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    College Stress 101

    Know when it's time to seek help and what to expect when you do.

    Jill DePasquale

    Leer en Español

    Fun and hijinks in the dorms. Get-to-know-you activities during orientation. Decorating the dorm room and exploring campus with your brand-new roomie. Late-night ice cream and pizza runs with your buddies. These are just some of the things you can look forward to as you launch into your college years. Those first few weeks on campus can be exhilarating, and many graduates claim their college years were some of the best of their lives.

    But lurking underneath all that fun are the common stresses of college life. So, what are some of these stressors? And what should a student do when faced with them? Six mental health professionals weigh in with advice and perspective on stress and the counseling services that are available on Christian college campuses.

    More Freedom. More Choices. More Stress.

    "Transitioning to the increasing independence that college offers can be a source of stress," says Cindy Kok, director of the Broene Counseling Center at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "That transition involves managing your own schedule, including sleep, leisure activities, study time, and social time."

    Rae Staton, campus counselor at Bluffton University in Bluffton, Ohio, says managing newfound freedom is a stress that comes with identity development during college. "Coming from their parents' home, where they likely had curfews and much closer monitoring, students now are completely free to come and go as they please," she says. "For the first time, students get to decide who they are and what rules they want to abide by. This transfers to their faith as well. In their first-year religion classes or in conversations with others, they'll hear things they likely didn't hear at their own churches, which will challenge their beliefs."

    According to Jim Koch, director of counseling services at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, another stressor is that college freshmen are inundated with numerous opportunities to get involved. "Everyone is being invited to join organizations like campus ministries, student government, intercollegiate or intramural athletics, dorm council, etc.," he says. "If you add working on or off campus in addition to a full load of classes, we're looking at a balancing act that produces a huge amount of stress."

    Of course, most students go to college to study and learn, which is yet another source of anxiety. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'I didn't study that much in high school. But this is hard,' " says Koch. "Students come [to college feeling] confident in their chosen major, encounter their first difficult class, and start questioning why they're here—and there are all sorts of ripple effects from that."

    Bettie Ann Brigham, vice president for student development at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, adds that there is an additional "high anxiety factor" for first-generation students—students who are the first in their families to attend college. "This population might suffer in silence if they're not noticed and reached out to through mentoring and relationships with resident life staff, faculty, and other staff," she says. "If this issue is not addressed, these students tend to drop out."

    All of this can be complicated by the fact that students aren't able to unload their worries with their usual circle of family and friends. "Homesickness may not sound so severe," Staton says, "but when every comfort they're used to turning to (e.g., petting the dog, talking to Mom, hanging out with a best friend) is no longer around, it leaves students feeling very vulnerable. There is no 'safe' person with whom to share their concerns."


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