According to the American Psychological Association, 45 percent of college students seeking counseling reported experiencing stress in 2017.
Though experiencing stress is common for college students, Dr. Anita Forsberg Culbertson, campus psychologist at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, and Jane Pernotto Ehrman, owner of Images of Wellness with locations in Beachwood and Westlake, said stress is manageable if students seek the help.
“If you look at numbers across the country, the number (of students dealing with stress) just keeps going up and some of that is because of the pressure of school,” Culbertson said. “But also, there are a lot of kids coming to campus with pre-existing conditions that they lived with in high school.”
Ehrman tells students that stress is normal.
“It’s normal for many reasons, especially since every year of college is a little bit unknown,” she said. “It’s a completely different experience, especially if you’re going to live on campus somewhere. Even if you live at home and commute, it’s a whole new level of learning. Everything you experienced in high school may be different for them in college. It’s exciting but stressful, too.”
Ehrman finds freshman year is the most stressful time for students.
“Part of it is they get into unhelpful behavior,” she said. “Students start to procrastinate or they get afraid and freeze up or they don’t sleep well. If you live in a residence hall, it can be pretty noisy which contributes to sleepless nights.”
As for Culbertson, it’s not so much the year, but more so the time of year students feel more stress.
“It’s typically prior to midterms and then finals,” she said. “But, the first year is especially stressful because it’s all so new. So, once you experience it once, the rest becomes easier.”
Working with her students to find out where they hold their stress, Culbertson said it can affect their productivity.
“Some people get headaches, some get back pain,” she said. “But, it’s the things you notice within yourself. You need to figure out where you hold it so you can circumvent the pressure cooker before you explode when it gets too much to handle.”
Both professionals suggested students find time to do things that bring them joy.
“Figure out what you enjoy, but also plan time for yourself,” Culbertson said. “We spend so much time as human beings anticipating what others expect from us and putting that in our planner, but we never put aside ‘me time’ in our planners. Alone time is just as important.”
Ehrman said, “Managing your time can be difficult. Along with all of (a student’s) activities, studying and socializing, you’ll still need to sleep and eat. You need to set a routine for yourself about what you want to do. Along with making time for these things, you need to make time to relieve stress.”
In terms of help available to students, both professionals said just talking to someone does wonders.
“Sometimes just being heard makes a significant difference,” Ehrman said. “The person you speak to doesn’t need to solve the problem but talking about it helps. It’s also not uncommon for students to call home within the first month and say how much they hate college and want to come home. It may feel terrible now, but it won’t always be that way. Get through this, take it day-by-day and 99 percent of the time, it will work out great.”
Culbertson said, “Campuses tend to have this misconception that you will be able to talk to other students and tell them your problems and that will be completely confidential. But, that’s not realistic. Know whom you’re sharing with. But if there are things you feel you need to process that are bigger, seek a professional. Don’t stay quiet and keep it to yourself, that’s the worst thing you can do.”