Saturday, April 08, 2006

Yes, We Really Do Live In A Prozac Nation
By Lindsey Dow

About a year and a half ago, it was my freshman year (December 2004), which was my first experience of dealing with exam week. Bored and needing a break from studying, I remember checking my Buddy List on AOL Instant Messenger and catching a friend’s away message, which read:

Today we salute you -- stressed out college student during exam week. As you sit in your lonely cubicle in the library, doped up on Starbucks & Adderall, you think to yourself: ‘Am I ever going to need to know this stuff in life?’ The distractions are tempting and you have suddenly diagnosed yourself with ADD along with Advanced Delusionary Schizophrenia with Involuntary Narcissistic Rage. I'm sure by now you know exactly what everyone is doing because you have checked your buddy list 800 times. Summer break is just days away, and your Prozac prescription will be in tomorrow. So crack open an ice cold Bud Light after that last exam, because for most of us Christmas Break will be spent in rehab.

Reading this cracked me up, because it is a perfect description of college students today. Of the four primary sources of stress, listed by the University of Florida Counseling Center, I would say that social factors are the most common cause of stress for college students. Social factors refer to interpersonal (friends and romantic), work, financial and academic-related causes for stress. The first source is the "environment," which includes noise, pollution, traffic and crowding, and the weather. I would agree cause stress, but only temporarily.

In my opinion, the environment would be the least cause of long-term stress because each of the examples are not lasting. They are frustrating inconveniences that are solved once the incident is over. For example, crowdedness causes stress when one is trying to push through a group of people in order to reach their destination or find someone, but once one has pushed through the crowd of people and the goal is achieved, there is no longer a cause for stress. Once overcome, environmental stress will not affect a person a day later, or even an hour later. The same is true for all the other examples given for the first source of stress.

The second primary cause of stress is "physiological," which includes illness, injuries, hormonal fluctuations, and inadequate sleep or nutrition. I am not one to comment on the stress behind a serious illness, because I have never suffered anything more severe then the flu. Having never suffered a serious illness, I can only begin to imagine what suffering from one could do to a person’s health, both mentally and physically. I imagine that would cause more stress than any of the social factors listed. However, I assume that the majority of college students do not suffer from a serious illness. In terms of nutrition and poor sleeping habits, I have yet to meet a college student who does not have poor eating habits and get enough rest. That being said, most students still seem to manage well enough without proper nutrition and rest, which is why I would eliminate that as the most common cause of stress.

As for the third primary cause of stress, which is “your thoughts" - the way you think affects how you respond. Negative self-talk, catastrophizing, and perfectionism all contribute to increased stress,” I agree. The way one inwardly (mentally) approaches a situation has everything to do with the outward response to the given task at hand. However, I would say that the majority of adults, including college students, have at least one form of negative thinking pattern that is self-defeating. I also believe that most of the situations in which college students respond to is the last factor, according to the article, of the four primary sources of stress: “social stressors," which include financial problems, work demands, social events, and losing a loved one.”

The reason I believe that social stressors are the most common cause for college students feeling stressed out is because all four of those factors play a huge role in the average college student’s life. For most students, it is their first time living on their own and, as a result, experience a rude-awakening when learning to manage their money. Money goes fast for the average college student, given the high demand and opportunity to attend social events, which almost always involve spending money. Not having enough money limits a person in countless ways, from going out to dinner to being able to afford a cab when running late for class to be able to pay the cable bill. The average college student tends to spend more then he/she can afford, because, without a college degree, most students do not qualify for a high-paying salary. Not to mention, schoolwork. Schoolwork is often very demanding and hard to fit into one’s schedule between worrying about money, going to work to earn that little bit of extra cash and high demands to go out and attend social events, one can certainly be overwhelmed. One must wonder how these students are able to stay awake.

The take away message that I copied at the beginning of this commentary was accurate about the common abuse of Adderall. Adderall is a popular stimulant medication used and prescribed to help treat the symptoms of the ever over-diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, which is also known as ADD. Adderall is a controlled substance but has a high potential for abuse and dependency because one’s tolerance to the medication develops quickly. As a result, I know of many college students from all over the country who feel that Adderall is necessary in order to do well academically. We live in a Prozac Nation—have you ever seen that movie? I tend to agree that in looking for a quick-fix for every stressful or unpleasant feeling, our society ends up causing more stress then was there to begin with.
This Is Not Stress
By Kate Nichols

To be completely honest, I never actually feel stressed. What, you say? Never stressed? It is true. I am a full-time college student with a part-time job. I am swamped with hobbies that I thoroughly enjoy and surrounded by the sounds of a noisy city. I have meaningful relationships that require constant tending, and I carry around a day-planner with barely any space left to write. I also get a good night sleep no less than six days a week. I have healthy eating habits and a varying exercise regime. In fact, the only aspect of my life that might signal an excess of stress is my two-cups-of-coffee-a-day habit. Really, it’s just my love for the aroma of a perfectly roasted bean inside a tall cardboard cup. An enjoyable life with no stress: Euphoria? I think not.

