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Understanding Academic Stress in College

If you’re like most college students, you experience school-related stress. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. At manageable levels, it’s necessary and healthy because it keeps you motivated and pushes you to stay on track with studying and classwork. 

But when stress, worry, and anxiety start to overwhelm you, it makes it harder to focus and get things done. National studies of college students have repeatedly found that the biggest stumbling blocks to academic success are emotional health challenges including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Depression 

Many things can create stress in college. Maybe you’re on a scholarship and you need to maintain certain grades to stay eligible. Maybe you’re worried about the financial burden of college on your family. You may even be the first person in your family to attend college, and it can be a lot of pressure to carry the weight of those expectations.

Stress seems like it should be typical, so it’s easy to dismiss it. You may even get down on yourself because you feel like you should handle it better. But research shows that feeling overwhelming school-related stress actually reduces your motivation to do the work, impacts your overall academic achievement, and increases your odds of dropping out.

Stress can also cause health problems such as depression, poor sleep, substance abuse, and anxiety.

For all those reasons—and just because you deserve as much balance in your life as possible—it’s important to figure out if your stress is making things harder than they need to be, affecting your health, or getting in the way of your life.

Then you can get help and learn ways to reduce the impact of stress on your life. 

How Can You Tell If Your College Stress Is Unhealthy?

First identify what’s causing your stress.

  • Is it a particular class or type of work?
  • Is it an issue of time management and prioritization?
  • Do you have too much on your plate?
  • Is it due to family expectations or financial obligations?

Next think about how college stress affects you overall.

  • Does it prevent you from sleeping?
  • Does it make it take longer to do your work or paralyze you from even starting?
  • Does it cause you to feel anxious, unwell, or depressed?

If any of that feels familiar, it’s time to find support to ease your stress and help you feel better. Check out these tips to figure out the best support and approach for you. 

Signs You May Need Professional Support

It’s important to be able to recognize when stress starts to become all-encompassing, affecting your overall mental health and well-being. Here are some signs you might need to get help:

  • Insomnia or chronic trouble sleeping
  • Inability to motivate
  • Anxiety that results in physical symptoms such as hair loss, nail biting, or losing weight
  • Depression, which may manifest as not wanting to spend time with friends, making excuses, or sleeping excessively
  • Mood swings, such as bursting into tears or bouts of anger

Learn how to find professional mental health support at your school or elsewhere. 

If you need help right now, text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day, or text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.

If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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