Stress is one of the major challenges that students face in universities. Studies have found out that many institutions of higher education do not help students cope with stress thus increasing the prevalence f stress-related problems such as anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. The main reasons why universities do not connect with students in regard to coping with stress include inadequate resources, lack of proper guidelines on how to deal with stress among students, inadequate training, and poor learning environments that are not conducive for healthy lifestyles. In order to mitigate the problem, universities need to develop training programs to teach students about the various techniques they can use to manage stress. In addition, the need to end stigma against mental health issues, create environments that encourage students to talk about their problems to peers and counselors, and create a student-monitoring students to track the progress of students especially those with mental health issues.
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Numerous research studies have found out that a certain amount of stress is inevitable when students make a transition from high school to university. Students experience stress overload as they juggle their academic work with part-time jobs, financial constraints, high expectations from guardians, and great uncertainty in the labor market (Bataineh, 2013). There are many forms of stress experienced by students in universities. There is a certain amount of inevitable stress that helps students to work harder, stay focused, and persevere in the attainment of their academic goals (Thawabieh, 2012). On the other hand, there is a form of stress that is debilitating and that cripples students thus making them lose focus, become hopeless and helpless, develop depression, and engage in destructive behavior such as alcohol and drug use (Bayram & Bilgel, 2008). Many universities have numerous resources that include wellness centers, counseling centers, and support groups to help students cope with stress (Papadopoulos & Ali, 2013). However, incidences of stress-related complications are on the rise. Universities fail to help students cope with stress because of inadequate resources, lack of proper guidelines to identify students in most need of help, poor learning environments, and inadequate knowledge and training.
Stress among university students
After joining university, many students become stressed because of their inability to develop the skills necessary to balance academic and social responsibilities, deal with the numerous academic demands, and make transition from dependence to independence (Race to Nowhere, 2010). Higher education is very demanding because of its high expectations and standards that subject students to heightened levels of stress that in many cases affect their academic performance negatively (Bataineh, 2013). Symptoms and signs of high stress levels in students include tension, anxiety, frequent headaches, absenteeism, difficulty concentrating, increased agitation, irregular sleeping habits, and increased worrying (Bayram & Bilgel, 2008). Universities create resources such as wellness centers and counseling programs to help students cope with stress. However, they fail to connect with learners who continue to suffer the detrimental effects of stress.
Research has revealed that many universities have scarce resources with regard to handling the high numbers of students who need help with regard to coping with stress. Counselors in universities are overwhelmed because of the high number of students that seek help (Coughlan, 2015). In that regard, counselors are usually exhausted and as a result fail to offer quality services. On the other hand, many students who are in most need of help fail to receive attention and continue to suffer silently. The most common outcomes of excessive stress in universities are depression and related disorders such as anxiety that affect the performance of students (Bataineh, 2013). Moreover, many students fail to seek help because of the fear of discrimination and ridicule from fellow students.
In many universities, seeking help for mental health-related issues is seen as a form of weakness and lack of emotional toughness. In that regard, many stressed students shy away from seeking help. Studies have shown that demand for counseling services has been on the rise as university life becomes more complex and demanding (Coughlan, 2015). This rapid increase in demand for professional help has overwhelmed universities and rendered their resources inadequate. This problem has emanated from lack of transparency and honesty by universities regarding the scope of the problem. The problem of stress among students is more severe that many universities would want to admit because of the fear that they will be accused of being negligent and abdicating their responsibilities of improving students’ welfare and wellbeing (Coughlan, 2015). In the United Kingdom, this problem has been on the rise. For example, a report released by the Higher Education Funding Council of England revealed that certain institutions are experiencing a 50% increased in demand for counseling services every year. Many universities are unable to keep up with this rapid rise in demand.
Lack of proper guidelines
Students become depressed because of many reasons such as relationships, homesickness, competition, environment, social stressors, lifestyle changes, and academic demands (Hamaideh, 2011). There is a certain level of stress that is inevitable in university. Many students are unable to differentiate between necessary and unnecessary stress. Studies have established that students want help with more serious problems such as anxiety, depression, worry, and learning challenges (Howard, 2014). Many universities have not established guidelines to enable counselors identify students who are in most need of help (Hamaideh, 2011). As a result, students who experience serious problems continue to suffer while those with minor problems get all the attention. This phenomenon has led to a rapid increase in the number of individuals in need of help. Higher education has become more expensive while the prospects of getting a job after graduating have decreased significantly (Papadopoulos & Ali, 2013).
Students are not sure whether spending a lot of money for higher education is worth the struggle and as a result deal with such frustrations and confusions on their own. On the other hand, there is a very pervasive myth that university students should have lots of fun and enjoy themselves. Many students waste their time partying and engaging in unnecessary extracurricular activities that eat away time that they could spend studying (Race to Nowhere, 2010). They perform poorly in exams and develop stress that affects their physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing (Hamaideh, 2011). In addition, this myth compels them to turn their social lives into platforms for showoff rather than platforms for relaxation, interaction, and learning. Universities have also failed to offer guidelines to instructors, counselors, and other staff members on the proper avenues of supporting students with mental health problems (Howard, 2014).
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Provision of inadequate knowledge and training
Students find it difficult to make a transition from high school life to university life. University life comes with higher academic, financial, emotional and academic expectations that many students cannot cope with (Howard, 2014). On the other hand, universities do not give freshmen adequate training that is necessary for effective transition into the new life. Many students start higher education life with little knowledge and few skills on how to cope with stress and live a healthy lifestyle that supports optimal performance and productivity (Hamaideh, 2011). Studies have shown that activities such as relaxation, physical exercise, meditation, and yoga play an important role in stress alleviation (Landow, 2006).
