You’ve made it to university. But the excitement has worn off and you find that you are not feeling yourself. Are you suffering from student stress?
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What is student stress?
Stress means we feel pressured by what is expected of us. We are not certain we can accomplish what we need to. It is not something we’ve had to deal with before. Or, if we did have a similar situation, it didn’t go well. We are afraid that history will repeat itself.
Mild stress can actually be helpful, pushing us to new levels of achievement and teaching us what we are capable of.
Stress goes wrong when it starts to negatively affect our daily life and become not just pressure, but overwhelm. We stop feeling like ourselves. There is a constant sense we are just keeping up. We are surviving and not thriving.
Student stress happens because going away to university is such a huge change. Some of us find the adjustment hard.
How do I know if I have a stress problem?
The symptoms of stress are extensive. They can be divided into mental (cognitive), emotional, behavioural, and physical. Here are some examples:
Mental and emotional symptoms include:
Behavioural symptoms include:
- less interest in usual activities
- not wanting to see friends and family
- turning to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco (or increased use)
- keeping secrets.
Physical symptoms include:
Not sure if you are stressed or depressed? Take our “Stressed, depressed, or both?” quiz now.
What causes student stress?
See if any of these stressors sound a bit too familiar.
You have left all you know behind.
This includes family and friends you are used to relying on. You might even be in a new city or even country and having to adjust to a new pace of life or even language.
You have to form a new social support system.
Making new friends is not easy for everyone. And if you are living in halls (‘dorms’ in America), you have to suddenly navigate group politics. This might be with people you never would have willingly chosen to live with.
Peer pressure is alive and well at colleges and universities.
You can feel pressured to do things you are not certain of. This might be having the right clothes, getting dates, being sexually active, using substances.
Money can be an issue.
Many students get so preoccupied by paying their fees they don’t budget for the costs of daily living. Worrying about money all the time is a big student stress.
Academic expectations are way higher.
At university the pressure is on. There is more reading, more competition, you can’t use old tricks to get by.
You have to make way more decisions.
You are finally free of your parents. But that means that everything is up to you. What to eat, how to take care of yourself, how to keep a schedule with nobody reminding you to do things. It can be overwhelming.
You are figuring out who you really are.
If it’s your first time away from home, you might start to realise that you don’t know the real you yet. What is it you like to do away from your family? What is important to you when you don’t have to gain your family’s approval? It’s exciting, but can also be hugely stressful.
You have to be vigilant against dangers.
Unfortunately not everyone has good intentions. And some students sadly assault others. Sexual assault is a real problem on university campuses we all need to be aware of. This awareness can feel stressful for some of us who perhaps grew up in a safer environment.
But why do I have student stress when others don’t?
Most students have at least some stress, even if they don’t seem to. Some of us hide things better than others, so don’t assume it’s just you.
But there are things that can mean you experience more student stress than others, such as:
- a bigger difference in your old and new environment (from small town to big city school, etc)
- a more sensitive personality from birth
- you grew up in a very safe, protected family environment
- you were helicopter parented so are now making your own decisions for the first time
- you had childhood trauma that leaves you vulnerable to stress.
This last one is really important. If we had bad experiences growing up we can hide them from everyone, and even ourselves. But when we get to university, and we are pressured in all new ways, all our old traumas can come rushing to the surface. If you feel this is you, it’s really important to reach out for help.
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Why paying attention to stress is so important
Sure you can just ‘soldier on’? Or that you are ‘strong and need no help’?
Asking for support is actually the strongest thing you can do. It requires courage. But it is highly recommended. (Go read our case study of navigating mental health issues at university if you need inspiration).
If you are overwhelmed by stress but don’t seek support, stress can turn into more difficult mental health issues. These include depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking, and self-harm.
Many schools provide free or low cost counselling. It’s there for a reason – don’t be afraid to use it. There are also several good free mental health help lines in the UK which even have free chat services. If you are not in the UK, google mental health help lines in your country.
Our online booking site makes it easy for you to find a talk therapist that is just right for you, at a price you can afford. Book now and talk about your problems over online with someone who finally understands.
Still have a question about student stress? Post below in the comments.