Student Stress 101: Understanding Academic Stress

If you’re like most college students, chances are you experience some school-related stress from time to time. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s necessary and healthy, but only at manageable levels. Stress pushes us to stay on track with our studying and classwork and keeps us motivated. But when stress, worry, and anxiety start to overwhelm us, it makes it harder to focus and get things done. In fact, national studies of college students have repeatedly found that emotional health challenges like stress, anxiety, sleep and depression are the leading impediments to academic success. And while we might jump from assignment to assignment in an effort to try and get things done quickly, this approach often means we aren’t really finishing anything or finding the focus we need to be effective. In other words, we’re just spinning our wheels and creating more stress.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting dangerous levels of stress, text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

How Does Academic Stress Hurt Us?

It’s understandable to feel stress in college. Maybe you’re on a scholarship and you need to maintain certain grades to stay eligible. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to attend college and you feel pressure to fulfill the weight of those expectations. Maybe you know that college is a financial burden on your family and you worry that your education won’t be worth it or that the burden will be too much. These are all normal feelings and most importantly, not uncommon. You aren’t alone.

Research indicates that when we feel overwhelming stress related to school it not only demotivates us to do the work, it reduces our overall academic achievement and can lead to increased dropout rates. Not to mention the negative health implications, including depression, poor sleep, substance abuse, and anxiety. How this translates in the longer term can affect our ability to sustain employment and decrease our earning potential over a lifetime. But, there’s hope and moreover, help. Figuring out how to manage your stress starts with being able to recognize it.

How Do We Recognize Too Much Stress?

As we said earlier, some stress is good. It’s what pushes us to do the work and meet our deadlines. But when that stress takes over and actually results in less productivity — not more — then it’s time to take action. Here are some ways to recognize if we or someone we know is suffering from too much stress:

Find the source of stress:

  • Is it a particular class or type of work?
  • Is it an issue of time management and prioritization?
  • Do you have too much on your plate?
  • Is it due to family expectations or financial obligations?

Pinpoint how that stress is affecting you:

  • Is the stress preventing you from sleeping?
  • Is it making you take longer to do the work or paralyzing you from even starting?
  • Is it causing you to feel anxious, unwell, or depressed?

Because stress seems like it should be typical, too often we dismiss it and get down on ourselves for feeling like there’s something wrong with us and we should be handling it better. It’s important to remember that we’re not alone.

Common Signs that Someone Might Need More Support

It’s important to be able to recognize when stress starts to become all encompassing, affecting our overall mental health and well-being. Here are some signs we might need to get help:

  • Insomnia or chronic trouble sleeping
  • Inability to motivate
  • Anxiety that results in physical symptoms (hair loss, nail biting, losing weight)
  • Depression (not wanting to spend time with friends, making excuses, sleeping excessively)
  • Mood swings (bursting into tears, bouts of anger)

Remember, support and help are available. Stress doesn’t have to get the best of you. JED has resources at your fingertips and support is a call or text away if you need help urgently:

  • Text “START” to 741-741
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If academic stress is becoming a struggle, check out this article with tips on how to manage school stress.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.