Managing Stress as a College Student

Imagine you are back at your first day of college. You are trying to forget the fact that you have left your family, friends, and old life behind and beginning to accept that you are staring a new one. You walk into your first classroom and instantly forget all the good and exciting aspects and start to realize exactly how different this whole experience is going to be.

After taking a look at the syllabus you begin to get anxious and overwhelmed.

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You start feeling stressed while thinking about how you are going to manage all of your class work along with the transition to this new environment. This is common for almost all college freshmen. What they do not realize is that everyone sitting around them is feeling the same. When people think of the word stress they may relate it to something negative.

However, it can actually act as a motivational drive for improvement (Ross, Neibling & Heckert, 1999). Although some stress can be positive, chronic stress can cause serious problems for an individual (Lumley & Provenzano, 2003).

Thus students need to learn how to manage their stress before it becomes detrimental. For those students who struggle with academic and social pressures, stress and time management programs should be taken. For most students, managing stress during college can be extremely challenging. However, learning how to manage stress may help students cope with every day social and academic pressures, and thus have a better college experience.

This paper opens with a discussion of different causes of stress among college students. Next, the paper addresses the different levels of stress.

Too much stress is linked with poor academic functioning and more importantly can cause serious health issues (Oman, Shapiro, Thoresen, Plante, and Flinders, 2008). The two styles of coping: maladaptive and adaptive coping are next discussed. Finally, the paper closes with a discussion of certain stress management strategies that are found to be effective in reducing stress. Review of the Literature Sources of Stress among College Students Feeling “stressed” is common for students in college (Larson, 2006).

About 80% of students report being stressed out.

During college, students have to take on more responsibilities and learn how to manage them. Many college students deal with stress as they try to manage their busy social lives as well as the demands of their academic schedule (Larson). Academic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal are all common sources of stress among college students (Ong & Cheong, 2010). The most stressful activities among college students are those related to academics (Larson, 2006).

Student’s academic stressors are; too much homework, exams, grades, and career concerns (Ong ; Cheong, 2010).

College students experience the stress that comes with studying for an exam or finishing an important paper, but achieving high grades is not the only cause of stress among college students (Oman et al. 2008). Students’ have to manage a range of social and personal challenges that cause continuing stress throughout their college experience (Oman et al. 2008).

Interpersonal stressors are those relating to their instructor’s teaching style, relationships, and peer approval, while intrapersonal stressors are; early classes, not getting enough sleep, and financial worries (Ong ; Cheong, 2010).

Larson (2006) found that the majority of stressors are related to a feeling of being overwhelmed, new responsibilities, and developing social relationships. Transitioning from high school to college is a life changing experience that brings on stress (Friedlander, Reid, Shupak, and Cribbie, 2007). The first year of college can be an especially stressful time for students. They are away from home, without their family and close friends, and are exposed to new people and new temptations.

Students who find it difficult to deal with this transition may experience psychological distress and notice a decline in their academic performance (Friedlander et al. ). Off on their own, students experience a sense of freedom; this can be good, but often stressful when making decisions by themselves (Ong ; Cheong, 2010). Choosing a career is one of the most stressful decisions students are faced with because it affects the rest of their lives (Oman et al. 2008).

Students experience stress because they have to adjust and adapt to a type of lifestyle they are unfamiliar with (Ong ; Cheong).

They are expected to become more independent, build new friendships, and on top of everything do well in school (Ross et al. 1999). Levels of Stress and Coping Styles It is important students deal with stress. For those students who do not deal with stress, it could result in feelings of nervousness, unnecessary worrying, and lack of sleep (Ross et al.

1999). Certain levels of stress can either enhance or decrease performance. A reasonable amount of stress may be crucial in order to encourage an individual to get the job done (Ross et al. ). Oman et al.

(2008) also found that a certain level of stress may increase performance.

