Is stress all bad? Managing stress in university.

Stress and anxiety symptoms are common among university students all over the world, and impact on quality of life and academic performance. There’s just so much going on, the pressure to fit in, the pressure to achieve high academic results, the weight of social media and the digital age overall. Additionally, for lots of students, college is the first time living alone, or even living abroad in a very unfamiliar environment. For some students, the university may be the first time that they have ever been academically challenged. 

Stress and anxiety are a part of our lives. Some stress can actually be beneficial for us, as the right level of stress encourages us toward personal growth and professional development. However, feeling stressed and anxious for an extended period of time can become a burden or even cause health issues. We asked Dr. Bethany Butzer (Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Western Ontario, Canada; Author, Researcher, Psychology Professor at UNYP ) how students experiencing emotional distress can recognize when it is time to seek professional help. 

Dealing with stress and anxiety? UNYP Counseling Center is here to help!

 

Everyone deals with some level of stress from time to time. What signs make it clear that it’s time to get help?

It is true that all of us experience stress sometimes. In fact, some stressors can even be positive, such as moving to a different country or starting a new job that you enjoy. One clear sign that it's time to get help is when your stress begins to have a consistently negative impact on your ability to function in your day-to-day life. For example, if stress is causing you to fail several exams or quit your job, or is making you afraid to leave your house, then it is affecting your ability to function. Sometimes we all need to take a "mental health day," and sometimes we might not do as well as we wanted on an assignment, but if your stress is negatively impacting your functioning on a regular basis, then it's time to get help.

How can someone spot the differences between stress and anxiety?

Stress is generally considered to be a short-term reaction to a potentially threatening situation. Most of the stressors that we experience are relatively mild or temporary, like being nervous about a job interview or a medical exam. Some stressors are more intense, such as the death of a loved one or living through a natural disaster, but these stressors are generally tolerable as long as we have access to appropriate support. Our stress response is a natural part of being human, and when it functions properly, it helps us become focused and alert during potential danger, and in some cases, it even saves our lives. 

However, when we go through frequent, long-lasting or particularly strong stressors, such as physical abuse or living in poverty, we experience what’s known as toxic stress. When we experience continuous toxic stress, our bodies have difficulty regulating our stress response, which can have negative cumulative effects on physical and mental health over our entire lifetime.

Similar to toxic stress, anxiety tends to be a more long-lasting feeling that can be triggered by stress. At high, continuous levels that impact our ability to function, anxiety can also be considered to be a mental health disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists several types of anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. 

 

Why would you recommend our students, who are experiencing stress and anxiety to seek help at UNYP's counseling center? 

The UNYP counseling center is a fantastic resource that is available to students free of charge. I highly recommend that students engage in the therapeutic process now, while it is affordable, as opposed to waiting until they finish school (because therapy is expensive!). The counseling center is also an excellent resource for learning tips to cope with stress and anxiety - these tips and tools can be used throughout students' lives.

 

What can they expect when they reach out for help from a professional? 

Counselors use a variety of approaches during therapy, so there is not a "one size fits all" approach. However, students can generally expect the counselor to first explain the nature of the therapeutic relationship, including confidentiality. The therapeutic client is typically given time and space to describe their concerns, and the therapist often reflects these concerns back to the client, as a way to help the client come up with their own solutions to their problems. Some counselors will also recommend specific anxiety-reduction techniques to be used outside of the therapeutic session. In general, students can expect a non-judgmental approach that helps them voice their concerns and receive appropriate help/resources. 

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