All of my friends, classmates, acquaintances, and etcetera – all seem to be suffering from excess stress. They complain constantly, all wishing they weren’t so “stressed out.” They never have time to eat, never sleep until three a.m., and always turn in assignments milliseconds before they are due. Yet, I find it hard to sympathize when my schedule looks quite similar to theirs. My secret? It’s not stress until you name it so. Running across town to turn in a paper, tossing and turning about one thing or the other, grabbing a power bar to last for breakfast lunch and dinner – all things I have done. To me, it’s called a busy day, or a lot to do.

When you let all the factors consume you at once, that is when it becomes stress. No human can worry about twenty-seven different things and remain calm. In taking things one day at a time, you are able to accomplish each task separately, and sanely. Time management has a lot to do with combating the strains of everyday life. With ten things to do and only five minutes to do them, one can easily feel overwhelmed. But by assessing problems and responsibilities with a positive, open mind, so many burdens can be eliminated.

With so many different techniques to manage stress, it can be hard to select what you feel is the most suited for you. I say do whatever feels natural. If you have a ten-page paper due tomorrow and zero pages completed thus far, panic will automatically set in. You think - failure from class, anger from parents, and disappointment with oneself – before the title page is even constructed. So many students feel “stressed” before they even have a chance to figure out why. This is the moment where you need to find a natural solution. Whether it be a cup of tea, a twenty minute nap, or counting backwards from one hundred and seventeen – find something that will refresh you and remind you that it is only a paper, only an argument, only a deadline, only life. As humans, we waste so much time complaining about stress, feelings stressed and worrying about stress when we could be getting rid of whatever is bothering us in the first place. I am a college student and I am never stressed. What works for me might work for you, so, I say: one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. You are only stressed when you call it so.
The Best Years of Our Lives Are Also The Most Stressful
By Roland Trafton

Forget the Avian Bird Flu, as a college student there is a more serious problem that handicaps a student’s lifestyle and academics: stress. What with all the concerns of competition amongst fellow echo generation over achievers in the academic field, there is a pressing need to perform, and not just to perform, but to perform well. Also, leading contributors for college students include turbulent relationships that often follow the “adult sleep away camp” mentality of the institution. Perhaps a girlfriend or boyfriend has found the urge to go find other girlfriends or boyfriends. Also note, that a college student feels intense pressure to try and choose a career for them in the next four years.

But also realize, that stress is not always a bad thing. Particularly, for those Echos that might need that little extra push to keep them on track. In fact, some stress can be very therapeutic. If there was no stress at all, then life would be somewhat of a breeze, and incidentally, very boring.

If you are a student, look out for these sources of stress: It can often come from the environment, meaning noise pollution around you, traffic, large crowds, and even unfavorable weather. But don’t just look to your environment, look to yourself; some sources of stress can include poor sleep, poor nutrition, poor health, and even a poor state of emotional attachment. Yes, even your social life can lead to stress. It’s best to avoid the sources of stress before you start feeling the symptoms.

You’ll know you are starting to feel stressed when you experience a sickness, muscular tension, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, fatigue, headaches, or backaches. But don’t just look at what your body inside you is doing, also look at what is going on around you, the symptoms of stress also include: irritability towards others, depression, anger, mood swings, forgetfulness, or the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Now, this can sound very stressful just reading this, but fear not for there are ways to reverse these stressful feelings, a ‘cure’ if you will, that includes: Developing a balanced lifestyle, meaning, keep in good health including a proper diet, and a proper sleep pattern (this can prove to be quite complicated on the schedule of a college student, but it must be done.) Also elementary in developing a balanced lifestyle can be smart scheduling. Try not to “race the clock”, and keep a healthy, well-timed schedule that leads to a comfortable lifestyle.

