College is a time of change, choices and independence, and many students add one more thing to that list – stress.When students use all their time working on projects or tasks they are not passionate about and forget to take time out to focus on what they really care about, stress can become an issue, said Dr. Monica Kintigh, a licensed professional counselor at the TCU Mental Health Center.
“A lot of stress is created because our values and what we care about is not what we’re spending our time on,” Kintigh said.
Stress in college students often revolves around time management issues, said Susan Weeks, an instructor in the Harris School of Nursing.
“The stress that I see with students that I interact with comes down to time crunch,” Weeks said.
Many college students want to be involved in a variety of activities like they were in high school, Weeks said, but students need to focus their energy on a couple specific talents rather than several.
“Having all aspects can be challenging and perhaps unattainable,” she said.
Katrina Grote, a sophomore biology major, said the last week in September she had two big tests – chemistry and biology – two chemistry labs and a paper to write. She said she definitely felt the stress of doing well and being able to complete everything.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I was like, no, I can’t do this.”
One of Grote’s friends calmed her down and put things into perspective for her.
Grote said she stresses about grades and making sure everything she does is done to the best of her ability.
Grote said she studies an average of 20 to 30 hours a week, and she becomes stressed out if she does not take time out for herself.
“It’s a give-and-take,” she said. “Studying can get in the way of my social life, but I try to balance it because if I spend too much time studying, it stresses me out more than it should.”
It is important that students recognize their stress, Weeks said, because it can affect many aspects of their lives — physical and mental.
If stress hits a peak, it not only can cause excessive worry and anxiety, but it can ultimately lead to health problems.
“Once students become overly stressed, the immune system is less effective than other times, so that student is more prone to health problems that are prevalent on campus, such as colds or strep throat,” Weeks said.
“Basic health habits become so important – getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, exercising.”
Erin Morgan, a junior studio art major, said last semester was a breaking point in realizing that sleep is important to functioning on a daily basis. She was in class for about 28 hours a week because of labs and studio time.
“My normal day of classes usually began around 5 or 6 in the morning,” Morgan said. “I would wake up extra early to finish up any of the work that I didn’t have time for the night before plus last-minute studying for tests that day. As soon as The Main was open, I was there, books in hand, to study while I ate breakfast.”
Regular sleeping patterns, eating healthy and exercising are all part of an overall wellness model, Kintigh said, and it is important to maintain all three.
“Stress occurs when we have a lot of decisions to make and transitions to go through,” Kintigh said.
Types of Stress
Not all stress is bad stress, Kintigh said. Some reasons people become stressed or anxious involve positive things, such as planning a vacation, she said.
Stress is normal, Kintigh said, but once people begin to dwell on it and constantly worry or suffer, it escalates into negative stress.
“When stress becomes distress is when it interferes with your functioning – when your concentration, your ability to make decisions, your mood, all becomes affected,” she said.
“When we are under distress, something in our brain triggers the release of chemicals that causes our body to have a physiological fight or flight response, so for some people, when they feel distress, they’re irritable, they’re picking on people, they’re just tough to be around. Other people, when they’re under distress, they kind of avoid people; they just avoid everything. Some people just get anxious and panicky feeling. But all of those are physiological and psychological triggers that happen when something in our brain says, ‘You’re under attack.'”
Kintigh said regular sleep patterns are important because irregularity can lead to anxiety, depression, changes in appetite, concentration problems and headaches.
“We tend to be creatures of habit, so if you get in the habit of only sleeping six hours, it’s harder to sleep for longer periods,” she said. “It’s like any other habit. Once we get used to the pattern, it takes a lot of work to re-learn something and re-establish a new habit.”
Kintigh said the recommended amount of sleep for college students would be a minimum of eight hours because they are in the late adolescence and early adulthood stage.
“Part of it is that your brain is still developing, forming, up through early adulthood, and so you need that extra sleep for that final growth process that’s going on,” she said.
Following some kind of bedtime routine can help regulate sleep patterns, Kintigh said.
“Try to go to bed at a similar time every night and try to get up at a regular time every day,” she said.
Whitney Barnard, a sophomore premajor, said that last year, her sleep patterns were very irregular. She said she slept seven hours or less a night and caffeine kicked in when she was ready for bed.
“Sleep was so inconsistent, and I never felt rested – and that added to my stress too,” Barnard said.
Barnard said a leadership class she took helped her to see that sometimes she doesn’t have control on what the outcome will be but that she needs to take things how they come.
“The class really helped me with my stress,” she said. “I learned that I don’t need to get upset or stressed or negative about something that’s already happened. I need to move on.”
Weeks said there are a few ways students can cut stress to a minimum, but knowing where it comes from is the most important.
“First, students need to take a moment to stop and really analyze and think about what is causing the stress,” Weeks said.
Grote said hanging out with friends, listening to music, dancing or having a quiet time are activities she engages in to calm down and keep her mind off things.
Jamie Henricks, a junior athletics trainer, said lack of sleep affects her ability to be fully attentive to tasks she has to do as a basketball athletics trainer.
“I tend to get really sleepy around 3 in the afternoon, and so that tends to make me less responsive when I need to be awake and aware of what’s going on at basketball practice,” Henricks said. “It also makes for arguments and short tempers in the training room when most of us need to be working together, so that’s a problem sometimes.”
Henricks said balancing athletics training and school is a challenge, but she tries to sleep as long as possible, plans when she goes to bed and does her homework as fast as she can.
“I take pleasure in the ‘little things’ like cooking my own dinner when I can, or watching a TV show on the weekend, or going to sleep early,” she said.
“I don’t think (athletics trainers are) too different than regular college students – we procrastinate just as much as anyone else, it’s just that we know how to manage our time effectively, and we cram school and work and sleep and study into every spare second of the day that we can.