When I started college and began to discover who I was and what I wanted to do with my life, I realized how overwhelming it is to accept growing up and entering the “real world.”
Soon I started wondering if I was really doing all right or if I just felt like I was. Should I be trying harder?Do my professors know who I am and am I participating enough? My major requires a 3.0 GPA and I have a 3.6. Should it be higher? Is my family really proud of me or are they just telling me that? Do I fit in here? Will I fit in when I get out of here? Will I get a job? Can I maintain my current job? Do I need more sleep or is school literally driving me crazy?
The answer is yes, it is. Slow down and take a breath. Stress rates are among the highest in young adults and college students, causing sleeping issues, changes in eating patterns, headaches, irritability, increased anger and recurring illness, along with an array of other symptoms that will ultimately affect your ability to succeed in school.
While stress is normal and — let’s face it — extremely common, the level of stress and the effect it has on one’s body can differ greatly and cause social problems, affect school and work performance and even lead to mental illness. According to a survey by college television station mtvU, four out of 10 college students report feeling stressed often, one out of five say they feel stressed most of the time, one out of four experience stress daily, and one in every 10 college students is so stressed he or she has suicidal thoughts.
The important thing is to do something about it. After all, we’re in college and unless you’re a final-semester senior with a kickass GPA, you’re not going anywhere for a while. So let’s try to enjoy these years and not spend every waking moment stuck in a book with coffee or energy drinks, thinking about whether or not we’ll be begging for extra credit because all those units didn’t sound “that bad” during registration. Take a break once in a while, seek someone to talk to if you need it and stop to smell the roses — if even for a moment.
As if stress isn’t detrimental enough, another extremely predominate issue faced by college students is depression. Sometimes caused by stress but often found to be hereditary or caused by chemical imbalances or drug use, depression may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, leading the sufferer to self-medicate or the illness to worsen. Depression often arises with similar symptoms as stress, with the addition of sadness or thoughts of hopelessness.
The most obvious signs of depression are persistent sadness, anxiety, irritability, feelings of emptiness, difficulty falling asleep or excessive sleeping, fatigue, mental restlessness, withdrawing from those closest to you and occasional thoughts of death or suicide. Depression can worsen quickly if untreated, but can be stabilized with medication. Substance abuse and heavy drinking, common among college students, can also cause depression or symptoms of depression.
The last thing any of us want is to feel hopeless and alone in the middle of a university of 35,000-plus students. Soon we’re comparing ourselves to everyone (as if we weren’t already) and wishing we stood out more, or feeling as if we might never make it out. Depression has been described as feeling like “being eaten alive from the inside out” — and I’m pretty sure college already feels that way.
Mental illness is more prevalent than a lot of people think, and the longer it goes untreated — no matter how insignificant the illness seems — the worse it can get. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of adults in the U.S. have a mental illness; and it is speculated that as many as 50 percent of Americans will develop some form of a mental illness in their lifetime. Therese Borchard of Psych Central reports on her blog, “World of Psychology,” that more than two-thirds of young people do not seek help for their mental health problems, and suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students ages 20 to 24 years old.
Whether you’re a little stressed from that sociology class that sounded easy on ratemyprofessor.com, you think you might have some depression issues or you have been diagnosed, the point is to seek help. San Diego State has a free facility available for all psychiatric services, as well as a helpful website deserving of more publicity around campus called ulifeline.org.
Take 10 minutes from your studies to complete the questionnaire to see if you might be suffering from more than just your average college stress, and utilize the help available if you need it. Nothing is so bad you should resort to taking your own life. Talk to someone, take a break, go for a walk, write in a journal or find something else that releases the mental buildup. Even the slightest stress can be unhealthy — do something about it now before it gets worse.
–Heather Mathis is a journalism junior