Your Grades or Your Health: Why is This Generation of College Students More Stressed?

Stress on college campuses is usually seen as normal. It’s seen as something necessary, something that every student goes through. There are core values that we all strive for and we have been reminded of throughout our lives that we must always succeed and never give up. We are taught to be tough, relentless, and strong. While these are all good qualities to strive for, there needs to be a humanistic reminder set into students when starting school, that sometimes you can’t be the best, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make you worthless. Whether it’s pressure from families, yourself, or from other outside forces, it is never worth putting yourself through mental anguish. Sometimes, these expectations become unrealistic, even harmful, to our mental state. Why is it that this generation of college students is so stressed out?

I interviewed two juniors, Emma and Erik Raulinaitis from Ohio University to get their perspective and opinion on college stress. Both of them, who work as Resident assistants at OU, believe that our generation of students are definitely more stressed than others before us. They both pointed out how the pressure of financial problems, as well as academic expectations are the main causes of excessive stress in college students. Erik made a point of saying that, “College is less valued these days,” which shocked me at first, until he explained that going to college is just simply expected of our generation. It’s not seen as a luxury or a huge triumph, but rather a necessary thing to check off your list. There can be many factors that work into this. One is that college is different for us than it was for our parents. College is no longer something to brag about, but rather an affirmation you tell your family and people around you. It’s still an accomplishment, but not as big or highly-praised as it used to be. The scariest thing about college these days is that it is only the first step of the long road of a successful and prosperous career.

Many psychologists have also seen a shift in the expectations that students have for themselves. Suddenly, disappointments such as getting a B, turn into catastrophes. But are they really wrong to freak out? These days, the stakes have become higher and the weights on students’ shoulders are heavier. Emma, who hears this from her fellow students, says that many of her peers struggle with securing a job after college. In today’s age, a degree isn’t as easy to get as it used to be. And almost always, the degree is not enough; you must have a certain amount of experience, a certain kind of degree, and certain skills that employers are looking for. Additionally, while some generations before us were able to get the degree they wanted in 2–3 years, the average today is about 5–5 ½ years. Needless to say, the pressure is on.

This generation of college students looks at getting a college education much differently. Sometimes the pressures to attend elite schools or get exceptional grades doesn’t even come from parents actively overburdening their kids. Many times, it’s the students comparing themselves to their peers, siblings, or families and creating an image of themselves that they must strive for, no matter what.There is nothing wrong with wanting to strive for your best and want a good future, but once you have a future in your head that is set in stone, this creates little leeway if something gets messed up. Life does gets messy, and things are never going to work out exactly the way we want them to.

We are told that being stressed out and working and studying with no rest is a good thing. That the only way to get through college is to be completely ruthless with your studies — even if it means overlooking your mental health. This is often not even seen in the students, because part of this is to seem happy and self-assured and relaxed like all your peers, when many of us are struggling to handle it all. A survey at College Counseling Center found that more than 50% of their clients had “severe psychological problems” and that this has increased by 13% in just two years. Our generation is becoming the stressed-out-generation, and it’s not fair to ignore the mental problems so many people are facing.

Much of this stress is influenced by the way we’re seeing ourselves and the people around us. With the influx of social media, it’s becoming even easier to view the world around us, but this can become overwhelming at times. This doesn’t only mean changing the conversation once students enter college, it also means not giving unrealistic advice to high school students.

Self care Tips for how to handle stress in college:

  • Eat well, Drink a lot of water. Stay hydrated, if your body is happy your mind will be too. Just because you have a test coming up or a paper due tomorrow, doesn’t mean that’s an excuse for you not to eat or drink for hours.
  • Meditation. Do it on the bus, before bed, or just taking a walk, anywhere. All it’s doing is giving yourself a chance to lose yourself, and just do nothing and think about nothing in particular. Pausing your brain for a moment and refocusing on yourself can do wonders..
  • Find A Balance. Give yourself time to see your friends and family, this is crucial part of being a functioning human being. You need to see other people in order to
  • Set realistic end-goals. You can’t do everything all at once in the way you want. You need remind yourself you are a human being who is not perfect, and cannot achieve everything. Take baby steps and go from there. Small accomplishments will turn into big results.
  • Try therapy. Just try it. Many schools have free counseling centers where you can make an appointment or just walk in and ask to talk to someone. Basically everybody could benefit with some counseling, so there shouldn’t be a fear or stigma of it.
  • Know Your Limitations. An A, B, or even a C is by no means a reason for you to start hating yourself. It doesn’t matter what your parents say or how seemingly well your other peers are doing, it’s not worth losing your mind over. Or your health.

Originally published in The Vindicator’s April Issue