Here’s What You Need to Know About Stress On College Campuses

Graduating students in cap and gown

College is a time of profound transition. It’s a time that signifies shedding a childhood identity and merging into an adult self. Every year, young people pack their suitcases, buy their textbooks, and choose the majors that can determine the trajectory of their lives.

Indeed, college can be an exciting and whimsical experience full of new beginnings and limitless opportunities. But in between the steep tuition prices, the ivory towers, and the long lecture classes, many students move through school struggling with fear, uncertainty, and low self-esteem.

While we’ve started addressing the fundamentals of stress on college campuses, most of us don’t really understand the unique vulnerabilities affecting America’s youth.

Stress On College Campuses: What Does It Mean?

Stress is an overarching term that refers to the non-specific response of the body in response to change. It can result in both emotional and physical tension. Chronic levels of stress can lead to a variety of problems like depression and anxiety, skin problems, a compromised immune system, and high blood pressure.

There’s no doubt that college is stressful. Although school is a place that’s supposed to be supportive and inspiring, many students struggle with fear and uncertainty. And unfortunately, many of these students don’t receive the help they need.

The Transition Away From Home

For most students, college represents the first real departure away from home and family. While this change can feel exciting, it can also feel scary and lonely. Most people have their support networks where they live. Leaving that support can increase one’s vulnerability to transitional stress, heightened anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Some people will find it easy and enjoyable to make new friends. Others, however, will find this task stressful and daunting. They may be shy or introverted, struggle with feeling homesick, or feel overwhelmed by the size of the community.

Pressure To Succeed

The acceptance rates for top universities and colleges are currently at a record low. In other words, the pressure to get into school is thicker than it’s ever been.

The unnerving acceptance pressure is one hurdle. Staying and succeeding in school is an entirely different problem. Of course, some stress is normal. However, more and more students are sacrificing their physical and mental health to study, perform, and stay “on top.” It’s not unheard of to hear young adults bragging about how little sleep they received or how long they’ve spent writing a paper.

To keep with the rigorous demands of some programs, students are turning to different, stronger aids. Research shows that up to 30% of college students report using stimulants like Adderall to boost their studying efforts.

Real-World Stress

College students must prepare for life outside the ivory towers and long lecture classes. Therefore, many students start preparing for professional internships, entry-level careers, and graduate school early in their academic journey.

In addition to managing career concerns, they’re also juggling dating and friendships, money and budgeting, and the many other daily stressors present in adulthood. This compounded stress can also increase the risk of depression and anxiety.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Issues

Many college students struggle with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. The stress of being in a new environment and wanting to succeed can exacerbate these conditions.

Some students are aware of their symptoms and are actively working to take care of them. Others, however, may not realize they struggle with such issues. Some may try to “power through.” These students may continue to struggle (often in silence), and the shame, guilt, or self-blame can take an enormous toll on their self-esteem.

What’s Being Done To Help Students?

Most colleges have taken steps to address student stress and mental health concerns. Student resources like support groups, therapy, and self-defense classes can help individuals feel more empowered and confident- despite their experiences.

However, most higher education institutions aren’t adequately equipped to deal with each student’s concerns. Therapy waitlists can be long. Services may only be during certain hours. As a result, the people who need the most help may never actually receive it.

How Can You Cope If You’re Chronically Stressed?

Stress can profoundly impact one’s happiness and confidence. You may feel insecure, ashamed, or guilty. You may blame yourself for “not being able to handle it.” Likewise, you may feel fearful and angry towards others.

It’s impossible and unrealistic to expect to alleviate all stress, but learning healthy coping skills can reduce the intensity of some of your symptoms. First, it is essential to make sure that you are taking care of your basic needs. That means seeking medical attention if needed, getting enough sleep, exercising routinely, and receiving adequate nutrition.

Furthermore, it’s important to practice self-care as part of your daily routine. Self-care means honoring physical, psychological, and spiritual needs. These activities may include journaling, meditating, exercising, volunteering, and spending time with friends.

You may also need professional support during this time. Therapy can provide you with a safe, grounding space to cope with your stress. You will learn skills to improve your distress tolerance, and you can also learn how to improve your school-life balance.

Chronic stress on college campuses continues to be a pervasive epidemic. Willow Counseling proudly extends its services as a referral source for both Vanderbilt and Belmont University. If you or someone you love needs support in the greater Nashville area, contact us today to learn more.

Willow Counseling, Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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