How to Manage Your Stress While Attending Community College
Everyone experiences stress from time to time but, for many college students, stress is a constant companion. The pressure of maintaining good grades in multiple classes while engaging in extra-curriculars and keeping up with friends can be draining and, in some cases, it leads to anxiety, depression, or more serious consequences. Keep reading to learn about some of the most common causes of stress in college as well as its effect on your mental and physical health. You’ll also receive some tips for reducing and managing your stress.
Why is College So Stressful?
According to the National College Health Assessment, nearly 50% of undergraduate students reported feeling overwhelmed by their academic responsibilities. Furthermore, the National Institute of Health reports that 30% of college students experience profound depression, the symptoms of which are often confused with extreme stress. But what is it that makes college so stressful? Here are some of the most commonly reported causes of stress in college students:
- Living away from home for the first time
- Pressure to perform well on school work and tests
- The financial burdens of college
- The pressure to land a good job after school
Though college can be a great time to explore new things and to blaze your own trail, for many students it is their first time being away from home and that can be challenging. Living in an unfamiliar environment around unfamiliar people can be overwhelming for the first few weeks of school and some students take longer than others to develop a support network. Add to that the pressure to perform well on classwork and tests in multiple classes and you have a recipe for stress. Some students come to community college unprepared for the amount of work needed to complete assignments and to study for tests – many students feel as if they are always behind and struggling to catch up.
Another source of stress for many students is the financial burden of going to school. Although community college is often more affordable than a traditional college or university, tuition costs thousands of dollars a year on top of living expenses, books, and other costs. Many students are also stressed by the cloud of pressure hanging over their heads to do well in school so they can land a good job after graduation. Whether it takes you two years, four years, or more to complete your degree, that is a long time to be dealing with stress.
How Does Stress Affect Your Mental and Physical Health?
According to the American Psychological Association, there are three distinct types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. Acute stress can be either positive or negative and it is usually short-lived, caused by a specific event. For example, getting into a car accident might be a negative source of acute stress while anticipating a social event would be a positive source of acute stress. Episodic acute stress is acute stress that occurs frequently – it can also be described as a general sense of urgency, or a need to get things done. If you have a “Type A” personality, you are probably familiar with this form of stress.
The third type of stress, chronic stress, is the most damaging and it is one many college students experience. Chronic stress is relentless – it may be low-level stress, but it doesn’t go away. Eventually, chronic stress can affect everything from your physical health to your mental wellbeing. Chronic stress can trigger internal inflammation that may contribute to any number of serious diseases including heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. It can affect your health and impact your quality of life – it may even lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety which come with their own problems.
Tips for Reducing and Managing Stress in Community College
Because stress can be so damaging to your mental and physical health, it is important to deal with it and to manage it as much as you can. Taking care of yourself is extremely important because if your body isn’t functioning at its optimal level, you won’t be able to handle the additional stress and you’ll crumble under the weight. Here are some simple things you can do to keep your body healthy and to reduce your stress as much as possible:
- Follow a healthy diet. Though your food options may be limited, try to eat a balanced diet and don’t forget about fresh fruits and vegetables!
- Get plenty of sleep. With so many opportunities to socialize, it can be difficult to make sleep a priority but it is an important piece of the puzzle if you want to stay healthy. As much as you can, try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day and don’t rely too much on naps.
- Make time for exercise. Most community colleges offer some kind of athletic facility but, if not, you can always look into joining the local YMCA or a recreational center to get some exercise. You should also check to see if your school offers intramural sports.
- Don’t rely too heavily on caffeine. A cup of coffee or two in the morning generally isn’t a problem but don’t let caffeine become a crutch and certainly don’t rely on sugary energy drinks.
- Find a support network. As difficult as it may be to make friends in a new place, it is important to establish some kind of support network. If you haven’t made friends yet, try to keep in touch with high school buddies or reach out to your family when you need to talk.
- Don’t give up on your passions. Even amongst all of the classwork and extra-curriculars, you need to make time for yourself. You don’t necessarily have to do it every day, but try to find time at least a few hours a week to do something just for you.
- Cut yourself some slack. We are often our own harshest critics but that constant level of stress and expectation is draining – give yourself permission to take a break once in a while!
- Avoid overindulging in alcohol. College is a time when many young adults start drinking and, while there is no harm in having a few beers, try to avoid binge-drinking and certainly don’t use it as a means of escaping from your stress.
- Take a deep breath. One of the simplest ways to destress is to do some deep breathing exercises – you can also try yoga or meditation. You don’t even have to do it very long to feel the benefits – 10 or 15 minutes a day may be enough!
No matter what school you go to or what type of degree you pursue, you’re going to experience some stress. How you respond to that stress will determine the degree to which it affects your life. You can choose to give in to the stress and live under a constant cloud of anxiety and doubt or you can take steps to support your health and manage your stress. You have a long couple of years ahead of you, so start taking the time now to manage your stress so you don’t become overwhelmed by it.