Stress levels higher now for students

Caitlin Carter

Recent studies have shown that stress levels of incoming college freshmen are at an all-time high.

Of more than 200,000 incoming full-time college freshmen polled, 51.9 percent of students reported their emotional health to be “above average,” according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA’s survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010.”

This number dropped by 3.4 percent from 2009 and has decreased by 11.5 percent since 1985, when emotional health was first measured by the survey.


Brian Van Brunt, director of the Counseling and Testing Center, said this increase in stress can come from multiple places. He said freshmen encounter more stress when they first step foot on campus today than ever.

“Some students who are coming in haven’t had the experiences of traveling, living with someone else, the new food, the requirements to complete all their different syllabi and coursework,” Van Brunt said. “They also have to learn any schedules — learn the bus schedule. The adjustment is a critical stressor for any college student.”

With tuition increases each year and the recent recession, Van Brunt, also president of the American College Counseling Association, said there is also a greater financial burden on students these days.

“Though parents are helping out with students on secondary things such as gas, travel money, food and books, there’s less money to go around,” he said.

Today, students owe more than $800 billion in student loans, according to a CNBC report.

The survey by UCLA concluded that 53 percent of students use student loans to help pay for college expenses and 73.4 percent of students have received grants and scholarships — the highest number since 2001.

After seeing such numbers, Van Brunt said many graduating high school seniors wonder if college is truly worth the price.

Though statistics still show that students are better off going to college, they are finding it harder to believe there’s a job out there waiting on the other end, Van Brunt said.

“Some students now feel as though it’s a gamble,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating to see your friend making $25,000 as a manager at Abercrombie and Fitch at the mall while you’re basically living in poverty while in school.”

Kim Phillips, psychiatric nurse practitioner at Health Services, said it’s important that students learn to combat stress in a healthy way.

“This means getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising,” she said.

Phillips said some students, when stressed, will engage in risky behaviors such as binge-drinking, drug abuse or risky sexual behaviors.

“These unhealthy coping mechanisms most always end up leading to an increase in stress, which in turn may lead to anxiety or depression,” she said.

Phillips said it is important for students to seek out the services that are available on campus if they begin to feel stressed and overwhelmed, such as Health Services and the Counseling and Testing Center.

The Counseling and Testing Center, which offers couples counseling, crisis management and groups for anxiety and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues has seen a 20 percent increase in students each year, Van Brunt said.

“Some of that is from us from growing and getting more outreach, but more are those struggling with the adjustment to college,” he said.

Louisville freshman Holly Rodgers said she has felt stress heavily throughout her first year as a college student.

She said the stress stems from a tough course load, large amounts of homework and financial worries.

“Sometimes I get what I feel like is an overload of homework to do,” Rodgers said. “It’s sometimes tough to balance everything else on top of that.”

Rodgers said she believes it’s important to take time for herself when her stress level rises.

“I like to go home and relax,” she said. “It takes my mind off things.”

While her freshman year has been tough stress-wise, Rodgers said she’s optimistic that her remaining years as a college student will become less stressful.

“I feel like I’m experiencing more now than I will in the future,” she said. “I’m just now getting into the swing of things.”