This is the first of two posts dealing with college students and stress. In this post we will consider the types of college student stress and some possible causes. In our next post, we offer parents some suggestions to help their student deal with the stress they may encounter.
College students experience a lot of stress. As parents, some of us are acutely aware of our student’s stress levels, and to others of us it may be less obvious. Of course, not every student experiences stress, and some students actually thrive on a certain amount of stress; but many college students find that increased pressure or anxiety are part of the experience of college. If you are not sure how your student feels about his stress level, or whether or not he feels that he is experiencing stress, consider some of the following information gathered about student stress. You may want to discuss some of these findings with your student to help him realize that he, and/or his friends, may not be alone.
The Associated Press and MTV conducted a survey of college students in spring 2009, to consider college student stress. They surveyed over 2,200 students at 40 randomly chosen colleges throughout the United States. The following are some of the findings of this College Stress and Mental Health poll.
- 85% of students feel stressed on a daily basis
- 77% of students feel stress over academic concerns
- 74% of students feel stress about grades
- 67% of students feel stress about financial worries
- 54% of students feel stress about their families
- 53% of students feel stress about relationships
- 60% of students at some time have felt stress to the point of not being able to get work done
- 70% of students have never considered talking to a counselor about their stress
- 84% of students reach out to friends to help them with their stress
- 67% of students reach out to parents for help with stress
However, the good news is that in spite of these statistics regarding stress levels, 74% of students reported feeling very or somewhat happy. Clearly, not all stress is bad.
Perhaps one of the issues regarding college student stress, and the surveys that attempt to study it, is that stress may be defined in many ways. For college students, stress may manifest itself as a general feeling of unease, feeling overwhelmed, changes to eating patterns, increased consumption of alcohol, low energy, difficulty sleeping, loss of or increased appetite, or difficulty with issues of self-esteem or self worth. Stress may be difficult to identify because it takes so many forms. So many of the forms that may indicate stress may also be normal conditions of college life.
College student stress may be caused by many things. The factors which cause students stress are as varied as the students themselves. A condition which stresses one student may actually stimulate and excite another student. As parents, knowing your college student will help you determine what might, or might not, create difficulties for your student. An open dialogue about life at college will also help you determine how your student feels about some of these factors. Many college students have indicated that some of the following factors create feelings of stress for them.
- Worries about career or job
- Worries about major or changing major
- Social concerns
- Academic demands
- Being independent and on their own
- Physical concerns — lack of sleep, drinking and partying, poor eating habits
- Balance between work and school
- Financial concerns
- Family concerns
- Procrastinating and facing problems
Clearly, in spite of the message that many students receive about college being ”the best years of your life”, there are issues, worries, and concerns that create a difficult time for many students during the college years. Stress can come from many factors and can affect students very differently. Stress may be a motivator, a small, temporary hurdle, or an obstacle that can stop a student in her tracks and necessitate professional help.
As parents, it is important that we recognize that student stress is prevalent and real. However, it is also important that we recognize that some stress is probably inevitable and possibly a good thing. We need to recognize that most students are coping and happy in spite of a certain degree of stress, and that most students will deal with their own stress in their own way. As with so many things in our college students’ lives, we need to find the balance between true concern, providing support when necessary, and knowing when to get out of the way.
In our next post, we will discuss some things that parents can consider when they talk to their student about stress. Although we need to know when to stay out of the way, we can offer some help and suggestions to our students.