Year after year, many young school adults and their families will be thinking ahead to the exciting, life-changing journey for those beginning their freshman year of college.
University life will no doubt be different from anything high schoolers have experienced so far, with greater opportunities for learning and forming unforgettable friendships and memories but also with greaterchallenges.
Here we’ll look at the sources of stress and anxiety potentially facing every young person starting university for the first time and how freshmen and their families can watch for and face such challenges together.
Stress is a normal part of life and can be a positive motivating force, helping us to achieve our daily personal and professional needs. However, too much stress can have a serious negative impact which reduces our focus and ability to be productive.
Stress and the resulting anxiety affecting college students can come from a variety of sources. Fromtrying to balance classes and high study/assignment loads to forming new social circles including romantic relationships, leadership positions and athletics and other club commitments which can in turn be associated with alcohol/drug abuse and risky sexual behavior. Each of these arenas can bring serious challenges for freshmen, who are tasked with (re)constructing an entirely new social and academic identity at a new institution in the tight timeframe of the first days to weeks of college life.
Financial concerns can also be a huge source of stressfor college students throughout their studies. According to one college life website, as many as 60% of college students receive no financial help from their parents. For such students, the added strain on study and social time created by having to getpart-timejobs can mean less time for study and fun and an overall poorer college experience.
The most worrying effect of all this pressure and anxiety is the potential for developing low mood and even depression.
A survey in 2009 found that 42% of college students felt "down, depressed or hopeless", a staggering number among this group of usuallyhighly motivated, hardworking and aspirational young people. The World Health Organization reports that more than 50% of diagnosable mental illnesses begin in late adolescence, and this figure rises to 75% by mid-20s. Given that this time frame coincides with the college years, it is critical for educators and families alike to be mindfully observant of young people during such a sensitive time.
Further exacerbating factors for college students are social isolation in a new university environment and living away from family and social support, possibly for the first time. The combination could cause delay in self-reporting among students who may not have close confidants to talk to and further delay if there is no one close to pick up on it. Moreover, social isolation can stem from a variety of social anxiety disorders, including some linked to autistic spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s disease, but could also be rooted in other developmental conditions that may impact success in college, for example dyslexia and dyspraxia.
To help ensure college students make the most of those all- important university years, institutions and families must increase their awareness of the problems that college freshmen in particular are vulnerable to and engage these youngsters as regularly and openly as possible. B
• Watch for: anxiety symptoms include- Irritability, Trouble concentrating, Sweating and dizziness, Shortness of breath, Irregular heartbeat, Muscle pain and tension, Headaches, Frequent upset stomach or diarrhea.
• Watch for: Depression symptoms:sadness, Change in appetite/ weight,Loss of interest in activities or social gatherings, Fatigue, loss in energy, sleeplessness, Feelings of guilt, anger or frustration, Thoughts of dying, death and suicide.
Talk to someone, talk to anyone: The important thing to remember about stress is that it grows when bottled up, so share it as early as possible with
whomever you’re comfortable with.
- See your health practitioner GP if you’re worried about your physical health or ability to cope.
- Check out your university’s counselling services – career/health/ financial advisory services are offered at most institutions.
- Call up an old friend to talk if your college friends are still new to you, sometimes it’s great to chat with someone who knows us well.
- Call home, or better yet go home if you can – your family are the best people to tell you if they’re concerned about you, even when you find it difficult to see it yourself.