Picture this: you have been up all night studying for a Biology exam that is tomorrow at 9 a.m. After class you have to jet off to your internship all day before heading to your sorority philanthropy event later that evening. When did you have time to sleep? Have you been able to sit down and eat healthy meals throughout the day or were you grabbing a snack here and there? On a scale from 0-10, how high is your stress level right now?
Even as adults, it is hard to juggle work, family, friends and self-care. Which is why being a young adult in college is even more challenging. College students are new to the whole #adulting thing and for good reason– they literally just graduated high school, left their friends and family and are out on their own for the very first time. It is no wonder that their mental health can suffer during this pivotal time in their life. To dive deeper into some of the most common ways college can impact students’ mental health, I chatted with colleague, Kelsey Ryan who currently works at the University of Memphis. Here is what we came up with:
1. Lack of time management skills. Today, college students’ stress is at an all time high. They overload their schedules with classes, internships, part-time jobs to help pay for school, and join on-campus student organizations to beef up their resumes and meet new friends. This means their physical and mental wellness both take a huge hit. They fall into a vicious cycle of being so stressed that they do not get enough sleep, which then causes their grades to slip, which in return brings on even more stress and anxiety. They put so much pressure on themselves to succeed and juggle so many responsibilities, but lack the time and stress management skills to find a healthy balance in their lives.
2. Barriers to support and resources. What happens when things do get to a breaking point and they realize the stress, anxiety or depression is no longer manageable? Unfortunately, many college students are unsure of where to even begin to find the community resources available to them. Yes, colleges and universities offer individual and group counseling sessions at their counseling centers on campus. However, oftentimes they are booked out for several weeks and only offer a few sessions for free. Not to mention there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health and seeking support from a professional. The shame students feel about their mental health struggles often prevents them from reaching out for support when it first becomes a concern.
3. Searching for their identity in a new environment. College is a time for figuring out who you are and want to be as a person. College students get dropped off at their dorm and within minutes realize they have more independence than they know what to do with. This leads to experimenting with their values, morals, and beliefs. They may choose to engage in substance use or further explore their sexuality. For this reason, college students should look at their wellness from a holistic perspective. To remember that not only is their mental and physical health important, but all areas of their life including social, spirtual and even financial.
If you or a loved one is a college student struggling with mental health concerns such as overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression, here are a few ways to help navigate this challenging time:
- Learn and practice time management skills
- Implement stress management and healthy coping skills that do not involve drugs or alcohol
- Prioritize self-care and physical wellness such as sleep hygiene, exercise and healthy eating habits
- Maintain a healthy support system made up of friends and family
- Reach out to a mental health professional when extra support is needed
Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.