If there is a problem, discuss it. Like a bad disease, stress can only get worse if it is not dealt with. Sometimes, our view as human beings can become very narrow in regard to the case of perspective. It is not weak to seek the advice of others, not just to seek advice, but sometimes it can be therapeutic in just venting out your problems and organizing them. If any of these techniques don’t help you, then try enrolling in some sort of course involving meditation or any other therapeutic element. But most of all, find some sort of purpose. Sitting in your room alone, for hours on end, is a major factor in depression. Aimlessness can bring one down, in ways that are far above the rest of the problems.

So if you are a college student feeling stressed, don’t simply ignore it. Like any other health problem, it usually gets worse when not treated. Being in college can often be the most stressful period of our lives; but don’t let it go untreated, do something so that you can stay on track and enjoy the best years of our lives. Relax.
Who Said It Would Be Easy?
By Joanna Palmer

College is hard. It’s not primarily the work. It’s not specifically the social scene. It’s not particularly being afraid of contracting a venereal disease. College is hard because a student is between being a child and becoming an adult. It’s a difficult balance between the two: A college student wants to stay up late and party like adults do, but still want to call home for money, mooch food from friends and cry over insignificant, isolated scenarios like children do. The one factor that remains constant from childhood to adulthood is stress. It may vary in the amount one retains and it may vary in what it is triggered by, but nonetheless, stress is always present in life.

As a child, one tends to become stressed by small, arbitrary events. Last picked at kickball, being caught picking your nose, having to learn the preamble to the Constitution; all of these events can cause stress to a child. When a person grows into an adult, he/she may assume that small infractions like these will no longer affect levels of stress. The University of Florida Counseling Center seems to think differently. One of their guidelines to reducing stress is to gain perspective of your problems by discussing them. This is true for a person at any age. My father always says, “This too shall pass.”

While irritating to hear, this statement is true. College students are wrapped in a slew of difficult choices and situations such as choosing the right major and career, taking the right steps to achieve their long term goals, and making safe choices that won’t come back to haunt them far into adulthood. However, with issues like social acceptance, pregnancy scares, peer pressure, exorbitant amounts of term papers and exams a student becomes overwhelmed and concerned primarily with the issues that affect them at the precise moment they are dealing with them. It becomes easy to forget what is to come in the future and how to deal with the issues that may arise later in life.

This is where the transition between child and adult becomes tricky. Although the student is dealing with adult issues, they manage them in a child like manner. This leads to child like reactions to stress. The Counseling Center names some of the symptoms of stress to be irritability, depression, anger, anxiety, mood swings, headaches and other physical ailments, and difficulty concentrating. All of these symptoms are reminiscent of an agitated child. It begs to question how college students are expected to manage their stress in an adult way, as the Counseling Center advises that they should: “Develop a balanced lifestyle“, “gain perspective by discussing problems” use relaxation techniques, “clarify your values and develop a sense of life meaning”.

Realizing that these are wise techniques to use in managing stress and going through with them calls for an extreme sense of maturity on the student’s part. While it is sound advice, the students also need to realize that dealing with such high levels of stress can reduce a college student to a feeling of childishness. They may feel as though their only option is to run home to their parents in search on solace. What the University of Florida’s team of counselors must understand is that these students must be taught that it is okay to have these feelings. They must grasp that stress is not something one can grow out of. Children experience it as well as adults, and at the juncture that they are at, a college student has every right and capability to experience stress in both ways: as a child and adult. They are dealing with issues that affect both sides of the spectrum. They are still living with immature people that act in childish ways such as starting rumors, badmouthing each other, and forming clicks. On the other hand, they are trying to balance work, studies, financial obligations, social prowess, and extracurricular endeavors.

Unless students are given the proper tools and information to appropriately differentiate between stress that “shall pass” and stress that includes factors that may affect the rest of their lives, they may be stuck inside their dorm rooms questioning whether it is worth it to come out. In addition to this, students must be taught that it is okay to allow childish issues cause stress, but that they must deal with the resulting stress in an adult way. Again, the balance between adulthood and childhood comes into fruition. Given a shove in the right direction, college students can make it on the adult side of the spectrum.
Your College Environment Could Really Make You Crazy
By Alexandra Smyth

Stress. It’s the archenemy of every college student. It lurks in dark corners, waiting for your weakest moments. Partied too late last night and now you’re cramming for your midterm at 5:00? Stress is right there with you! Is your roommate making huge messes and being unbearably noisy? Sounds like your roommate invited stress in to hang out with you! In all seriousness though, stress is a part of every college student’s life. It’s just a fact we’ve got to face. We’re living in a new environment with all sorts of contributing factors like massive amounts of school work, the temptation to party all the time, cafeteria food, living with roommates. It all adds up. It’s enough to make a person crazy! That’s why it’s so important for every college student to find techniques that help him or her to manage their stress.