However, many universities do not dedicate time and resources to teach students some techniques that can help them to cope with stress effectively. Joining university is a critical moment in life because it is a period of transition from childhood to adulthood. The stresses associated with the transition can overwhelm many students who lack the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with them. Another contributing factor is the role played by parents. Many parents are over protective and do not give their children an opportunity to handle stress (Richards-Gustafson, 2015). Shielding adolescents from stress and failure denies them the opportunity to learn and gain skills that are needed I adult life (Landow, 2006). S
tudents join university terrified and anxious because of the lack of skills on how to cope with stress. This situation is worsened by lack of adequate training from the administration teams of universities. Another cause of high stress levels among university students is competition for high grades (Howard, 2014). Many students leave high school to join university with high grades. However, competition among students who got high grades in high schools is stiff and a major cause of stress. Majority of new students expect to get high grades in order to feel confident and significant. However, they fail to realize that university education is very different from high school education because it requires a lot of time, patience, hard work, perseverance, and determination. These critical aspects of academic success require students to have certain qualities and skills that can be learned. The most important strategy for dealing with stress is learning how to manage it. Inability to manage stress compels students to try alternative lifestyles that are aimed at eliminating it altogether such as alcohol and drug use (Landow, 2006).
These techniques fail because instead of eliminating stress, they increase it. Another main cause of stress among university students is financial pressure. Over the last decade, the cost of education has increased and students find it difficult to handle the pressure of dealing with high student loans to finance their education (Richards-Gustafson, 2015). It is important for universities to teach students basics of finance management in order to instill in them personal finance skills that could aid in managing stress that emanates from financial pressure (Landow, 2006). Students need to realize that focusing on things that are out of their control is a source of unnecessary stress that can be easily managed by focusing only on things that are within their circles of influence.
Poor learning environments
The learning environments found in many universities are not conducive for learning and healthy lifestyles. In addition, they do not encourage students with difficulties to share them or seek help. Many universities find it difficult to offer assistance because troubled students are reluctant to disclose their problems and therefore suffer in silence (Landow, 2006). Students are expected to tackle numerous responsibilities daily without the knowledge of how to go about it. The learning environments in many institutions do not support a growth mindset that is important for academic prosperity. This growth mindset can be developed by creating programs and initiatives that teach students how to handle failure by learning from their mistakes and doing better the next time (Palmer & Puri, 2006).
On the other hand, many institutions do not have well developed support groups and networks to help students cope (Palmer & Puri, 2006). Another factor that characterizes university environments is stigmatization. There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues in universities and administrations have not done enough to create learning environments that eradicate it (Thawabieh, 2012). Discourses regarding conditions such as anxiety disorders and depression are very few. Many students do not feel comfortable seeking professional help for fear of ridicule from their peers (Palmer & Puri, 2006). As a result, universities are unable to help students who are in need. The rapid increase in incidences of problems such as depression, eating disorders, and anxiety is proof enough that universities are not doing enough to help students to cope with stress. Many institutions of higher education have not yet fully taken responsibility for the wellbeing of their students who are left to struggle and suffer on their own with little or no help.
There are several measures that universities can take or implement to help students cope with stress and anxiety. First, they should create training programs and workshops that teach students how to cope with stress, anxiety, and related problems. A coping program could teach students aspects of stress management such as meditation, social support, relaxation, physical exercise, and the importance of sleep and good nutrition (Palmer & Puri, 2006). Many students enrolled into universities lack the knowledge and skills that are necessary for effective stress management. Second, they can create environments that encourage students to talk about their problems and seek professional help. This can be achieved by conducting workshops and implementing awareness programs that teach about the importance of ending stigma against mental health problems as well as the importance of student wellbeing on academic performance (Palmer & Puri, 2006).
Students can only be healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically only if they know how to address their various needs. Third, universities can create more wellness and counseling centers to help students deal with anxiety issues. Students can visit these centers for professional guidance on how to deal with anxiety and other related conditions. Some students undergo pain and suffering because they do not know who to contact or where to seek help from. Fourth, universities should develop policies and anti-mental health stigma campaigns to encourage students to openly share their problems with their peers and counselors (Palmer & Puri, 2006). On the other hand, they should regularly monitor students especially those who are admitted with mental health issues. The complexities of university life require the development of certain qualities and skills that many students lack during admission.
One of the many challenges of joining university is the stress associated with making the transition from high school to an institution of higher learning. The demands of academic work, relationships, assimilation, and new lifestyles subject students to stress that in many cases leads to conditions such as anxiety and depression if not managed properly. Universities have failed to connect with students in regard to proper management of stress because of inadequate resources, lack of adequate knowledge and training, unclear guidelines regarding stress management, and poor learning environments. In addition, stigma against mental health discourages many students from talking about their challenges and seeking help. Studies have shown that in the past decade, stress-related problems have been on the rise in universities. Causes of stress include exams, high expectations from parents, uncertain job opportunities, social pressures, and financial constraints. The learning environments in universities are not conducive for healthy living hence the rising numbers of stress-related problems among students.
On the other hand, many universities are overwhelmed by the high numbers of students who seek help from the wellness and counseling centers. Due to scarce resources, available counselors and health professionals are unable to attend to the students. Poor stress management skills and knowledge due to lack of adequate training is another reason why universities have failed to help students cope with stress. Many students join universities without the necessary skills and knowledge need for effective stress management. The training they receive after admission is inadequate to help them cope and lead productive lives. In order to help mitigate this problem and deal with anxiety, universities should create wellness programs and awareness workshops to teach students how to manage stress. They should also implement policies that eradicate stigma against mental health issues.
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Coughlan, S. (2015). Rising Numbers of Stressed Students Seek Help. Web.
Hamaideh, S. (2011). Stressors and Reaction to Stressors among University Students. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 57(1), 69-80
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