Saturday, March 28, 2009

College Stress

The Campus Is Your Bubble. Not!
Attending college in New York City has its own additional stress factors

By Alexandra Gardell

It is a popular belief that college is supposed to be the time of one’s life. Parties, dorm life, mornings that start at the crack of 11 a.m. College students are often considered to have limited responsibilities; generally there are no bills to pay, no full time jobs to worry about, no children to raise.

Just the task of waking up, making an appearance at class, the occasional term paper to write or exam to study for. Tuition, meal plan, and room and board are typically taken care of at the beginning of the semester, not to be worried about until the next round.

The majority of my friends are living this stereotypical college experience, where the campus is your bubble. And although this may be reality for some, it is far from the truth for many, me included.

Attending college in Manhattan is a unique experience; there are countless opportunities to take part in internships, careers, and social activities that are not usually available to students in other parts of the country.

I know in my own experience as a young person attending Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, I have a full-time job, a full-time school schedule, and a part time job that I commute to out-of-state. I also have family, friend, and volunteerism commitments to tend to daily.

Marymount is known to use the tagline, “the city is your campus,” when recruiting new students, but I often find it difficult to find time to actually enjoy living in the city with such a hectic schedule and a vast array of commitments. Having so many opportunities and obligations makes it easy to bite off more than you can chew and to become overwhelmed.

According to the University of Florida Counseling Center (UFCC), there are four main sources of stress: The environment, physiological, your thoughts, and social stressors. The negative results of stress show up as physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. Students at Marymount and other institutions can relate to the issues that cause these negative feelings.

Specifically speaking about students attending college in New York City, there are unavoidable environmental stressors, including crowding, public transportation hassles, and a general sense of urgency in the air. Power walking through masses of people to catch the subway as you race from your full-time job to your night class is an experience unique to living in a large and fast- paced city.

Physiological stressors, which the UFCC describes as “illness, injuries, hormonal fluctuations, and inadequate sleep or nutrition,” seem to be synonymous with college life. Young people are notorious for their poor eating and sleeping habits, which are often the cause of bad health and affects their ever changing hormones.

The collegiate lifestyle does not help alleviate these symptoms, but rather enables them. Long nights, busy days, lack of funds and time for healthy meals help send students into downward health spirals.

It’s easy to freak out when students have to worry about things like holding onto scholarships and keeping grade point averages up. Students who do not live up to high standards set by themselves or others may tell themselves that they are not good enough or smart enough, which can cause unhealthy self-images, depression, and stress. None of which are good for mental stability and health.

Social stressors, like money issues, deadlines, and relationships are also high on the list for causes of student stress. For example, many students at Marymount live in apartments. Although this sounds glamorous, it also means that there are multiple bills to pay each month, including rent, utilities, and other services like cable and the Internet.

Normally it also means living with roommates, which in itself can lead to stress over issues such as cleaning, guests, personality clashes, and other power struggles. Costs associated with living in Manhattan are high, and in general, student incomes are low, so there is a constant feeling of anxiety about how to make ends meet.

The UFCC suggests that balance is key to a healthy and happy life. Stress in small increments keeps students on their toes. Having short-term goals, such as deadlines for papers, helps one stay focused. Too much stress, on the other hand, can be detrimental. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you are trying to juggle multiple responsibilities and wear many hats.

Students also need to schedule some “me-time” for themselves. The UFCC suggests regular exercise, meditating, and sharing one’s feelings with loved ones as examples of how to achieve a relaxed mind and body.

Even though I often feel swamped, I do not mind having a non-stop, jam-packed schedule. I actually believe in a way that once I enter what some refer to as the real world or life after college, I will lighten up.

My thinking is that school will be one less thing on my plate, as I am already accustomed to working, taking care of my own finances, and dealing with my own housing situation.

I suppose this is not the typical response to thinking about life after graduation, but hey, going to college in New York City is not the typical college experience either.

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