Stress and College
Stress is a state of tension that occurs when there are demands and pressures that tax an individual’s ability to adjust. Although college is often regarded as a time of fun and few responsibilities, the reality is that college years can be very stressful. Stress typically results from the challenge of adjusting to transitions in life, and college is a time of significant change. For example, starting or ending college, or returning to school or home after breaks cause stress as one adapts to changes in routine. College students must adjust to the demands of living more independently, without parents and family to help manage and structure time. During college, the pressures of various role demands are also very high. College students cope with the pressure to succeed academically, and typically are faced with exams and papers all occurring within the same short time period. Beyond academics, many college students want and/or feel pressure to participate in campus activities which require additional time and investment. Even making time to see friends or a romantic partner can be experienced as another pressure. Family time and responsibilities at home also continue to compete for the college student’s time and energy.
Stress in college can result from external sources such as academic demands or relationship conflicts, or from internally generated expectations for self. The stress response is very personal and varies for different students. For example, one student might be stressed by the prospect of having to give a speech in class, while another would not find this threatening. Although stressors are typically thought of as negative life events (e.g. arguing with a friend, having limited time to study for an exam), stress can also result from positive events (e.g. acceptance to a sorority/fraternity, graduating). This is because positive events also bring challenges for adjustment. Also, stress not only occurs after a sudden, acute situation (e.g. losing a paper after a computer crash), but also results from the smaller events that accumulate over time. Indeed, it is these cumulative factors or “daily hassles” (e.g. being late for class, missing the shuttle, forgetting a book) that are major contributors to chronic tension.
The Stress Response
The human body has adapted to react to threat with an automatic, physiological pattern of reaction known as the “fight or flight response.” The body summons its defensive forces in an integrated manner, beginning with the release of the hormone ACTH into the bloodstream. Within seconds, there is the output of adrenalin and other stress-related hormones, a rise in blood pressure, an increase in glucose levels and the alerting of the major organs and sensory systems to prepare for physical action. This complicated physiological alarm response is set in motion in the face of any perceived threat. In modern society, of course, this kind of extreme physiological response is usually inappropriate to the level of actual danger, and the continued activation of the stress response reaction takes a physical toll on the body. Many diseases, including hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, and diabetes, have been found to have a strong correlation with stress. In addition, stress may aggravate or even be a causal factor in other conditions, such as headache, backache, skin disorders, indigestion, respiratory ailments, mental illnesses, and accidental injuries.