In the midst of midterms, it’s hard not to be stressed. Week after week of exams, papers, problem sets, and other assignments certainly puts varying degrees of pressure on all students, and it is something many of us have come to accept as typical of our university and perhaps school in general. Experiencing this stress myself, I decided to investigate if this seemingly chronic stress is unique to us as Northwestern students, unique to American school systems, or if it is a global phenomenon.
Anxiety and stress have long been commonplace in colleges nationwide and do not just affect Northwestern University or Ivy-League students. A 2008 study reports that 80% of college students frequently or sometimes experience stress every day, a 20% increase since the same survey was taken five years prior in 2003. That’s not to mention anxiety disorders and other anxiety-related conditions such as depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, OCD, all of which are present on college campuses.
A study surveying intense stress levels among Stanford undergraduates hits the nail on the head, attributing increased stress to changing lifestyles and attitudes that all college students experience. These changes include a future-oriented atmosphere, extremely fast paced lives driven by constant connection to technology, a world where success is often measured by materialism, and competition for the best grades, jobs, and careers, to name a few. All of these stressors create a fast-paced environment where there is no time for a break–we are always connected, working, packing a resume, planning, or all of the above.
According to a study conducted by Texas A&M University, American college students surveyed at two Midwestern colleges tend to experience more stress than international students at the same colleges. Based on different categories of academic stressors, American students exhibited more self-imposed anxiety and behavioral reactions (crying, self-abuse, etc.) than international students. Researchers attribute this in part to American students perceiving or experiencing pressure from themselves, fellow students, and their communities to succeed academically and career-wise.
What can be done to combat stress? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides some tips, stating that taking a relaxing break and unplugging, even for 15 minutes a day, can help you clear your mind. As always, the ADAA asserts that nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep always help. Beyond that, they also recommend talking with someone about being stressed, laughing, and striving to do your best and accept that as enough are all actions and states of mind that have the potential to greatly reduce stress. WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, and the American Psychological Association all provide more tips regarding stress management. Remember, these are suggestions for coping with day to day stress, and anxiety that exceeds these coping mechanisms warrants additional support. Consider visiting CAPS, talking to your own doctor, or calling 1-800-273-8255 in the event of a crisis.