The Wellness Center recently held focus groups and conducted an online survey to better understand the major sources of stress in students lives. Students revealed how they know they are stressed, how they manage stress and what campus resources they use or know about for stress relief; also, students discussed barriers to accessing current campus resources and what new programs or activities they would find helpful in dealing with stress as a college student.
Major sources of students stress revolved around managing life and expectations. Students struggle with finding balance amidst school work, personal relationships and friendships, extracurricular activities, finances and planning for the future. They feel pressure and expectations from multiple sources, and feel the current culture of always doing and accomplishing contributes to feeling stressed out. Freshman students especially worry about if they are “doing college” right and making the right friendships.
Students talked about ways they know they are stressed out. They can physically feel the tension in their body, and feel anxious, nervous, restless and on edge. They have a hard time focusing, and completing daily tasks. Friends and relatives can usually tell they are stressed due to mood changes and irritability. Some students have a hard time sleeping yet at the same time feel exhausted.
So how are students currently coping with stress? Many students turn to exercise – going for walks, playing intramural sports and using the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex. They also use more meditative and spiritual-related practices such as breathing exercises, doing yoga or Pilates and attending the Last Chance Mass. Students turn to parents or other trusted friends who they can talk to and who can help put things into perspective; also, many utilize personal counseling and career development services on campus. Students say taking a break to hang out with friends, listen to music and making time for relaxing and fun activities helps manage stress. On campus, students enjoy the wellness center stress spas and chair massages, as well as the cookie Tuesdays in the library.
Being that students are so busy, this in itself is a barrier to accessing current programs or services geared toward stress management or education. Adding something else onto the schedule adds more stress for students. Students are looking for informal convenient ways to de-stress. Finances also are a factor in accessing stress-relieving resources such as fitness classes offered on campus. Students cited having to pay up front, or even pay at all, prevented them from attending yoga and other fitness offerings. Limited office hours of many resources on campus is also a challenge; it is often in the evenings that students struggle with stress and think to seek out help.
Students discussed new initiatives or programs that they and their peers might find helpful in managing stress levels. Many said it would be good to have earlier morning and later evening library hours on weekends. They also said to offer pay-by-the-class or free fitness classes. Students suggested offering chair massages more often and talked about how they enjoyed the pet therapy on the quad this spring. Having more vegetarian options and less expensive, healthier food options would benefit students as well. Also having a handbook or introductory class on “how to” use various campus resources would be helpful in navigating college life.
The student stress focus groups and survey were conducted as part of the Stress Health Advisory Council. For more information on the results contact the Wellness Center, (651) 962-6128.