Stress. Ask any student if they’ve experienced it, and the answer will most likely be a resounding yes.
Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances,” stress is prevalent affliction students can oftentimes fall susceptible to – especially if they aren’t yet equipped to cope with it, said Talia Singer, a mental health counsellor for Yorkville University and Toronto Film School.
“Stress is a very common human experience. It’s in our DNA, and it’s borne out of the idea of protection, so when we feel that we’re in danger, our body responds in a very specific way: our heart starts to beat really quickly, and our breathing starts to increase,” she said.
“Stress is a really common issue in college and university students because we’re dealing with so much: finances, academics, our family relationships, and friends outside of school. So, it’s probably the number one issue that we all deal with.”
In fact, according to the most recent National College Health Assessment, more than 60 per cent of Ontario post-secondary students surveyed in 2016 reported having experienced stress levels ranging from ‘more than average’ to ‘tremendous’.
A further 89.2 per cent of the more than 25,000 students surveyed reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do, 65.4 per cent said they’d felt “overwhelming anxiety” in the past 12 months, and 42.9 per cent cited stress as a factor that negatively impacted their academic performance.
In honour of National Stress Awareness Day on April 16, Singer sat down with Toronto Film School Student Advisor Zac Schraeder to answer some of students’ most commonly Googled questions about stress.
- How common is it for college and university students to struggle with stress-related mental health issues?
Singer: Stress is a really common issue for people in general. In fact, most of us feel stress on the daily. The question is: how often does the stress remain at a high level and interfere with our day-to-day lives? We looked up some statistics around this, and probably three-quarters of college and university students experience stress on a regular basis, but when it becomes problematic – meaning when the stress is starting to interfere with your daily life – that’s when it’s time to get it addressed.
- What are some tips or coping mechanisms students can use for managing stress and anxiety while studying?
Schraeder: For me, studying involves knowing who you are. Some people do better studying with people; some people like to study more physically; some people like really ordered, organized environments in which to study…so knowing how you study is important so it’s effective. It also means eating healthy, being active so that your brain is ready to absorb all the information, and sleep. Sleep is so important, which is something not a lot of students get. There are also tons of resources available at school, like student services and counselling. Sometimes it seems like there’s a lot of stuff to do, but talking to someone and breaking it down into smaller parts really does help.
- What unique challenges do international students face in coping with school-related stress?
Schraeder: For international students, I think that school-related stress is compounded by being new in a new culture and a new country. Family and friends aren’t always around. We have students from all over the world and from different time zones…so it’s hard for students to have that support system around. International students often deal with isolation, culture shock, not knowing the language if English isn’t their first language, and that really impacts how well they do and the stress they feel. So, it’s important for international students to make friends with other people and be social.
- Is stress a mental health issue?
Singer: That’s a good question…Knowing that we all have these stressful events in our lives that we’re usually capable of dealing with, when does it become unmanageable?… If you notice that you’re starting to really retreat from other people and isolate yourself, to stop doing the things that you normally like to do, and don’t quite feel like yourself – that’s a warning sign that perhaps you should be talking to someone. Also, disruption in your sleep, disruption in your appetite, where you’re just starting to feel a bit hollow, and you’re wondering if there’s something up – yep, there’s probably something up, and it wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone.
- Where can students go for help if they need assistance in managing their stress?
Schraeder: Here at Toronto Film School and Yorkville University, there’s counselling that’s free and confidential… You can talk about whatever you want. A lot of students think that counselling is only for academic stuff, but it’s for anything. Because really, how you do outside of school, how you’re feeling outside of school, that impacts how well you do inside of school. So, counselling’s a good one. Talking to your teachers…is really good. They can help you kind of figure things out, maybe talk to you on your level. There’s also peer mentoring, there’s tutoring – schools have lots of resources to help, you just have to say something.
Singer: We also do referrals out to the community. If you need a family doctor for some reason, if you need a letter for academic accommodations, if you need help with getting legal advice, if you need help with housing and you need to find shelter – there are so many different ways in which student services and counselling can be helpful. So, don’t be shy and reach out…Just making the appointment with student services or with a counsellor is already a step in the right direction to doing something about it.
Toronto Film School and Yorkville University students wishing to book an appointment with a counsellor can do so at tfs.janeapp.com