The issue of stress can be significant for college students, and as I write this, we are at midterm for the undergraduate and graduate students that I work with. This is one of high stress times for them, and in some ways midterms can be more stressful than finals week. If there are pre-existing problems for a student, they will typically show up during this stressful time. For students who are prone to anxiety, it can become worse half way through the term and interfere with their ability to perform academically. For students who don’t have a history of anxiety, stress can interfere in other ways.
Student Factors And Stress
Each student is an individual with their own tendencies and characteristics. Some students are able to rise to the challenge of a busy semester, but others have a very different reaction. Some students will simply become overwhelmed and “shut down.” They may withdraw in to their room and simply avoid what is causing them to be stressed out, which is often their school work. Such avoidance is simply a way to reduce the stress, but in college, this is not an effective way to deal with the situation. Avoiding work or going to classes may help them temporarily, but the overall implication could be failing one or more classes.
High Achieving Students And Stress
Students who were high achieving in high school can sometimes be very susceptible to stress in college. These students, especially young women, can put enormous pressure on themselves to succeed. They feel that they are “letting people down,” including their parents and professors. They can develop pronounced anxiety, especially about interacting with their professors and will often feel that “everyone knows” that I haven’t been doing well in class. They can quickly reach a threshold where they they stop doing their work, stop going to class, and sometimes stop leaving their room. I’ve encountered many college-aged women who developed conditions like social anxiety or even agoraphobia who were once excellent high school students but did poorly in classes for reasons that were not related to their intelligence or academic ability. Young men also experience college anxiety as well. Their reactions are very similar to those of young women, except that they tend to be more secretive about what they’re experiencing. It can be very difficult to get them to discuss their experiences, or they might deny having problems, only to find out later that they failed or withdrew from their classes.
Factors To Consider For Student Stress
-Each student has their own “susceptibility” to stress. Where one individual may handle a situation well, others may not. Students with a history of anxiety or stress-related problems need to be helped very carefully, which can include finding both ongoing treatment services during college and choosing a college environment that will help mitigate stress issues.
-Identifying and taking seriously the impact of stress on both high school and college students is critical to prevent problems. In one case, the brother of a young woman I worked with had an incident where the police needed to be called to their home. The brother’s problems began to dominate the family’s life for a short time and his parents were entirely wrapped up in his issues. The first question I asked them was “how’s your daughter doing? Watch her stress level.” From working with her, I knew that she was extremely susceptible to stress, and often would not tell them how she felt. Less than a week later she was hospitalized due to the stress of the events going on in the home.
-Parental reactions to student stress are critical and the wrong reaction can make the situation worse. In more than one instance I’ve worked with families where the parents had simply the wrong reaction to the student’s problems. Reactions have ranged from “I don’t understand why you feel that way” to “just hurry up and get better.” In one case I saw both parents tell their son that he literally needed to “man up,” which showed a complete lack of empathy and understanding of their son’s situation. Parents need to be supportive and understand that a student who is in the throes of stress or anxiety will not respond well to directive, overwhelming, or high-expectation responses that can only complicate the situation.
Student stress is a very real issue for both high school and college students in the U.S. It may or may not have it’s basis in a student’s personal tendencies and can often be from the demands of academics. Many students do go to college with pre-existing conditions like anxiety, and actions must include choosing a college carefully and establishing ongoing treatment once they’re there. Understanding a student’s susceptibility to stress, the impact of stress and anxiety on academics, and how to react as a parent are all key issues for helping a student deal with stress once it has begun to impact their studies.
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Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national-level higher education consultant based in Pittsburgh. He has worked with students, families, colleges, and other professionals for more than 10 years. He specializes in understanding why students can end up doing poorly in college, as well as what can be done to address the issues.