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What is Stressing Out the University Student?

When we think of university students, what do we usually think of? College parties? Finals and exams? Clubs and sports? What if I said that only some of these things are  

achievable as a student in most universities? Most university students can only focus on two or three things to maintain their sanity. This article discusses the stressors that contribute to poor mental health among university students. 


A Stressful Schedule 


For a typical university student, there are many reports of high degrees of stress that can veer into mental illnesses. Many students also state that high school did not prepare them for college. Although I graduated in the top ten in high school, my straight-A grade streak was interrupted in my first year of college when I started to see low grades in English and Science courses. I was ashamed that my straight-A grade streak was interrupted, but this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Most university students are also surprised by the level of work and expectations they face when they graduate high school. Studies indicate a peak stress level and a transitional adaptation period during the first year. In my sister’s case, who is currently attending California State University, Long Beach, she states that in her first year, she had a hard time passing classes mainly because she didn’t know how to schedule her classes, study and homework time, socialization, exercise, and sleep adequately. 


As a sophomore now, she is having a slightly easier time adjusting, but some priorities still end up being sacrificed, like sleep and friends. I asked her if she had any time for friends during college, which she laughed off and said, “I have my high school friends that I don’t hang out with as often, I have my boyfriend who I date twice a month, and I have study sessions with college friends, but I wouldn’t call them to hang out at a mall.” I asked her if she had time to join a club or to volunteer to make more friends which she replied with, “there is no time for that in my schedule.” 


She was right. When she told me her average daily schedule, which consisted of 2 hours and 30 minutes of class time, 1 hour and 42 minutes of travel time from school to home mainly because of LA traffic, 1 hour of homework and studying time, and her basic needs such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, and exercise with each consisting of 30 minutes each; it all totals to 6 hours and 13 minutes. It is no wonder that many university students have a hard time including other extracurricular activities like volunteering, internships, or clubs - all of which are more critical for accumulating skills to step foot into the workplace. 


Furthermore, other students have to take in other responsibilities, such as having a part-time job and being a parent. Additionally, she says her diet has consisted of cereal at one point, and her sleep has been chaotic with sleeping during the entire weekend and having about 6 hours of sleep sometimes during school days, especially during finals weeks. Unfortunately, she is not alone in her experience. 



The Consequences of Stress 



Students have reported high levels of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression that have contributed to a lower quality of life. Stress is the key factor to a higher likelihood of suicidal attempts and psychiatric conditions. This is important to acknowledge considering that the suicide rate is higher in engineering and social science departments in many universities. Moreover, medical students report higher chronic stress and suicidal ideation. According to accounts within Stanford University, there have been suicidal attempts and suicides within engineering, biology, and computational engineering, which isn’t uncommon in most school departments since these disciplines have higher demands than other majors and, therefore, contribute to burnout and overwork. 


Additionally, the diets of most university students are poor, and there has been a correlation between a poor diet leading to poor sleep quality. Sleep is another factor that affects our mental health, with students reporting an average of 6 - 6.9 hours of sleep while at school. Thus, there has been a notable amount of high stress recorded in students, but what are universities doing about it? 


Incidental Stress Alleviation 


 During the Covid-19 outbreak, a few answers were revealed to this problem. However, the Covid-19 shutdown exacerbated stress and anxiety. There were also, paradoxically, suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts that decreased during the Covid-19 quarantine period. Why was this the case? Since most schools promoted mental health services and provided student federal loan relief and academic accommodations during the quarantine p; it, it may have helped the vulnerable population of students who faced food insecurity, mental illness, financial stress, and poor academic performance. This further proves that mental health programs and alternative support for students' quality of life improve academic performance. 


The Underlying Stress 


Furthermore, many students doubt whether graduating from university will help them secure a job. Even though there are career guidance counselors for students, many students who have graduated have reported having difficulty acquiring a job and are typically underemployed or unemployed once graduating. Underemployment is defined as having less than full-time or being paid under the experience and skill level of the job. According to the US Census Bureau and US Bureau of Labor Statistics, by September of 2022, 39.5% of recent graduates were underemployed, while 33.0% of college graduates were underemployed. Students with majors in liberal arts, media, performing arts, ethnic studies, criminal justice, anthropology, and philosophy have the highest risk of unemployment


Furthermore, graduating with student loans, especially with the risk of unemployment or underemployment, is another contributing factor that weighs on a college student’s daily. According to one study, students who had taken $2,000 to $3,000 more loans in their first year of college discontinued their education. Due to this, it is essential for financial advisors and counselors to carefully advise these young adults on how they can make the best decisions for their futures.  


To Conclude 


Most universities should give students extra attention and assistance on managing a healthy work-life balance,extra attention and assistance to students on how to manage a healthy work-life balance which would have a higher success rate in the workplace once they graduate. Specific alternative solution use of therapy dogs has actively contributed to positive wellness within students, especially during periods of heightened stress in a student’s life, such as finals week. Programs that promote cognitive, behavioral, and mindfulness techniques to alleviate anxiety symptoms have been proven to reduce the overall stress of university students. It is essential for schools to carefully consider such programs in their curriculums, considering the number of anxious students reporting burnout and mental illness while at school. We should listen to our students and consider developing a group of healthy individuals ready to influence our workforce positively. In this, due to the amount of mental health awareness occurring in most universities, we might be able to address all these different stressors contributing to a student’s ability to succeed and complete their education. 


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