With the beginning of the Fall semester approaching fast, many college students are no doubt feeling the pressure of a new environment, difficult classes, and the ongoing global pandemic. In a study from October 2020 by The Jed Foundation, 200 college students were surveyed on their mental health during the pandemic. They found that 63% of the students surveyed felt that their emotional health had declined during the pandemic and was actually worse than when it began. They found that the students overwhelmingly experienced mental health difficulties and stressors in everyday life. These include anxiety (82%), social isolation/loneliness (68%), depression (63%), trouble concentrating (62%), and difficulty coping with stress (60%).
When you think about stress, did you know there are several different kinds? Generally, we think of four big categories, each with very different symptoms. These are physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral. Physical symptoms can be headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, etc. Possible emotional symptoms are sadness and/or depression, feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings of isolation, and irritability. Cognitive symptoms include impaired concentration, excessive and prolonged worrying, and repetitive or unwanted thoughts. Finally, behavioral symptoms include sleep and eating habit changes, failure to complete everyday responsibilities, and drastic changes in academic performance.
What makes this time of year stressful?
Living away from home (first-year students, especially)
For many sophomore, junior, and senior students, living away from home is a normal part of the college experience and so they may be used to this change. However, for first-year students, the move from home to a dorm or apartment can be extremely jarring and may negatively impact their mental health, causing inescapable stress.
High academic standards and school work
Although first-year students may have the most difficult transition when it comes to completing college coursework as it may be much more difficult than coursework in highschool, a large number of college students experience stress when it comes to difficult college courses.
Many college students rely on financial aid to attend college. However, this does not always cover everything and this gap in funds can cause students a lot of stress when trying to figure out how to cover it.
Even though it can be really exciting to meet new people and do new things, it can also bring a lot of anxiousness and fear… like a lot. Did you know that socializing usually always ranks in those top 10 list of most common fears? That’s because it is seriously stressful stuff for most people.
So what can I do?
While all of these things are true, stress doesn’t have to stifle your vibe. Managing your stress effectively can make all the difference in the world! Here’s a few ideas to help you adjust to going back to school this semester:
Take advantage of your university’s resources
This may include making appointments with the on-campus counseling center, utilizing crisis hotlines if necessary, and connecting with other students through first week events. Many universities hold special events for new and returning students in the first week and this can be a great way to create relationships and strengthen your support system. Beyond making an appointment for individual therapy, counseling centers in particular can be helpful to utilize when you’re experiencing stress as they may offer group therapy that can give a sense of community and lessen feelings of isolation. Counseling centers can also offer workshops to build coping skills, assessment services, and provide help to those who have been through traumatic events.
Participate in campus activities and join clubs
Due to COVID-19, there may be fewer activities offered on campus but making friends and building an on-campus support system can greatly help your mental health. However, it is important to participate in activities that are as safe as possible. Because of this, make sure to consider virtual activities in place of in-person activities if possible.
Make time for self-care activities
Self-care is a very broad method of dealing with stress. It can include exercise, getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, meditation, journaling, and more surface level actions like taking a hot bath and doing face masks. Do you know what your self-care activities are?
Create a routine
A great way to alleviate stress when going back to school is to create a positive and productive routine. This includes making time for adequate studying, spending time with friends, and self-care activities throughout the day/week. By creating a routine, a lot of the stress of deciding what to do with your time next is lessened and it gives a sense of stability and comfort.
Although it may seem like a very obvious step in alleviating stress, productive study habits can help reduce the stress caused by tests, quizzes, and difficult course material. Keep an eye on stress studying though– can you tell the difference between productive studying, and anxious, freaked out, stress studying?
Balance staying in touch with old friends/family and making time for new social connections
Although creating new connections and building your on-campus support system is incredibly important to a healthy and productive college experience, keeping in touch with family and friends from back home is important too. If you aren’t able to find your friend group at school right away, these previously established relationships can be crucial to your survival in a new and stressful environment.
The best way to get enough sleep is to go to bed early, get out of bed at a similar time everyday, and stay out of bed. Make sure you’re not eating, working, or studying in your bed and use it for sleep only. Most college students average between 6-6.9 hours of sleep a night which can lead to added stress and a myriad of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms.
Considering the difficulty of college life and coursework and the fact that we’re stuck in a global pandemic, it’s understandable that college students are stressed and anxious right now. Who wouldn’t be? However, there are many things that the average college student can keep in mind that can still make these some of the best years of your life!