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Stressed Out Students: Back-to-Class Can be Taxing for Many

Freshmen Especially May Struggle with Roommates, Temptations and Pressure

 To those who have been out of the classroom for years, college days might seem like a carefree stage of life—four years before the pressures of the “real world” begin.

But today’s college students have significant stressors and face immense pressure—social, financial and academic. In fact, research from the Associated Press and mtvU found that 85 percent of college students experience stress on a daily basis; about three-quarters of the 2,200 students polled said their stress was academic or grade-related. For a separate study, mtvU  partnered with the Jed Foundation, which found that more than half of college students had been, at times, so stressed that they couldn’t function.

As college students around the country head back to class this week, the stress college students face, coupled with new freedoms, temptations, and peer pressures regarding drugs, alcohol, gambling, and sex, is a recipe for a dangerous cocktail.

When we think about the stress and pressures college students face, it’s no wonder they often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. A freshman, especially, is dealing with being away from home, perhaps for the first time, homesickness for friends and family, possible roommate issues, academics that are more difficult than they’ve ever known, and the temptations that come with the freedom of being on their own.

College-age students often know the wheels are falling off as their drinking, promiscuity, study habits, class attendance and aberrant sleep and eating patterns are not what they want, but because of stress, temptation, lack of grounding and peer pressure, these things are now spiraling out of control. Students are then apprehensive to reach out for professional help from Student Health Services or to tell their parents or good friends because they are supposed to be independent, able to handle their own problems and having the time of their lives. They don’t want to look weak or like misfits or as if they are messing up this great opportunity in life.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk quick fixes campus life often provide usually worsen the problems as they enhance superficial living rather than help the student explore and grow in the deeper aspects of who they are and want to be. This is an important developmental time of transition, but it can also be a time when key support – such as parents, youth group leaders, close friends and family members are abruptly cut off as kids move away from home during this powerful part of their journey.

Parents, however, can gauge their college students’ stress levels by watching for certain signs that will be telling evidence that stress has gotten out of control.

According to the University of Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center, stressed-out students may exhibit physical symptoms such as muscular tension, colds or other illnesses, high blood pressure, indigestion, ulcers, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headaches and backaches. Emotional symptoms can also include depression, anger, fear, anxiety, mood swings and feeling overwhelmed. Stress can also have cognitive effects for college students, from forgetfulness to difficulty concentrating.

College students will try to push the stress away themselves, rather than talking to friends, parents or a counselor. Stress is the result of dealing with change, and self-medication is often a way to make the stress seemingly go away, at least short-term.

College students, for the first time in their lives, have more freedom than ever before and easier access to alcohol and drugs. After a week of feeling stressed out over classes, roommates or balancing a job and studies, it can be easy to find a weekend party where drugs and alcohol are prevalent—and it can be tempting to begin these bad habits as a way to cope with these new feelings of stress. But the stress eventually returns, and depression, drug use and drinking can form a vicious cycle, where one heavily contributes to the other.

Oftentimes help is available at school through Christian fellowship groups and connection to a church group, but many college-age students turn away from spirituality and God, thinking they are independent now and should be the master or lord of their own life, while not seeing or knowing the benefits of following the life-management instruction manual of our all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God and Jesus.

Those who are concerned about a college-aged child or fellow student should reach out for help through a trusted counseling or behavioral health specialist, a hospital, or their pastor. Rememberm the most effective help will incorporate God into the healing process, because without Him, no amount of rehab, treatment, counseling, or medication delivers lasting healing of the mind and transformation of your life.

karl-benzio-1Dr. Karl Benzio MD, Christian Psychiatrist, writer, speaker, media guest expert, social issue activist, and the founder and clinical director of Lighthouse Network. Benzio brings scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s storms. His experiences include teaching pastors, ministry leaders and students about counseling, leadership, parenting, marriage, and conflict resolution skills in traumatized areas like Uganda, Kenya and post-Hussein Iraq. He is currently a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council, the Pennsylvania Director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics, and serves on many other social policy task forces. His specialties include adolescents, addictions, decision-making and infusing spirituality into treatment. Benzio shares psycho-spiritual insights via his Stepping Stones daily devotional, on his one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” on 425 Christian radio stations and on iDisciple.org.

Email: KBenzio@LighthouseNetwork.org

Twitter: @drkarlb