Stress levels skyrocket during winter months

Seth Harris

Students and health professionals alike recognize a certain correlation: college increases stress.

While there are many causes of stress, studies have shown college adds to the already fast-paced lives people live. In its National College Health Assessment, the American College Health Association surveyed 129 institutions and more than 100,000 students — of those students, 1,165 were from SDSU. The results showed 46 percent of SDSU students felt that academics had been “traumatic or very difficult to handle” within the last 12 months of when the survey was conducted last spring.

The survey covered a wide range of topics and it showed that 89 percent of students were overwhelmed, 44 percent experienced overwhelming anxiety and 56 percent were exceedingly sad. Overall, the values show that – nationally and locally – students experience a high level of stress and decreased mental health.

Debra Johnson, clinical counseling supervisor for SDSU’s Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services, said mental health functioning is comprised of genetics, stress level and biological activity like alcohol consumption or hormone fluctuations in women.

“When you start to have some difficulty in one of those areas, then you begin to start having mental health functioning that is affected.”

Mental health really comes into play when students draw nearer to finals. With more deadlines and the stress of passing a class, students are under quite a bit of strain. Johnson said anxiety is a major factor as finals approach, made up of three variables like self-confidence, feelings of control and a sense of approval.

“When one of those three go down, anxiety will rise,” she said. “All of those factors come into play when you’re dealing with finals and all of the projects that need to be done at the end of the semester.”

To help students combat the growing stress of finals, Residential Life tries to help students through programming. Amber Carter, residence hall director of Brown Hall, said the residence halls have 24-hour quiet hours and study breaks for students to relax. Study breaks include things like coloring, board games, video games, crafting and snacks.

Carter said they have been trying something new this year.

“We do academic success tips in the bathroom stalls and the tips give a ‘tip of the week’ like … ‘Take really fun notes.’ So helpful hints you don’t get in an academic setting,” she said. “We try to think a little out of the box or get things to students using different messages.”

The idea that college can be stressful and cause a large amount of anxiety was something Carter said was apparent in her time at SDSU.

“In my years of being a hall director, a lot of people come with certain expectations of what college will be like and then are hit with the realities of what it is,” she said. “Those two create a bit of a disconnect and that can be stressful.”

Another way ResLife tries to help students is through its student success model, in which they have garnered a more holistic approach. Carter said it’s been somewhat separated from academics in the past but has become more integrated to help students with their academic success.

The efforts of the administration to help students with stress for finals are not the only option available to students. Johnson said exercise, nutrition and most importantly sleep all play a critical role in coping with stress and anxiety.

“The number-one piece that is really important is sleep. That’s one of the things students often give up, but all of the studies indicate that for retention of memory and concentration, you need to have adequate sleep,” she said. “The minimum sleep you should be functioning on is six-and-a-half hours.”

While many students may feel an increased amount of stress as finals near, Jom Tolman, a sophomore political science major from Rapid City, said he’s not stressed at all.

“Finals are important, but it’s not the end of the world. I feel a lot of people over-hype it even,” he said. “I’m just an easy-going guy. Some things are worth getting worked up over in life and a test isn’t one of them.”

Tolman said even though he isn’t very stressed, he does have some friends who get overly stressed during the semester and moreso with finals.

Although everyone is different and may experience stress in different ways and levels, Johnson said there isn’t just one type of person who experiences it more than others.

“It crosses all economics, all races, all religions,” she said. “It’s a combination of genetics and coping skills.”

The ACHA-NCHA also reported 94 percent of students benefitted academically from counseling. Student counseling on campus can be found in the Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services within the Wellness Center.