National Mental Health Association

August 23, 2006 14:15 ET

This School Year, Don't Let Stress Get the Best of You

MEDIA ADVISORY--(Collegiate Presswire - August 23, 2006) - College can be a time of change and excitement, but for many students, this next step in life can be stressful and confusing. If you're a freshman, you may be away from home and familiar surroundings for the first time. For returning students, re-adjusting to the new school year after a long summer break can be challenging. If you're feeling stressed, you're not alone. In the last year, over 30 percent of college students were so stressed out that their school work suffered.(1) So whether you're new to campus or starting your senior year, here are some tips to help you settle in to the semester.

Carefully plan your day. Only three hours of class a day? It can be hard to budget your time to get assignments done, especially with added responsibilities such as jobs and extra-curricular activities. Study habits that may have worked in high school will most likely need to be adapted to fit the academic demands of college. Make time each week to prioritize your schoolwork and set realistic goals for yourself. If you feel stressed out, take a break and stretch, exercise or visit a friend.

Practice healthy living. Sleep, exercise and eating habits play a major role in your physical health and mental wellness. For instance, too many students wait until the last minute to study and sacrifice much needed sleep, which takes an immediate toll on their mood. A recent national survey found that people who got seven or more hours of sleep a night were more likely to report their mood as excellent, compared with those who only got six hours or less.(2) It's also no myth that people can gain weight during their freshman year. In fact, freshmen gain an average of four pounds in the first 12 weeks of school.(3) Excessive weight gain can affect your body image and self-esteem, as well as lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.(4) To stay healthy, check out your campus recreational center for a schedule of athletic activities you enjoy and your dorm cafeteria or student union for healthier dining options.

Avoid excessive drinking. You may think drinking is just part of the college experience. The reality is, most college students overestimate the amount other students drink.(5) If you're not into drinking or the party scene, campus life organizations offer plenty of alternative activities. These events-whether a dance party, cultural event, concert, or comedy night-will help you meet other students that share your interests. If you do decide to drink, know your limits, don't accept drinks from strangers, never drive or accept a ride from someone who has been drinking and stick with your friends.

Manage stress. Many college students are turning to unhealthy activities such as binge drinking or prescription drug use to cope with stress associated with homesickness, loneliness, constant deadlines, social pressures and family expectations, among other things. If you're stressed out, there are healthy steps you can take to feel better. Go for a walk, exercise, take up a hobby, participate in an extracurricular activity or talk to a friend.

Stay connected. Some students struggle with homesickness whether half an hour away from home or at school across the country. Keep in touch with your family and old friends, but make sure not to isolate yourself from making new friends at school. While socializing may come easier to some more than others, you can meet people by participating in extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs, or by joining study groups. Check your student union for a schedule of upcoming events and club meetings.

Communicate. Many freshmen have never had to share such a small space with someone before-let alone a perfect stranger! Living with another person can be challenging. Work through conflicts before they blow up. Regularly communicate with your roommate(s) and set rules for the room that you both can agree on. And remember, you don't have to be best friends.

Watch your spending. Many college students are on a tight budget. Fortunately, many restaurants, movie theaters and museums often offer student discounts. Be creative-it's possible to have fun without spending money. If you're having a hard time paying for school, visit your campus career center for help finding scholarships and managing your money wisely. And be careful with credit cards. It's easy to get into debt, so spend wisely and avoid impulse purchases.

Seek support from other people. This may be a roommate, a friend, your parents or your Resident Advisor if you live in a dorm. Sharing your feelings reduces isolation and keeps you from feeling alone. If you are constantly feeling overwhelmed, stressed or depressed, talk to someone at your student health center.

For more tips and tools to establish good mental health on campus, visit http://www.mpoweryouth.org/backtocampus/index.html. For mental health information and resources, contact your local Mental Health Association or the National Mental Health Association at www.nmha.org and 1-800-969-NMHA (6642).

(1) American College Health Association. American College Health Association - National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) Web Summary. Updated April 2006. Available at http://www.acha.org/projects_programs/ncha_sampledata.cfm. 2006.

(2) Better Sleep Council 2006 Consumer Survey.

(3) Levitsky DA, Halbmaier CA, Mrdjenovic G. The freshman weight gain: a model for the study of the epidemic of obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Nov;28(11):1435-42.

(4) Simon GE, Von Korff M, Saunders K, Miglioretti DL, Crane PK, van Belle G, Kessler R. Association Between Obesity and Psychiatric Disorders in the U.S. Adult Population. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63: 824-830.

(5) Borsari BB, Carey KB. Descriptive and injunctive norms in college drinking: A meta-analytic integration. J Stud Alcohol. 2003;64:331-341.

Contact Information

  • National Mental Health Association
    800-969-6642