Saturday, April 08, 2006

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.

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