Is It Stress or Something More?

You hear time and time again that stress is part of college life, but when does it become a more serious problem? In this blog, we’ll provide symptoms of stress and anxiety, lifestyle management tips, and solutions for when the problem becomes too much for you to handle on your own.


Stress is a natural reaction of the body, but it can be harmful if it becomes an overwhelming and chronic issue. Stress has a tremendously negative impact on the body over long periods of time, which can cause serious health concerns. The following symptoms are common indicators that you are feeling stressed.

  • Trouble concentrating: consistently being distracted by thoughts of the stressor
  • More worry than usual: thoughts of the stressor often accompanied by a racing heart
  • Missing classes: feeling overwhelmingly unmotivated, even enough to keep you from regular activity
  • Hard time remembering deadlines: often forgetting important pieces of information
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits: constantly thinking about a stressor that leads to a loss of appetite or sleep
  • Headaches, muscle aches, heartburn, nausea: persistent physical ailments
  • Less patience than usual: heightened irritability and potential lashing out at others
  • Avoiding activities previously enjoyed: feeling unfulfilled by activities that previously brought much happiness
  • Feeling overwhelmed: perceiving even menial tasks as an immense burden

To help improve your stress it is important to be conscious of how often you are experiencing these symptoms.

Causes of Stress in College Students

Another component to managing stress is learning your personal triggers and knowing how to avoid or manage them in a healthy way. Think through the following experiences you may be having, do any of them spark any stress symptoms just by reading them?

  • Being away from home
  • Workload
  • Finances
  • Relationships
  • Responsibilities of the future

Are there any triggers you can think of that are specific to your life? Although it may be a tough exercise, it is best to think through these experiences and identify major stressors in your life. This is a major step toward developing a plan to help you avoid becoming overwhelmed by the stress you regularly encounter.

Stress Management Tips

  • Nutrition

o   Maintaining a healthy diet provides your body the daily fuel it needs to function properly. You are much more likely to be tired, irritable, or simply unpleasant to be around if your nutrition is lacking. Try and maintain healthy eating habits by planning your meals out in advance. It’s no secret that eating healthy is a challenge for college kids since they’re always on the move, so planning your meals in advance will help keep healthy eating habits in check.

  • Sleep

o   Sleep deprivation is correlated with diminished cognitive function in college students. A young adult needs approximately seven to eight hours of sleep per night to maintain healthy brain function and to perform at the highest level.

  • Exercise

o   Working out helps ease the tension that builds throughout the course of the day and releases endorphins which make you feel better. Part of keeping a healthy mind is maintaining a healthy body. Try and exercise throughout the week in order to maintain proper cardiovascular health and keep your hormone levels in check.

  • Journal

o   Journaling helps to address and resolve emotional issues you may be experiencing. Writing down what is happening in your daily life may help you identify things that are bothering you or patterns of behavior that may be adversely affecting your life.

  • Support from family, friends, others

o   A strong support system is the most important stress management tool you can have. Having someone to turn to and confide in is one of the most helpful ways to manage stress.

When It’s More Than Stress

Although it may be difficult to discern when you’re in the midst of an emotional rollercoaster, it’s important to understand the mental challenges you’re facing so you can take appropriate steps to manage your symptoms.

Many people think of stress and anxiety as the same thing, but there are distinct differences between the two that you should know. Stress, as described above, can negatively impact your life, however in moderation, it can be a great source of motivation. I little bit of stress may help us get things done and avoid procrastination.  Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can also be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to danger and help us prepare and pay attention.

However, when anxiety or stress persists and impacts your quality of life, it’s time to seek help.  Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Sufferers of anxiety may experience symptoms of diarrhea, dry mouth, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, insomnia, irritability or anger, inability to concentrate, fear of being “crazy,” or feeling unreal and not in control of their actions (which is known as depersonalization).

Seeking professional help is the best option to combat persistent and overwhelming feelings of stress or anxiety because a professional can help pinpoint triggers, find the right treatment, and get you on the best path to effective management.

Is it the D-word?

Depression is more serious and long-lasting than stress and requires a different kind of help. Depression is characterized by relentless feelings of despondency and dejection, which severely affects how one thinks and feels. Signs and symptoms of depression can include the following:

o   Withdrawing from other people

o   Feeling sad and hopeless

o   Lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation

o   Trouble making decisions

o   Being restless, agitated and irritable

o   Eating more or less than usual

o   Sleeping more or less than usual

o   Trouble concentrating

o   Trouble with memory

o   Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty

o   Anger and rage

o   Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life

o   Trouble functioning in your class or in your personal life

o   Thoughts of suicide

As you’ll notice, some of the signs and symptoms of depression mimic those of stress. That’s why it’s important to be mindful of the symptoms and recognize when things start to get out of control.  If the stress lasts for an unusually long period of time or you can’t seem to get out from under feeling overwhelmed and alone, then it’s time to seek help.

Asking questions and seeking treatment is always the best way to figure out if your mental health is in check, even if you think it’s just stress. If you’re experiencing troubles, a professional can evaluate and determine whether it’s stress, depression or anxiety; identify causes; and help recommend the right treatment for you.

If you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression, contact YSS. We offer mental health counseling services and we can help find the right treatment for you. There’s no need for a doctor’s referral and you can be seen by one of our counselors within 24-48 hours of contacting us.  CALL 515-233-2250.