Stress spikes on campus

by Barbara Platts / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2011

Every college student is familiar with the concept of juggling. We are constantly alternating between jobs, internships, classes, and social obligations, in hopes that each will land in the right hand at precisely the right time.

The New York Times published an article at the end of last month that exemplified the “emotional health” of students freshman in college. The report was based on “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” a survey that showed record high stress levels of college freshmen. This is the 25th year it has been conducted with more than 200,000 new college students questioned at four-year universities. Students who said their emotional health was average or below were at 48%, compared to 36% in 1985, stated the study.

The director of the Emerson’s counseling center, Cheryl Rosenthal, thought that the study had some merit to it due to the fact that there was a 25% increase in visitors to the center this fall. Rosenthal said the main reason people come in was because of stress.

“I do think there is some truth in the survey. Counseling centers across the country are experiencing more and more usage every year, and this year has been particularly busy for us at Emerson,” Rosenthal said in an email interview with the Beacon.

The center hired a temporary part-time counselor this semester and tried to address the increase by seeing as many students as possible.

The center tries to handle each student case one by one.

“At the moment, our initiatives are mostly on an individual basis, because that is how Emerson students typically prefer it.

 

We’d love to do groups with students, but scheduling it, as you can imagine, is really tough,” Rosenthal said.

The center also has a Facebook page where they post tips and information about stress.

Freshman marketing communication major Valeria Navarro is from Venezuela and said the culture in the United States is much faster paced than at home. Navarro said that, she had trouble keeping up with the pace when first arriving at Emerson.

“The first semester I couldn’t even breathe or have time to relax because of meetings and classes,” Navarro said. “It is definitely more fast paced here; people love to work.”

Journalism professor, Paul Niwa, credits some of the stress students feel today to the cost of living. He said that when he was in college his bills were much cheaper than they are for students today. He was able to be a full time student, work full time, and graduate with no debt.

“I don’t think anyone can say that today,” Niwa said. “Things have gotten so much more expensive.”

Niwa said he thinks another reason students are under more stress today is because the job market has forced them to be more practical. But he urged students to use college as a time to enjoy life.

“Students have the rest of their lives to be a slave to a company and to make personal sacrifices to their families,” Niwa said. “Four years in college should be a magical time.”

“The National College Health Assessment,” a study similar to “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” was conducted with 579 Emerson students by the American College Health Association last spring, according to Jane Powers, the director of the Center of Health and Wellness. This study was conducted at 139 colleges overall and included responses from 95, 712 college students. The numbers at Emerson closely resembled the ones published by the New York Times: 44.8% of students claimed “above average” stress levels and 11.7% said they experienced “tremendous stress.”

Sophomore marketing communication major, Stephanie Nardone, is a transfer from Rhode Island College. She said she thinks the atmosphere at Emerson is much more stressful than her previous school.

“Everyone here is so competitive and as passionate as the next person,” Nardone said.

Senior writing, literature and publishing major Anne Carroll knows a thing or two about handling anxiety at college; she’s juggling grad school applications class, and work. She thinks college is becoming more difficult for incoming freshman because of the competitive job market.

“The first thing people tell you is that you aren’t going to get a job,” she said. “You always want to say ‘do what you love,’ but in this day and age it’s hard, so that can be stressful.”

Caroll is a certified yoga instructor who thinks the practice is a great way to reduce stress, particularly during hectic times.

"When your body is responding to stress, it doesn't know if it is a physical or mental threat; it will react the same if you are about to get hit by a car or if you have a big test you have to study for," Carroll said. "Yoga is good because it de-stresses the body and calms the mind."

Carroll teaches two yoga classes a week at the fitness center. She said a lot of people come into her sessions to get a break from their ordinary schedule.

"I get a lot of feedback that people are less stressed once they are done with the class," Carroll said. "Most students come in to find a window when they aren't on the go."

Ronald Smithers, the general manager of the fitness center, said exercise is a great way to calm down because it releases endorphins.

“Endorphins, which are ‘feel good’ hormones, are released and they help to reduce cortisol which is a stress hormone,” Smithers said. “Exercise also helps to take your mind off what is stressing you out because most forms of exercise take some focus in order to perform the proper technique.”

Rosenthal agreed that exercise is important, but also said communicating can help keep stress levels lower.

“Stay connected to other people, talk about how you’re doing, do something to help someone else,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal also said it is important for students to know they are supported in the Emerson community.

“Come see us in the counseling center, know that there are a ton of people at Emerson who are here to help and are rooting for you: student affairs staff, faculty, etc,” Rosenthal said.