College life is probably one of the best phases in a young adult’s journey. Being somewhat independent for the first time, friendships, relationships, studying a subject of one’s choice, new experiences — it’s all quite exhilarating. However, along with this excitement, the transitions involved before, during, and after college life can cause serious stress. ‘College stress’ — ever heard of that?
It’s very common for parents and other adults to say things like: “You are young! Why do you need to stress? How hard can your life be? Can you imagine what we adults have to go through?” However, college stress is very real. Young adults often believe that they are all alone in their experience of stress. They are mostly very surprised to hear that others also experience similar feelings.
Stress can affect anyone, and this includes college students
Stress occurs when we are being stretched beyond our ‘capability’ (capacity + ability) levels. For example, all of us have a certain level of emotional comfort. However, there are situations because of which we have to move out of our emotional comfort zones. As a result, we experience emotional stress.
Stress can occur in any of the FEMPS spheres of our life, that is, Financial, Emotional, Mental, Physical and Spiritual (more on this later). Whenever stress or tensions in each of these areas exceeds our energy level, it makes us feel exhausted and overloaded.
A study conducted by the American College Health Association found that 45% of college students experience some kind of stress in their college life. There are many changes and challenges during young adulthood. Some of these transitions include:
- going from school to college
- having to make major career choices
- finishing college and then finding a job
- experiencing bullying or comparisons with peers
- experiencing a co-ed environment (a mix of boys & girls)
- leftover or extended confusion from puberty
- expectations from friends, teachers, parents, family
- identity confusions related to gender, sexuality, or role identity
The most concerning part is we may not even realize that we are stressed!
The signs of stress can range from physical, physiological, emotional, and mental disturbances. Understanding that we are not alone and then taking the steps to manage this stress in the early stage in college will maximize our college experience. This is a big part of learning about mental health and balance.
Causes of stress for college students
College stress could happen for several different kinds of reasons. If we recognize potential stress triggers, we might be better equipped to avoid those situations. Or, we can at least try to prepare by anticipating it and taking the necessary steps to handle the stress.
Below are some of the most common reasons for college stress. Are any of them a cause for stress in your life?
Choosing the right field of study
Choosing a field of study can be a really big decision as it impacts our career choices and future. This is stressful enough for the individual, but Indian parents very often pressurize children to choose a field of their choice. Having to study something that is not one’s choice or the feeling of being ‘stuck’ with it can lead to a lot of stress.
Doing well academically is one of the goals for college students. However, getting good marks or grades can become a big source of stress. This can become even worse when we have to study something that is not of our choice.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Social media is always portraying the best version of everyone’s life. There is also a lot of information available about new college courses, competitive examinations, events, workshops, parties, and even sports on the internet. We all have limited time and resources and cannot possibly experience everything!
We often start comparing our lives with those of others and feel that our life isn’t good enough.
This abundance of choices can make us feel stressed because we feel that we are missing out on those experiences.
The financial aspect of college with studies burdens many students. This can often become the source of chronic stress throughout college life. Not just the fees, but often the lifestyle one wants to enjoy can also put a financial strain on us.
Lack of sleep
When we are in college we are young and full of energy. We may feel like 7–8 hours of sleep is a waste of time. But this lack of sleep can contribute to developing stress before we realize it.
Lack of sleep impacts the level of energy required to keep up with our busy college schedules.
Many students do part-time jobs or internships to make money on the side. But these additional responsibilities can disrupt study time and social life.
There is also the phase when college is ending and one has to plan the next steps. This could involve choosing between a full-time job, studying further, or joining a family business. Either way, the decision-making process can be stressful.
Most students find their first romantic partners in college. But a romantic relationship can also be stressful at first. Relationships can become difficult and stressful if values and goals are not aligned. Sometimes, it can even become toxic.
A romantic relationship can be healthy if you understand each other and learn to support each other.
For many, this time might even be the first time in a co-educational environment; and adjusting to people from the other gender can be challenging.
Living away from parents
For many students, college is the first time living away from home. The culture, food, people, everything is unfamiliar. Some students get used to these changes pretty quickly; but for others, it can become stressful.
Comparisons with our peers and being pressurized to conform is very common in college. Bullying or ragging also take place in college which add to college stress.
Many of our former school friends may be enrolled in other colleges. Comparing experiences between old friends is also something that can make one feel the pressure of not doing enough or being cool enough.
Evolving sense of self & personal identity
College is also a time of transformation. We may still be teenagers but are on our way to independent adulthood. We begin to develop a strong sense of who we are around this time and begin creating our own personal identities.
Our preferences, vision for life, personal and professional objectives, confidence and self-esteem are all in a state of dynamic transition.
This could also be the stage when we explore our sexuality. We could experience confusion regarding our gender identity, or wonder if we are homosexual or heterosexual.
Our role identity may also be confusing: are you a child or an adult? When we make mistakes, parents tell us “You aren’t a child anymore, grow up!” And when it comes to decision making, they tell you “You don’t know yet; you are still a child.”. So it is very likely for this transition to be a confusing and stressful time.
Students who come from broken homes or dysfunctional families have the pressure of appearing normal. They also have to balance their academics and unpleasant home environments.
Sudden loss of a family member, disease or impairment in any family members are also life situations that lead to considerable stress. Sometimes having a friend dealing with these issues could lead to indirect or secondary exposure to stress.
Going to college is certainly exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking. One of the most critical tools to make the transition simpler and less stressful is to recognize that we are not alone in this process. It is a difficult, complex time and being able to acknowledge and educate ourselves (and those around us) of this will go a long way.
To read more about tools to help you along this path that you can use, check out the following article:
Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only. Lokyatha has observed best effort due diligence and all health related content is reviewed by a trained professional before publishing. However, this should not and can not replace personalized medical help. Please refer to a professional in all cases of need.