Everyone knows that college students are stressed, but few people understand just how bad the problem has gotten. A recent New York Times survey (conducted in 2011) revealed that the emotional health of today’s college freshmen is the worst it’s been in over 25 years, highlighting this growing problem as a serious concern.
But what’s to blame for the astronomical stress levels of today’s college students? There are a number of factors, of course, but crushing student loans and bleak post-graduation job prospects certainly aren’t helping. Many of today’s students fear (quite legitimately) that they won’t be able to achieve the same level of success as their parents, even with a college degree.
They’re realizing that as a result of the “college is the new high school” mentality, a Bachelor’s degree might not be enough anymore. Many of these students are continuing their education with Master’s and Ph.D programs, even if they have no desire to continue their schooling, all for the sake of making themselves more marketable to employers.
College students are also pushing themselves to their absolute limits. They are attempting – at the expense of their mental health – to cram their resume full of clubs, honors classes, additional majors and minors, and academic activities in an attempt to boost their possibilities of standing out from their peers in the job market.
If any of these circumstances resonate with you as a college student, understand that you aren’t alone. It could also ease your mind to know that there are a number of proven methods for reducing the stress of the college experience. Some of the top tips are found below:
In addition to its obvious benefits in terms of your physical health, exercise is also a great way to help you manage your stress. Exercise can help to temporarily distract you from college’s numerous stressors, and aerobic exercise has also been shown to have an intense positive effect on the chemistry of your brain.
While working towards decreasing stress hormones like cortisol, physical activity has also been shown to increase your brain’s store of endorphins (your body’s “feel good” chemicals). Vigorous physical activity is, of course, the best type of exercise for most people, and you have many options. You can use your on-campus gym, go for a run, ride your bike, find a nearby park to take a hike, or even just go for a walk around the neighborhood.
If getting sweaty on a regular basis isn’t your thing, though, take heart in the knowledge that even milder forms of exercise can help to control your stress levels. Yoga, Tai Chi, and other types of activity that help to connect your body and mind have all been shown to help individuals become more aware of their physical actions and emotional responses.
Communicate your problems.
Communication is a surprisingly effective way to reduce your stress levels, especially when you have an opportunity to communicate with the source of your stress. If your roommate’s messiness is causing you undue worry, for example, talking to them about it can help to completely eliminate that source of stress from your life.
If your parents are putting too much pressure on you to succeed, talk to them about it. Tell them that you understand that their intentions are good but that your situation is stressful enough without having to constantly worry about living up to their expectations.
Similarly, if a professor is asking too much of you, depending on the situation, it could be smart to talk to them about it. Some of the grumpier professors, of course, will scoff at the idea, but if you have a healthy relationship with your professors, many of them will be willing to work with you. If you’re stressed about a huge project’s due date coinciding with the due date of a big test in another class, let them know. More than likely, they’ll be happy to extend the deadline or work out some sort of deal with you, which should help to reduce your stress levels.
Finally, even if you can’t communicate with the source of your stress (if the source is being away from home, for example, or a professor who you can’t talk to like a human being), communication could still help you feel better. Talk to a friend, roommate, trusted relative, or even counseling center on campus about your feelings. Just getting your feelings off your chest is likely to make you feel better, and the other party will probably be able to offer you some helpful advice.
Don’t procrastinate. Just… don’t.
Procrastination is probably the college student’s worse enemy. It’s insanely easy to lose track of time when a large project is due in the distant future. “I still have three months to work on it. Why would I waste time now?” Understand, though, that the time you’re spending on Facebook or surfing the internet could be much, much better spent getting a head start on these projects and papers. You need to take breaks, of course, but keep them reasonable.
Try developing some sort of schedule. If you have eight weeks to work on a large project, force yourself to devote an hour every other day to completing that project. Despite the fact that one hour every couple of days seems like nothing at the time, when your project’s due date rolls around, you’ll be rewarded with the wonderful realization that you’re almost completely finished. Sure beats stressing yourself to death and pulling two all-nighters in a row to make sure you get it turned in on time, doesn’t it?
The harsh truth is, there’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate stress from your life. The good news, though, is that there are a number of things you can do to combat it and keep it under control. College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, so don’t let stress ruin the experience for you.
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