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Helping College Students Manage Stress

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

Stress is part of life, and managing it can be tricky. College students are under a lot of new stresses experiencing adult life for the first time. This lesson explains how to identify signs of stress and ways to combat stress.

A Quick Word about Stress

Stress has always been a part of life, and while some stress is useful, like to motivate evasive actions in dangerous situations, for example, too much stress often has long lasting detrimental effects on the human body. Firefighters, soldiers, and air traffic controllers are only a few whose jobs are extremely stressful. And strange as it may seem, we can add college students to that list, since they encounter a great deal of stress during their college life. Faced with a new, more demanding environment and suddenly having to face it all by themselves, college students must develop new stress management skills in order to survive and thrive.

Causes of Stress in College Students

There are many factors that can contribute to high stress levels in college students. Some are called external triggers, such as a bad breakup or family problems, and some are called internal triggers, such as the pressure students put on themselves to perform at a very high level.

Signs of Stress in College Students

There are quite a few indicators of high stress in college students. A few sudden changes in behavior to look out for are:

  • Problems with Concentration

The student has become easily distracted and can not focus on the task at hand for more than a few minutes or even less.

  • Excessive Worry

Students openly worry about even the most mundane of tasks, even those that are either easily dealt with or inconsequential.

  • Trouble with Meeting Deadlines

Students begin missing assignment deadlines with no good reason.

  • Missing Classes

Students suddenly start missing entire classes, or stop attending classes altogether.

  • Irritability and Shortness of Temper

Students snap at their classmates or others without any provocation, and are visibly agitated for no obvious reason at all.

  • Headaches and Migraines

A sudden increase in headaches and/or migraines, often combined with an increase their frequency, is a telltale sign of high stress

  • Stress Eating

Any radical change in eating habits can be a sign of high stress, but the most common one is known as stress eating, wherein students increase their consumption of food and drink, often junk food and caffeine and sugar filled drinks, to replenish energy lost due to high stress levels and to keep up with their workload. This is also a big contributor to the infamous freshman fifteen, the common occurrence of gaining 15 pounds in the first year of college.

  • Changes in Sleep Patterns

This is sometimes a direct byproduct of the aforementioned stress eating, and includes oversleeping, sleeping during daytime or any other time unusual for the students, and sleeping very little.

Combating Stress in College Students

All of the signs discussed above can lead to severe physical and emotional problems with long lasting, possibly even lifelong, effects. However, there are quite a few simple ways to combat high stress in college students. Some of these include:

  • Environment Control

College students can control their environment by selectively choosing who and what occupies their time. By choosing like-minded friends and recognizing their limits and not taking on too many activities, college students can be sure to work at their best without enduring extreme stress.

  • Exercise

By exercising everyday, college students can be sure to help their bodies function at or near their peak efficiency, processing food and oxygen properly. Any exercise, even if only walking the long way to classes, can help college students clear their mind and maintain their overall health. Exercise also releases endorphins, which are commonly known to improve mood and help maintain a low level of stress.

  • Relaxation and Rest

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