Stress In College: How To Preserve Your Mental Health As A College Student

College is nothing to take lightly. I mean come on, this entire website is dedicated to helping you make it through in one piece! School’s not always going to be easy, but it’ll be worth it.

Now, you’ve probably heard stories about college students pulling all-nighters, sustaining themselves on caffeine, and being generally sleep-deprived.

Please listen to me: this is not how college has to be. It can be avoided.

Barely sleeping and overworking yourself can be very dangerous. Yes, college is an important time in your life that should be taken seriously, but what’s the one thing that’s crucial to it all?

YOU.

Somehow, taking care of yourself is both the easiest and one of the most difficult parts of college. It’s pretty easy (and enjoyable) to decide to put one weekend aside every so often for recovering from school, life, and everything else you’re juggling. Knowing that you’ve got a day to yourself coming can make things seem less daunting.

The difficult part comes when students put their own well-being on the back burner and make their studies an absolute priority, pushing back recovery time farther and farther.

Now, you may be thinking, “What? She writes for this college site and she just told me to not worry about my studies? This doesn’t make sense!”

Let me clarify: make your studies a priority, not the priority. If you can barely hold yourself together, you’re not only hurting yourself but your grades will suffer, as well.

My point is that not taking care of yourself now can result in much bigger problems later. And I’m not just talking about being in a bad mood all day and not being able to stay awake through class.

Neglecting your mental health has the potential to result in anything from high anxiety to eating disorders to self-harm to depression.

Trust your gut. If it’s telling you something is wrong, listen. Only you can decide if and when you should seek help.

However, things are hardly as cut-and-dry as this. Sometimes they are, but more often than not it’ll take something big to get your attention and make you realize that you’re in trouble.

I speak from personal experience when I say that you may not notice the warning signs until you’re in a bad place…

This school year, I overloaded myself with a full honors course load, a part-time job, and so many extracurriculars it made my head spin. Plus, I had to drive over an hour to and from school each day, see to family obligations, and deal with various medical issues. All in all, I hardly got any sleep and was nearly always stressed about one thing or another.

A few months ago, I began experiencing symptoms of being constantly stressed out. Among them were headaches, strange changes in my moods, and (despite being only 21 years old) finding more than a few gray hairs while getting ready in the morning.

As time went on, I couldn’t go more than a week or two without being so exhausted and stressed-out I’d come home at night and just sob. Maybe it was my body’s way of relieving some of the tension. Either way, it scared me, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it. I mean, I needed to be doing everything I was involved in. One way or another, I felt that all of my commitments were helping my resume. In reality, they were only hurting me.

Two weeks ago, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. In the days before that, I was swinging between being apathetic and not caring about anything or anybody, and waking up depressed and hating myself and the world. Sometimes it would be all I could do not to cry for no reason at all.

Then one Saturday, it hit the fan.

I had been in a bad mood all day and I couldn’t explain it. That night, the knowledge that I had to go to school and deal with my countless responsibilities was too much. I started sobbing and couldn’t stop.

I couldn’t take it anymore. The stress was too much!

After I finally calmed down, I decided enough was enough. I couldn’t go on like that, two steps away from a nervous breakdown. It’s my senior year of college and I’ve come so far to have it fall away from me now.

The next day, I began resigning from responsibilities. I left nearly all of my projects except my classes and my job (and writing for “The College Helper”).

It was like a proverbial weight was lifted from my shoulders. Knowing I didn’t have countless responsibilities weighing down on me was indescribably liberating.

The point of this long, rambling story is that it is possible to push yourself too far in school. It seems like everyone’s got this idea of a college student being sleep-deprived and constantly stressed-out, as though it’s natural.

Believe me: It’s not.

Yes, a certain level of tension and loss of sleep is to be expected when you’re working toward earning a degree. But it shouldn’t interfere with other areas of your life, especially not your health.

If you feel as though you’ve got more stress than you can handle, sit down, relax for a minute and ask yourself:

  • Is the stress temporary or has it been going on a while?
  • Is it more than you can handle?
  • Who can you speak to (your parents, your best friend, a school counselor, anyone you trust) for some advice?
  • If so, is there anything that you can put on hold or drop from your to-do list (if this includes any classes you’re taking, speak to your parents or academic adviser before dropping from any of them)?

The bottom line is this (and I can’t stress it enough): your education may be important, but what good is it if you’re not around to get it done?

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Ana Koulouris

Ana Koulouris

Ana Koulouris is a senior at Benedictine University in Illinois pursuing a degree in writing and publishing. When she is not at work in the Office of Admissions or on the university's newspaper, she can be found writing short stories, reading anything and everything, and spending time with family and friends.