by Shaelyn Saraceni
With the high levels of stress and anxiety we see in our college students today due to a multitude of various demands placed on their shoulders, it is important for students to know how to help themselves mentally and physically.
As a college student who struggles with anxiety, I feel your pain. Anxiety is one of the biggest mental health issues plaguing our college students today “according to the study of more than 100,000 students by Penn’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health, [where] more than half of the students visiting campus health clinics listed anxiety as a concern” (Brown, 2016). Classes are demanding, workloads are large, expectations are high, and students want good grades (mostly), which leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. It will be my pleasure to share some of the ways to shake off stress mentally and physically.
Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder are all names I’ve associated myself with. I have many friends who are on anxiety medication and skip classes or even drop them due to the work demands dishing out more anxiety than they can cope with. Tests, due dates, and large homework loads are a part of college. However, many students are told they have to take a certain amount of classes to get priority registration and graduate “on time.”
Not to mention, many students work at least part time while attending school, especially at community colleges. Some of these students who attend community colleges are also working parents (which facilitates additional stress and anxiety). According to a study done by Georgetown University in 2015, “About 40 percent of undergraduates and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours a week; 25 percent of all working learners are simultaneously employed full-time and enrolled in college full-time; and 19 percent of all working learners have children.”
With everything aforementioned, we can see the average life of a college student getting increasingly more stressful by adding to the list of stressors: tests, due dates, large homework loads, high expectations from professors, work, and sometimes children. I can only speak for myself, but I know I speak for many more when I say my week does not ever seem to have a break during the fall and spring semesters. I have classes Monday-Thursday at varying times during the day (all mostly with large homework demands and tests to study for), and I go to work Friday-Sunday.
Another anxiety, which many students deal with, pairs with working. Though some are lucky enough to have everything paid for them by their parents or guardians, many students must work to pay for themselves. When taking classes full time, many professors advise students to not work more than twenty hours a week. However, when students must pay for gas, car insurance, books, classes, rent, food, or any other expenses that come with life, they need to work at least twenty or more hours. Running between classes and work, and trying to balance enough time for the extra twenty hours of homework a week seems nearly impossible. Now we add to our list of stressors: tests, due dates, large homework loads, high expectations from professors, work, sometimes children, and life expenses (and making enough money to pay for them). How are students supposed to maintain any type of social life with all these things?
College is depicted in the movies as the time of your life: the ultimate picture of freedom. College students in the movies always seem to have plenty of time for parties, nightlife, spontaneous travels, socializing, dating, and just having fun. With all of the demands of school, many students have to choose between good grades or a social life. However, socializing and mental stability go hand in hand. In a study done by Mohamed Dafaalla et al., it is asserted that “Regarding the role of social support and quality of life, we found that the degree of stress in medical students was significantly and inversely related to quality of physical health, environment, and social interaction” (2016). The less one interacts with people, the less happy and healthy one will be. Less human contact equates to more depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, there isn’t much extra time for social interactions with such high demands that are put on students, so it is no surprise to see such high levels of anxiety and depression among them. Many students literally don’t have enough time to keep themselves happy and healthy.
I’ve now laid out the chaos that is the average college student's life (and I didn’t even include those who do club activities and sports to top it all off), so I think it is safe to say there must be some kind of solution. I am happy to tell you that there are multiple solutions. Let’s first examine the mind of your average college student. The term epigenetics is probably not a familiar one unless you are a psych major (even then, the term may be lost to you), but it has a simple definition. Epigenetics is essentially the biology of belief. In Bruce Lipton’s (PhD) book, The Biology of Belief, he states, “Our new understanding of the universe’s mechanics shows us how the physical body can be affected by the immaterial mind. Thoughts, the mind’s energy, directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology” (2012). The way you think influences the way you feel. If you overthink things or dwell on the fact that you have so much to do, it will make you more anxious. Break the habit. When you start to feel those physical responses to anxiety, take a minute and consider why you are anxious. Prioritizing can also help with this. Get yourself a planner and color code it to help you keep organized and prioritize. To heal your body, you must start by healing your mind.
If you are just too overwhelmed to think about or consider how you can tap into your own positive energy, there are other ways to help you keep your sanity. Here at Folsom Lake College (and other Los Rios campuses), we have wonderful health and wellness services available to us. You may think that you are fine and don’t need to see a nurse. However, you wouldn’t leave a bloody gash unattended, so why would you leave your mental wellbeing unhelped? If you want to make an appointment, contact the nurse, or find office hour availability, click the link here. If you need help or are overwhelmed, these services are in place for you, so utilize them.
Maybe you are somewhere in the middle. You don’t really feel you can tap into positive energy, but aren’t stressed enough to see the nurse. There is a solution for you too. As a high school student, I went through extreme bouts of panic attacks. I was in the nurse's office at least once a week because I just couldn’t stand to sit in class. Eventually, the nurse recommended me to our school psychologist. She introduced me to a earthshaking solution that helped change my life for the better. This solution is called mindfulness. This may be a familiar term to many, but what does it actually mean? There are many different mindfulness exercises one can do. One exercise I always find helpful when I’m about to take a test or get stressed out over an assignment is first count by one-thousands in my head while I inhale for seven seconds, hold it in for three seconds, and then exhale slowly for eight seconds. You can do this over and over again until you feel your body start to relax, and no one will know you are doing it (almost like it’s as easy as breathing). Another simple exercise to help you be more in the moment and stop stressing out is curling your toes when you breath in and relaxing your feet when you breathe out. This same method can be applied to any body part: clenching your fists then relaxing, curling your tongue then relaxing, tensing your back then relaxing, etc.
I have provided a couple links to mindfulness exercises and meditation instruction videos done by Julia Kristina, a therapist and counselor, below.
Mindfulness meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRpbPk5rMNo
Quick mindfulness exercises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iR2Yw8gBIo
Don’t let stress rule your life. Everyone will get anxious at some point, but it shouldn’t control you, define you, or limit you. Keep your mind sharp and your eye on the prize.
Brown, J. (2016). Anxiety: The most common mental health diagnosis in college students. BU Today. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/today/2016/college-students-anxiety-and-depression/
Dafaalla, M., Farah, A., Bashir, S., Khalil, A., Abdulhamid, R., Mokhtar, M., . . . Abdalrahman, I. (2016). Depression, anxiety, and stress in Sudanese medical students: A cross sectional study on role of quality of life and social support. American Journal of Educational Research. Retrieved from http://pubs.sciepub.com/education/4/13/4/
Lipton, B. H. (2012). The Biology of Belief. San Bernardino, CA: Hay House.
Strahota, H., & Smith, N. (2015). Seventy percent of college students work while enrolled, New Georgetown University research finds. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Press-release-WorkingLearners__FINAL.pdf
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