College & Stress

Why are college students so stressed?

Unfortunately, stress is looked at as a normal part of the college experience. There are so many demands put on college students compared to high school: the work tends to be more challenging, there is more pressure to perform, and they don’t always have their parents to help with everyday tasks. With that being said, it does not mean that excessive, overwhelming daily stress is okay or should be ignored. Some stress motivates us to do more and be more productive, while too much stress can actually be detrimental to our physical and mental health.

College Stress Statistics

According to an annual report conducted by Penn State University (link), levels of depression and anxiety have increased among college students persistently over a six year period. They found that the top three concerns of students were anxiety (61%) depression (49%) and stress (45%).

According to a study done by the American College Health Association (link), students reported experiencing the following emotions:

  • Overwhelmed by all they had to do: 86.5%

  • Exhausted (not from physical activity): 83.4%

  • Overwhelming anxiety: 60.9%

  • Thoughts of hopelessness: 51.7%

  • So depressed that it was difficult to function: 39.3%

Causes Of Stress

There are many causes of stress for college students and this list is not exhaustive. Anything that alters your natural and habitual state has the ability to cause stress. Here are some of the top college stressors:

1) Living away from home

For those college students who move out when they go to school find that being on their own for the first time is extremely overwhelming. For many, it is the first time they have had to be fully responsible for themselves. It is easy to understand why they would be missing their friends and family, while having difficulty adjusting to new roommates, different foods, and varying social situations. The first few months tend to be the hardest.

2) Academic anxiety

There are many pressures put on students to achieve certain academic results, especially if they are receiving a scholarship or are on a sports team. Many students believe that if they did well in high school, they will have no problems completing the coursework in college. Unfortunately, with all of the other responsibilities on their plate, it can quickly become overwhelming.

3) Finances

The new found college freedom also brings a lot of unexpected financial responsibility. Trying to make sure they have enough funds to cover their necessary expenses tends to be a major source of stress for college students, especially if they are not used to paying for things on their own. To supplement, many students work part-time jobs alongside having classes and homework. This leaves little time to unwind.

4) Relationships

There seems to be a huge emphasis on having the ‘college experience’, which can be exciting, but can also cause excess stress. During this time period, students are attempting to figure out who they are and what they want out of life. The expectation to form new relationships with people can be a lot of pressure. For students who are living away, there is the stress of having to get along with new roommates that you may have just met. Additionally, if a romantic relationship ends, it can cause a lot of turmoil and deter from schoolwork.

5) Future plans

One of the most asked questions to college students has to be, “What do you want to do after you graduate?” After years of being in a structured environment, it can be extremely challenging to face an open and uncertain future. It is common that to not love the job you get straight out of school and this can leave one feeling stuck. With the added worry of paying back student loans, work stress can become the new focus. So, how do you know when the stress is becoming too much? Make sure you are looking out for the different signs and symptoms to know if the stress has to be managed.


Signs & Symptoms Of Too Much Stress

There are many signs of too much stress, including physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Constant worrying

  • Missing classes

  • Difficulty remembering deadlines or finishing assignments

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits

  • Frequent headaches, muscle aches, nausea, or heartburn

  • Less patience

  • High levels of anger or irritability

  • Avoiding activities you used to enjoy

  • Feeling overwhelmed

Don’t worry - even if you are experiencing these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you are heading for burnout. Everyone has high levels of stress at times, but you have to pay attention to how you are coping. If you don’t have ways to handle the stress or find that it is getting in the way of your everyday life, it may be time to do something about it. Try working with a talk therapist to find out what is causing you stress and how to effectively cope. Click here to be paired with a therapist who is experienced working with college students.