for heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and the deficiency of the immune system, which helps to fight diseases.
Stress management, unfortunately, is no overnight task. It has to be learned and consistently practiced to prove effective. There are many techniques a person can do in order to decrease their stress levels. With the continued use of those techniques, one can learn to cope with stress better, and be ready for life’s constant challenges.
Time management is a must. Colleges all over the country have come to an agreement about this. Finding the balance between coursework, projects, tests, jobs, socializing, and sleep, requires the ability to manage time wisely. Use a planner, calendar, notebook or an app to help you track important dates and reminders. Learn to plan ahead, and most importantly, eliminate procrastination; there’s simply no time for it.
Many students create extra stress for themselves by taking on too many responsibilities and having unrealistic expectations. Thus, an important step would be to set goals- realistic ones. This will give you something definite to work towards, allowing you the right amount of time and motivation without excessive pressure. Let the smaller goals be the smaller steps to a larger goal. For example, if you have a final project due at the end of the course, for which you can start preparing little by little by writing an outline, doing research, writing, proofreading, rewriting, and etc. Never wait until a few days before to complete an entire project.
Another helpful tip is to set priorities. Setting priorities, along with time management, will keep you on schedule. As college students, our priorities list should all have class/coursework at the top. You can make different lists, such as weekly or monthly ones. Don’t neglect to put rest and down-time on the list as well. The importance of this can’t be stressed enough. Find a place, and take time to be alone with your thoughts and enjoy the moment. For someone living on campus, it’s difficult to find a place to be by yourself. However, don’t overlook places like an empty classroom, a back corner at Starbucks or the cafeteria, the library, and open grass. A quick trip to the waterfront is highly recommended.
Maintain healthy habits. Eating a healthier diet, getting a sufficient amount of sleep, and being physically active are basic needs, rather than techniques, to maintaining a healthy stress level. Even if you can squeeze in 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 to 4 times a week, which you should be able to do with proper time management, and get 7 or 8 hours a sleep a night, you will notice a big improvement.
There are also activities you can do on the side to reduce stress. You can take a walk in nature, meditate, or just do something you enjoy. You can even ask others what techniques have worked for them and try those. Visiting the Health Center is also very helpful if you’re dealing with a high level of stress, thoughts of suicide, depression, increased anxiety and so on. They can set up counseling to help you out, and the best part-they’re on campus and easy to access.
Don’t wait until stress has a negative impact on your health, relationships and academics, to finally pay attention to it. Start practicing stress management techniques today.