Stress Support for Post-Secondary Students

Stress Support for Post-Secondary Students

Being a college student in the 21st century is full of exciting new challenges that can help them become who they want to be. With these exciting challenges comes the pressure to succeed, accompanied with the financial burden. Without the proper coping techniques the college experience may not be a pleasant one. If stress that is introduced or intensified by post secondary education is not dealt with properly, students may experience a cycle of difficulties. This can include long and short term mental and physical health problems, academic decline and a degenerative cycle of stress. In order to avoid this cycle it is important for post-secondary schools to have the stress-coping resources available to students anytime they are required.

Pressure in small doses can be a good motivator for students throughout their studies, but if it exceeds the amount a student can handle then it can have devastating effects on their mental health. Not only does Post-secondary school introduce students to a stress ridden environment, it also amplifies their existing stress by adding to their workload. The amount of work involved in college often comes as a surprise to most students and they come ill-prepared to deal with the stressors associated with higher education. A full-time student may only attend classes 12-14 hours a week but are expected to put in at least twice that amount of time for projects, papers and studying (Wayne State University, 2009). Many students are required to work part-time and juggle their schooling which can be quite the task. Considering "... two-thirds of working students state that their primary reason for working is to pay tuition, fees, and living expenses..." (American Council of Education, 2006), it would be logical to conclude that students are not working by choice, but are forced to do so out of necessity. If students are able to concentrate solely on their studies then their chances of having a healthy college experience improve dramatically.

Prolonged stress on an individual is often accompanied by anxiety, which can develop into an anxiety disorder if not appropriately treated. Quite often people who suffer from untreated anxiety disorders also develop other psychological problems including depression, substance abuse. These may in turn affect their relationships with family, friends and their workplace (American Psychological Association, 2010). If we don't help provide students with healthy options for dealing with stress they may resort to self-medicating through alcohol, over the counter or prescription drugs and even illegal narcotics. Many students are resorting to these substances as a way of dealing with their stress. It was reported that "[i]n 2005, 5.4 million full-time college students reported drinking, abusing controlled prescription drugs, using illicit drugs or smoking in the past month.." (ASK TEACHER, http://www.colorado.edu/alcohol/downloads/wastingthebest.pdf). This works out to astounding two-thirds of students admitting to some kind of substance abuse in the past month. These statistics are only going to worsen if coping strategies are not put in place for students at the post-secondary level. We may have already lost some of the best and the brightest of the new generation.

Not only does stress take a toll on the mind be detrimental to the body. When the human body is under stress it reacts by creating the glucocorticoid cortisol and the neurotransmitter adrenaline which increases blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels, causing obesity or loss of appetite and even causing damage to the heart (Schiffer RB, 2007 pg 420). This is the equivalent of "fight or flight" mode humans use for survival. The body stops the blood flow to the areas of least importance in order to ensure the rest is getting the oxygen it needs. Along with arterial problems, stress has been linked to tension headaches, heartburn, and indigestion among many other physical problems, (University of Maryland Medical centre, 2009). Stress is a powerful force against the human body and if not handled properly can cause irreversible damage. If we continue to allow students to be uneducated about the proper way in dealing with stress then not only will they be graduating with a degree, they will be walking away with an assortment of health problems.

Academic performance is enhanced when students are provided with the resources they need to effectively manage their stress. If students are aware of the most effective methods and are equipped with the right tools, they will know how to handle themselves in stressful situations. This is an essential component for success not just in the world of academics, but in all aspects of life. According to Cognitive Test Anxiety and Academic Performance (Cassady, 2002) (as cited in the International Journal of Psychological Studies (Awang et. al, 2010))," [h]igh levels of anxiety reduces working memory, impairs concentration, and reasoning". If the student has an intolerable amount of anxiety to deal with then their ability to concentrate on their studies could diminish and significantly affect their grades. Quite often, along with anxiety, students can suffer from depression due to the stress experienced at school. "... when depression was compounded by anxiety ,there was not only an adverse effect on immediate recall and amount (but not rate) of acquisition, but also on the retrieval of newly learned information" (Curtiss et. al, 2002). Depression by itself is hard enough to deal with but when accompanied by anxiety it can lead to an increased difficulty in cognitive abilities. By effectively coping with these problems when they arise and eliminating the detrimental effects of stress, the student will be able to focus 100% on their academics.

Life as a college student is full of positive and negative challenges that need to be overcome in order to succeed. Students will gain their independence, learn new skills and set themselves up for the future. With all of this happening around them it is inevitable that students will encounter stressful situations and it is important for them to know how to deal with it. If post-secondary schools provide all students with resources on how to handle stress and when to recognise that there is a problem they are more likely to do better and be a healthier individual. Not only would this be helping them throughout school but would give them the skills to handle stress in other aspects of their life.