Managing stress at the busiest time of the year
By Emma Marshall, Staff Writer
As the demands of university continue to heighten, students find themselves grappling with stress on multiple fronts as the semester comes to a close. From academic pressures to financial struggles, the path through post-secondary education can be challenging.
In the midst of exams, deadlines, and juggling other tasks like preparing for the upcoming holiday season, students are finding themselves on the brink of overwhelming stress.
“I can just feel it brewing up inside and it’s just this thought in the back of my head,” said Mia Smith, a third-year communications student at MRU. “It builds until I hit a breaking point, and I don’t see it coming because I haven’t had time to think about it.”
Smith’s experience is true for countless other students who find themselves falling behind with responsibilities. The pressure to excel academically, having to work because of financial needs, and even stressors with friends and family, all contribute to a silent battle within.
MRU professor and mental health researcher, Dan Devoe, recognizes stress as a multi-faceted challenge that is unique to every individual. He explains that stress, in moderation, is actually a good thing because it promotes work ethic.
“However, if stress goes too far, it can exhibit in many different ways. It could end up being depression or an actual anxiety disorder. And so you do want to come up with coping strategies before it becomes a full on psychiatric condition,” said Devoe.
Although there are resources available both on and off campus, the main coping strategies that students resort to tend to be maladaptive, or unhealthy. This includes excessive use of television or the internet, procrastination, and even substance abuse.
The professor acknowledges the risk behind this kind of coping, and emphasizes that it can be positive in helping students unwind, but should not be the only strategies being relied on.
“People are trying to get their mind off of it. You know, there’s lots of ways to do that. Including beer or cannabis and those sorts of things. So, I think a little bit of that stuff is okay, but then they can push it too far,” said Devoe.
Understanding the root of stress is crucial in developing effective coping mechanisms. Devoe identifies poor time management, unmet expectations, and financial strain as the primary stressors. He also explained that stress can manifest in physical ways, such as restlessness, a feeling of unease, and an inability to control body temperature.
If left untreated, this type of chronic stress can manifest into various other health issues, such as insomnia, eating disorders, panic disorders, and more.
The key to dealing with stress, it seems, lies in acknowledging this feeling and opening up to others about personal experiences with stress.
“I think talking about it is huge, even if it’s with your friend who’s in the same boat,” said third-year student Smith. “Every student has their own level of being overwhelmed and that just comes with being in university—why go about dealing with it by yourself?”
By having these conversations, students are able to relate to each other through their struggles. Establishing a support network of people who understand one another can be a healthy way to stop internalizing stress.
Universities can also play a pivotal role in supporting students by offering resources such as support groups and campus counseling services. Normalizing stress and providing the tools to cope not only fosters a healthier academic environment but also ensures that students are equipped to navigate the challenges of university life successfully.
“There are supports out there,” said Smith. “It’s just making them more noticed and available to everyone.”
Campus resources are ready and available to help students by spreading information and creating personalized plans for success. Mount Royal Counseling Services offer a variety of options for students to access, including sessions, resources, and opportunity to speak with the mental health nurses on campus. They accept walk-ins on weekdays from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. and appointments can be made online.
Additionally, MRU Early Support offers students a chance to speak with a professional about their academics, personal life, and struggles. The team creates tailored plans for success based on each student’s needs. A professor can refer students to early support, or students can refer themselves.
If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to one of MRU’s many student services, and remember to keep up the conversation about stress and mental health on campus.