Those times when stress pushes you to study hard or cause you to spend more time on a class project can be helpful. However, too much stress may drastically slow down academic success for a college student by impairing memory, an important component of learning (Lumley ; Provenzano, 2003). Certain levels of stress are normal, but students need to learn how to manage their stress when it becomes overwhelming (Larson, 2006). The level of stress experienced may be influenced by the way an individual is able to deal with stressful situations (Ross et al.


Giancola, Grawitch, and Borchert (2009) defined coping as the cognitive and behavioral attempt to overcome, decrease, or accept the demands that are formed by the stressful situation. The American College Health Association recognizes how a student copes with stress as an important issue (Oman et al. 2008). The way in which a student copes with a stressful situation is different for each individual (Ong ; Cheong, 2010).

There are two styles of coping: adaptive and maladaptive coping (Giancola et al. 2009). Students who use adaptive coping behaviors can expect higher life satisfaction and general well-being.

They tend to use methods such as planning and positive reinterpretation. They also view the stressful situation as a challenge and make a goal to overcome it.

In comparison, maladaptive coping behaviors; venting and denial, can expect negative results. Students are more likely to use maladaptive coping strategies if they view their stress as being an interruption in their life (Giancola et al. ). For example, Lumley ; Provenzano, (2003) found those who fail to acknowledge and resolve their stressful experience can experience maladaptive consequences.

Therefore, the way in which a student copes with stress may influence his or her college experience. High levels of stress or stress viewed as a threat could lead to physical impairment and serious health concerns (Murphy ; Archer, 1996).

Oman et al. found that students’ who experience intense stress are more likely to have anxiety or depression. Other consequences of stress linked to health concerns are; increases in substance abuse, smoking, eating disorder, and trouble sleeping (Schneiderman, Ironson, & Siegel, 2004). They also ound continual stressors can lengthen the healing process for wounds and recovery from surgery. Given these findings, it is important to recognize excessive stress and implement effective strategies for managing stress among college students (Schneiderman et al. ).

Stress Management Techniques Lumley & Provenzano (2003) found multiple methods that help college students manage stress. These include relaxation training, time management, nutrition and exercise, assertiveness training, and problem solving. College is a busy time for students, but they need to find time in their schedule for relaxation each day.

Students will find managing their time much easier if they keep up with their readings, attend their classes, and stay organized. Students should also schedule a time to work out each day, even if it’s only for twenty minutes.

They can improve their health by exercising and eating right. These small steps are found to be useful for students experiencing stressors related to college. They also found that writing about stressful situations leads to effective functioning and health benefits, which results in academic success among college students.

Although students may feel some negative emotions immediately after writing about a stressful situation, written expression will benefit a student in the long run (Lumley ; Provenzano). Compared with other stress-management interventions, Oman et al.

(2008) found that meditative practices have been related to positive outcomes such as: better academic performance, concentration, reaction time, and memory. Meditation programs focus on relaxation and individual development. These findings suggest that meditation programs are successful in reducing stress for college students (Oman et al. Intervention Proposal Effective measures to managing stress in college students are needed. It is crucial for college and university campuses to offer stress and time management programs to students who may struggle with academic and social pressures.

Summary College is an exciting but often stressful time in an individual’s life. Students often run into pressures and stressful situations while in school. Everyone experiences stressful situations at some point in their lives, but for college students it can become a way of life.

The first section of this paper acknowledged the many sources of students stress including; academic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal stressors. Among these, academic activities were found to be the most stressful. As I stated earlier, a certain level of stress can be beneficial but too much stress may slow down academic performance or cause serious health problems.

The second section of this paper discussed the two coping styles and how the way one copes with stress is different for each individual. The section described how adaptive coping behaviors lead to positive outcomes for the individual.

Those students who use adaptive methods usually plan and use positive interpretation. In contrast, maladaptive coping behaviors are related to negative outcomes. Those who use maladaptive methods tend to vent or are in complete denial about the stress their experiencing. Finally, the paper closed with a discussion of the different strategies that were found to be effective for managing stress.

Relaxation training, time management, nutrition and exercise, assertiveness training, and problem solving are techniques that can help reduce stress among students.

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