So how do you manage stress? Well, first of all, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of being stressed. According to the University of Florida Counseling Center, there are four main sources of stress. These sources are: the environment, physiological sources, your thoughts, and social stressors. The University of Florida Counseling Center also lists a variety of symptoms that can be caused by these stressors, which include physiological symptoms, emotional symptoms, and cognitive symptoms. Some of the physiological symptoms include muscular tension, colds or other illnesses, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, and ulcers. Some of the emotional symptoms include irritability, depression, anger, mood swings, and feeling overwhelmed. The cognitive symptoms include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and unwanted thoughts. Do any of these sound familiar? If so, there’s probably a decent amount of stress in your life. Now it’s time to figure out how to manage your stress.

The University of Florida’s Counseling Center has several recommendations for ways to deal with stress. Their first recommendation is that college students try to live a balanced lifestyle. Seems like common sense, right? Well, for college students that’s not always the case. It seems like we’re being pulled in twenty different directions at one. For some students, the key to reducing stress may simply be to sit back and try to balance out all their activities, making sure that they’re getting enough sleep, food, relaxation time, and study time. Since stress affects everyone differently, this approach might not work for everyone. The next recommendation by the University of Florida Counseling Center is that students discuss the stress in their lives with an empathetic peer. For some people, simply verbalizing what is causing them stress may help them gain insight into how to deal with it or what to do about it. An empathetic peer might also have good insight into your problems. Another recommendation is that students practice relaxation techniques.

The University of Florida Counseling Center recommends that students take a course in relaxation techniques; though it a course is unavailable, they list several other options, such as setting aside 15 minutes a day to sit quietly, or going for a ten minute walk. Their final suggestion is that students clarify their values and find their life meaning. According to the University of Florida Counseling Center, many students find themselves stressed because they feel like they are directionless and without a life purpose. They suggest students focus on what they want out of life, and suggest that spirituality might help also. Of course, these are all suggestions, and not all of them will work for everybody. However, they are a start, and students can explore them and figure out what works best for them at reducing their levels of stress.

So, stress. It’s always going to be a part of college life. That’s just the way it is. Hate it all you want, it’s going to be there, waiting for you. Instead of freaking out about stress though, look into a way to deal with it. It’s much more productive than sitting in your underwear, eating Oreos instead of studying for that midterm in two hours.
Your Fond College Memories Will Likely Delete Those Stressful Days
By Ryan Trostle

In today’s society, stress is something that is implied. Everyone is going to have it and they are going to have to try and deal with it. Stress is not going to be cured anytime soon, and no matter what stage of your life you are in, stress will always be that little beast that is haunting you. Stress is developed from everything; your job, the kids, you family, pressures on doing better, even thinking about times to walk you dog. Most of the time these all can cause some severe stress. They don’t always have to though; I think a lot of it has to do with the way you perceive the issues at hand.

Most people think back about their college years as times of fun and games. Laughs were always accompanied with friends and grades seem to disappear when thinking back on this past. It seems to me that people always want to be somewhere in their past that they are not anymore. Do people forget about the tedious amounts of work that they used to have to do? While some of the issues are still the same, such as relationships, many have changed completely. Your college years are very stressful, no matter what you want to think later in life. The main issue is how you manage that stress. Even if that stress is in college or fifty years later.

The University of Florida Counseling Center released five guidelines that would help students manage their stress. Understand your role in stress reactions, develop a balanced life-style and effective personal organization, learn specific relaxation techniques, gain perspective on problems by discussing them, and clarify your values and develop a sense of spirituality. While these guidelines all some great, they never seem to really work. I know in my lifetime, I have heard each of these a thousand times. If we did a study about the average student that actually paid attention to these guidelines, I am sure we would find them to be far fewer than five percent of the student population.

While the Counseling Center also gives us a list of physical symptoms that you would feel when under stress, it once again resonates that same thing that we have all heard for the past 20 or so years. The facts are that the average student never gets the right balance of food, sleep, exercise, school, and recreation. So, they are never going to be as healthy as they were during the high school years. Moving out on your own can be a stressful but also exciting time. You can give the student all of the relaxation techniques that you want, but until they decide to manage their time better, nothing is really going to change.