I’M a student, I’m stressed and I’m struggling to cope.
There is no doubt that coming to University was the best decision for me. My confidence in both myself and my ability has grown dramatically; yet not wanting to miss opportunities brings necessary stress in wanting to do well. I have already achieved more than I ever thought I could, but maintaining a healthy and positive mentality, for me, is a massive mountain to climb. However, does anyone actually ever reach the top?
It seems I’m not alone. University is often elevated into a time of continuous contentment, as the dream of ‘finding yourself’ and making friends for life is spun into the fabric of promotional materials, and consequently, the minds of applicants. Unfortunately, this experience isn’t unanimous, according to a 2015 NUS survey, 78 percent of UK students say they have experienced mental health problems in the last year.
Economic, work, academic and relationship worries has led to a YouGov survey finding that 6 in 10 students feel stress interferes with their daily life. This consumption of headspace often leads to more serious consequences. Just like in the real world, the number of students with mental health problems continues to rise, with an increasing demand on campus wellbeing services.
So, what causes students to suffer?
University is certainly a massive shock to the system. After moving in, and often succumbing to the alcoholic pressures of fresher’s week, students are left with a daunting independence. You’re in a new place, with new people, a new routine and a new course. Therefore instead of being a time of exploration, University life is more frequently a highly isolating experience.
The anxiety to make the most out of your time, fuelled by the weight of terrifying financial debt, acts as a catalyst of stress, leading students to take on more, with understandably very few being able to stay strong and carry the responsibility. This financial pressure has been identified by mental health charity Mind as the reason for the upsurge of 28 percent in student counselling referrals, coinciding with the rise and rise of tuition fees. With rising costs shifting students from academics to consumers, part time work becomes a necessity to continue in higher education. Again, this is another factor eating into the fear of failure, as shifts in work means less time available to indulge in studies, and sadly, get the most for your money.
As a journalism student, stress is intrinsically intertwined along the career path I wish to thrive in. The ability to adhere to deadlines and live with 24/7 schedules remains a requirement of the modern journalist, with many journalism students feeling the pressure to build their portfolio whilst gaining a good degree to be taken seriously when applying for jobs.
Nathan Salt, Editor of Quays News and BBC Sport online journalist, agreed: “In journalism, you try and take on so much; I just couldn’t find any balance. I put a lot of pressure on myself, maybe more than other people, because I really want to do well at uni, but it can become unhealthy to obsess.”
[pullquote]“I think stress is a big part of University for anyone, some people are just better at dealing with it than others. When you’re a workaholic, you don’t know how to take a break.”[/pullquote]
He added: “I think there isn’t enough help for students regarding stress, it’s often dismissed and not taken seriously.
“As a journalism student, you just say yes to everything, to get your face out there and experience writing and broadcasting. You’re putting more and more on your plate and you’re just never going to finish.”
I asked other students on Twitter for their experiences with stress and I was inundated with responses of how their mental health was affected.
Ella Guthrie, a former journalism student who graduated from University of Westminster, said: “Stress was such a massive hurdle for me, and is something I still struggle with. When I was going through a difficult time in my third year I made use of the counselling service available, which I have no problem admitting.”
She said: “I find that writing and creative work is quite personal so it’s very stressful to put your work out there when you’re unsure of the reception.”
Annelies Paris, a blogger and student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, offered some tips on how to reduce stress. She said: “To cope with stress, don’t be too proud to try yoga or some meditation, or just speaking to a tutor or family member. People are there to help and support you. Don’t be alone if you’re struggling.”
Are you stressed at University?
— Natalie (@quaysnat) December 7, 2016
As a stressed student, it’s encouraging to know that you’re not alone, and that others have managed to balance their commitments to reduce stress.
Alex Blakoe, Durham University graduate and now marketing manager at medtech start-up Jim Jam, offers reassurance that there is light at the end of the stressful tunnel.
He said: “If you want to do plenty, you have to be the kind of person that is able to keep a timetable and stick to it. Otherwise, cut down on your extra-curriculars and allow for some downtime spent hung over or just generally chilling. Nothing wrong with that provided you acknowledge your downtime, limit it, and spend some time prepping for classes.
“Now that I’m at work, I have a lot less wasted time. Sure, I have to do quite a bit of adulty stuff and personal admin, but thankfully I enjoy my work so any time I haven’t dedicated to specific activities I’ll be doing various minor tasks for work.”
Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, offer advice and support for all students becoming enveloped by a stressful university life. In March next year, they are continuing their University Mental Health Day initiative, to make more students aware of mental health and how they can help.
I am still learning how to balance my schedule, fitting in both work and play, and striving towards a routine that involves stress but prevents me from sinking. Stress can be productive and mental health problems are NOT a weakness. University goes so quickly and you are not a student forever. Don’t punish yourself for striving for your goals, but make sure your health and happiness always come first.
By Natalie Rees