Between school, maintaining a social life, and work, the life of a college student seems like the perfect recipe for stress. Indeed, a May study from the American Addiction Centers found that 88% of college students experienced stress related to their school lives.
Though academic achievement is good, it’s important for students and faculty to recognize the importance of a healthy school-life balance.
For many students, overextending themselves for coursework leads to neglecting leisure time activities that can act as stress regulators, such as watching a show, going to gym, or hanging out with friends. Students tend to have conflicts outside of school — jobs, internships, or long commutes — that cut into important time for resting.
Of course, it’s important that students work hard at school. College is a place not only to learn about one’s desired subject, but also to develop self-management skills that are crucial for long term success.
However, stress management is another necessary life skill. While academia pushes students to reach their fullest potential, when prioritized to extremes, it pushes everything else in their lives — social life, personal health, family — to the background. According to the American Psychological Association, poor work-life balance can be easy to fall into for college students, which contributes to bigger health issues, like sleep or anxiety disorders.
Students overextend themselves academically for a number of reasons, including the pressure to graduate on time. Though less than half of all college students graduate within four years according to the Hechinger Report, the expectation of a four year college journey still looms large. Trying to fit an academic journey better suited for a longer period of time into the “normal” four years is one way students may end up overworking themselves.
Whether for social reasons, like competition with fellow students, or the familial obligations many students feel to do well, or simply having too much on their plate academically, it’s important to reiterate that ambition to do well in college is not inherently bad. These conflicts can teach students to regulate their stress and understand their own limitations.
As the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reported, stress is a normal bodily response and a part of daily life. However, long-term, unregulated stress has harmful impacts on both the body and mind, like a higher risk for substance use problems, anxiety and depression, or a weakened immune system. The goal of students and faculty alike should not be eliminating stress, but learning to deal with it effectively.
While it may be hard to convince students to pare down their schedules, on-campus resources are available to support students’ mental health, such as up to 12 free therapy appointments with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) during an academic school year, and a number of mental health groups and workshops. While CAPS’ services are not exhaustive, they can also connect students with off-campus resources.
Other on-campus resources include the Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers, the USF ministry, or a number of community activities that can help students de-stress. Faculty are also trained for behavioral intervention, as professors are often among the first to recognise students in distress. One way this could be made more effective by the University is to improve student resources about being an active mental health interventionist.
College can be hard for everyone at times. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in your struggle — asking for help is difficult, but having people there to catch you when you fall will make the landing much easier.