Causes and Effects of Stress related to the Average College Student

Gone are the days where a student’s only anxiety stems solely from grades. Now along with academics, students are stressing over finances, responsibilities, and the not-at-all-daunting task of deciding their futures. I have yet to encounter one single college student who can honestly say that they’re not stressed. That being said, what is stress?

Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” While stress is the feeling that we get from being under pressure, stressors are the elements that actually cause said stress. According to the University of Florida, there are four primary sources of stress: the environment, physiological sources, our thoughts, and social stressors.

Environmental sources can include the weather, traffic, and overcrowding. In college the sheer volume of students can be overwhelming. It’s easy to understand how walking into a class with 500 strangers can cause anxiety. Physiologically speaking, stress can stem from illness or lack of sleep, among other things. Imagine staying up until 3am to finish that 10-page paper, then following it up with class at 8am – not fun. Now imagine getting an F on that paper. It is likely that the thoughts that come up aren’t positive ones. As they say, “you are your own worst critic.”  These negative thoughts can cause harsh self-views and lower ones self-esteem. Social stressors can include work, financial problems, and losing a loved one.

Though stress seems less problematic than many other issues, it takes its toll on the body. Its physical symptoms are vast, but they affect cognition, emotion, behavior, and the health of the body. It’s a vicious cycle between college students and stress – stressors (like school, finances, etc.) causes stress, stress causes negative symptoms, and then these symptoms cause poor performance, which in turn leads to more stress.

Cognitive symptoms can include inability to concentrate, memory problems, racing thoughts, and constant worrying. There are emotional symptoms such as moodiness, depression, and irritability, all of which only add to the feeling of being overwhelmed. Physically, stress can cause tension in the muscles, illness, ulcers, headaches/migraines, backaches, nausea, chest pain – the list goes on. It’s amazing what anxiety over a mid-term can cause. Then to cope with our stresses, we adjust our behavior. Stress can cause one to eat more/less, sleep too much/too little, seek isolation, and something that everyone is familiar with, procrastinate.

Long-term effects of stress can lead to health problems such as heart disease, obesity, and depression. To combat stress before it gets to that level, there are coping methods. According to Help Guide, stress management “involves changing the stressful situation when you can, changing your reaction when you can’t, taking care of yourself, and making time for rest and relaxation.” This can be achieved by relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, better organization of time and resources, and exercise.

While there are many other ways of maintaining ones stress levels, sometimes stress reaches a point where one should seek help.  Talk to your doctor or a licensed therapist – both professionals can help find you ways to reduce stress. As we all know, there is no shortage of stress in college, so it’s helpful to be able to recognize and treat the symptoms. This way, the next time you have three tests in one day, you’ll be able to make it through the day without that pesky ulcer.

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