Student stress on the rise

Natalie Estrada

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According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America, anxiety-based disorders can interfere with your daily routine and often be debilitating. Photo Illustration by Tessie Navarro / Staff Photographer

Fernando Hernandez learned a lesson the hard way. After four years of struggling with high levels of stress and anxiety, the 22-year-old biology major said he now recognizes the importance of effective time management in order to avoid the physical and mental effects caused by these issues.

“I try to study and start assignments ahead of time, at least two weeks before, so I give myself enough time to learn the necessary concepts,” Hernandez said. “Doing things before they are due really helps with managing anxiety. I don’t like feeling stressed out.”

The senior said he has learned to manage his time much more efficiently now than when he was a freshman.  Improving his time management skills has greatly helped to reduce his stress levels.

“I remember during my freshman year, I would procrastinate and wait until this late minute to start studying for a test or to start working on an assignment,” Hernandez said. “Now I take the  time to understand what I need to learn and it has made a big difference.”

Hernandez is not alone. In the United States, 40 million adults suffer from an anxiety-based disorder, which can prove to be debilitating and interfere with their daily routines.

According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America, the feeling of anxiety and stress is normal to some degree.

“To a certain degree we all have anxiety; to a certain degree we all have depression; to a certain degree we have stress,” said Dr. Mark Stevens, director of University Counseling Services. “It’s just a matter of how chronic it is and to what extent it is impacting one’s ability to function.”

Stevens pointed out the amount of perceived stress has increased for college students over time.

“The perception of stress and the actual feeling of stress has had some impact on students’ overall well-being and sometimes to a degree that their ability to adequately do the things one needs to do as a college student,” Stevens said.

College students are impacted by a variety of stressors that can lead to emotional health issues, Stevens said.

“I think there are a variety of stressors—kind of, if you might call it—this ‘stress soup,’” Stevens said.  “For some the soup might have a little more family stress, for some a little more financial stress or a little more academic stress. For some students it might also be time management—for example—if someone has to work a whole bunch of hours to make ends meet.”

Hernandez agreed with the concept of the stress soup.

“I feel the creation of stress and anxiety are a mixture of responsibilities at work, responsibilities at school, financial responsibilities and also, responsibilities in terms of relationships,” Hernandez said.  “It’s a mixture of a lot of different things that we worry about and its important to learn how to manage them.”

As incoming freshmen, college students are faced with the stress of having to adjust to a new learning environment.  Some students worry about their ability to perform at a college level and acquiring the skills necessary to succeed as a college student, Stevens said.

He explained that another recent addition to this stress soup is the increase in social networking, which is causing face-to-face interaction to become less of a priority among students.

“Often times students are relying on social interactions through Facebook and texting,” Stevens said.  “Some research is suggesting that they don’t seem to be as satisfying as real-life conversations.

One way to ward off high levels of stress and anxiety is to have face-to-face conversations, rather than Facebook-to-Facebook conversations.”
CSUN offers a variety of services to help students manage anxiety and other emotional and mental health issues.

University 100: The Freshman Seminar is a college course offered to freshmen students at CSUN, which focuses on college success.

Issues related to stress and anxiety are discussed in this course said Dr. Cheryl Spector, director of academic first year experiences.

“We treat those topics (of stress and anxiety) both directly, in terms of how do you handle stress and indirectly, with our course’s substantial emphasis of time management and student autonomy or control,” Spector said. “Students in high school were controlled by others—parents, teachers, bells that ring and tell you to go to class—at the university students have to control themselves and take charge of their own success. The course, among other things, helps students understand a variety of strategies they can use to take control, to combat stress, and to prioritize time.”

Stevens said it is important for students to understand stress and anxiety are natural to some degree and it is key for students to know how to manage them.

“Stress cannot be eliminated, anxiety cannot be eliminated; that’s an unrealistic goal,” Stevens said. “The more realistic goal is to be able to manage your stress and to be able to manage your anxiety.”

He added that there are some well-known techniques and lifestyle choices that can help students manage their stress and anxiety.

These techniques include getting enough sleep, increasing exercise, maintaining a well-balanced diet and monitoring drug and alcohol intake.

“All of that (what one does to their body) can holistically impact one’s physical and mental health,” Stevens said.

Hernandez said a regular exercise routine has helped to combat high stress levels.

“Working out helps me a lot with managing my stress,” Hernandez said.  “You have to take care of yourself, you can’t just neglect your body.”

On a psychological level, Stevens said it is important to monitor one’s self-talk. He also notes that laughter is key to avoiding high levels of stress and anxiety.

“More positive (self-talk) tends to ward off stress and anxiety,” Stevens said.  “Laughing is a tremendous natural substance to ward off anxiety and depression. Laughing means you are enjoying yourself and also sends off some real nice chemicals in your body, that it likes.”

University Counseling Services provides CSUN students with free and confidential services to help them manage their stress and anxiety. They offer individual counseling, group counseling, psychiatry and various workshops.

They also recognize that each student is an individual with individual needs, Stevens said.  He said in some cases they refer students to various departments on-campus, which include the student health center, career center, student recreation center, and so on in order to meet their needs.

“We definitely use our colleagues throughout campus and we are quite often collaborating with them,”  Stevens said.

The Klotz Student Health Center offers alternative medical treatments, such as massage therapy and acupuncture at an affordable cost for students to help with stress management, said Sharon Aronoff, health educator of the Klotz Student Health Center.

“Stress manifests in many ways for each individual,” said Aronoff, noting the importance of providing an array of services for students.

“Counseling services can often times help students who over time have developed a pattern of feeling a lot of stress,” Stevens said. “You don’t need to be sick to come to counseling, you just need to feel stuck.”