Student College Stress Is More Common Than You Think

Academics and finances are the two main causes of stress among college students, says Dennis Martell, Michigan State University student health expert. The National College Health Assessment, completed in 2018 at MSU, reported more students were affected by stress impacting their academics than any other factor, which was reported to have been a problem for 68% of students.  

“We've been doing it for 20 years,” Martell said. “We started asking students about stress a long time ago, and they would tell us that they're stressed, but you expect them to be stressed. It's a totally different experience to go to college. They’re dealing with finances and having to live on their own.”  

MSU senior Cara Clarizio, said her main causes of stress are exams, having to balance her schoolwork and preparing for life beyond college.  

“As much as I study for exams, I never feel like I am prepared and always feel like I should be studying more,” Clarizio said. Emily Bouck, MSU professor of special education and educational psychology, said stressors some students face include having to pay for their own education and struggling to get everything done with the amount of credits they take.

“With MSU’s block tuition, I also imagine it’s a push for students to take more credits, which adds more stress for them to try and balance the workload," Bouck said.

Bouck believes students should be taught time management and studying skills to help reduce their stress.

Jeff Beck, an associate professor at MSU’s School of Hospitality Business, said that along with students' stress of balancing work and school, teachers can bring stress based on the way they treat students sometimes as some teachers can be unreliable.

Beck says students should “act upon the things that need to be acted upon.”

“Don’t sit and fret about the exam, study for it. Don’t sit and fret about what your job is going to be, do the research and reach out and ask people questions,” he said.

“If you don’t shoot your shot, you can’t score,” Beck said. “Don’t be afraid to go knock on the professor’s door. Work out. Do activities that will help you relieve the stress.”

Clarizio said she wants to do well throughout the school year, but she is mostly stressed and struggles to eliminate it.  

Martell said, “Stress is a naturally occurring emotion that is necessary for life.” He says it propels us to do and think about things and is needed for life to proceed.

“It's when stress becomes anxiety — when you get anxious and that starts to affect the way you behave and the way you think and the way you act,” is when stress is detrimental to your health, Martell said.  

“Stress is natural, stress is good, but how you define stress is important,” Martell said. He advises students to seek help, despite the stigma of getting help on stress, anxiety, and depression.

“You have to remove stigma. Stress is normal. Stress is good. And stress can be bad if you want it to be. It really is that simple,” Martell said.  

Martell said if a student tells him they’re stressed, he advises them to not freak out but to identify what that means — what the factors are that are allowing them to be stressed and to own their emotions.

“Nothing makes you stressed out. Nobody makes you feel angry. You choose that. If there are 15 things that you have to get done, those 15 things aren’t stressing you out, you are stressing you out.” 

Martell says that although students may not know what to do, they can sort it out, and there are people who can help them sort it out.