BY ANTON LUCANUS
The college years are supposed to be the best of your life. They symbolize the peak of one’s education – and experimentation– as well as a time for making the best of friends, cultivating one’s personality, hobbies and interests, all while learning about the world independently, quite possibly for the first time ever.
But all too often, the college years are marked by stress, anxiety, deadlines, social pressures, experimentation with drugs and substances, and as a result – mental health issues. Anxiety and depression are on the rise among university students worldwide, but especially in the United States. Recent studies by the National Alliance on Mental Illness revealed that in the past 12 months over 11% of college students have been diagnosed or treated for anxiety, and, shockingly, more than 10% treated for depression. And it’s no wonder: rapidly rising study costs, increasingly competitive job markets, and even more competitive university admission processes, are putting more pressure on students than ever to succeed. No longer can students saunter into a first-class degree, drink and party their way through university, and land a secure job at the end of it all.
Students are struggling to cope with the academic pressures of university life in particular: with almost six in 10 university students citing this as the key cause of their anxiety, followed by feelings of isolation (44%), difficulty balancing work and study (37%), financial difficulties (36%) and the pressures of living independently (22%). Gender plays a serious part in it too, with females in particular struggling to cope with the demands of university with 91% claiming to be struggling with mental health issues compared to just over 80% of male students.
Clearing – the practice of applying for a course if you’re not holding an offer from a university or college, if that particular course still has places – is now a mainstream route into gaining a university place but has been linked to anxiety and feelings of isolation in students who choose to pursue this path, according to one article by The Guardian.
So, how should university students cope with growing academic, financial and social pressures experienced on campus and inside lecture halls?
For a start, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is seriously underrated. Herbal teas, high quality fats in the form of avocado and fish, warm milk and protein in the form of lean meats have all been linked to healthier bodies – and minds – and so it is important to ensure you are getting a balanced diet whenever possible. This will not only lighten your mood, but also possibly your bathroom scales, which can only ever be a good thing for one’s mental health, right?
This doesn’t mean sticking to a diet of fruit and veggies though – dark chocolate has been proven to have healing qualities in terms of stress reduction, and carbs have also been found to increase the body’s levels of serotonin, a chemical that can boost one’s mood and reduce stress.
Mindful movement is another way of reducing stress. A new Penn State University study reports that by combining meditation and exercise, the mental health benefits are much stronger. By being conscious of your mindfulness while focusing on another activity – exercise – people are able to become far more aware of their state, and practice meditation accordingly. Practicing this on a daily basis with have benefits on not only your state of mind, but also your physically overall health. So, sign up to a yoga class today – it will do you a world of good.
This is one that may appeal particularly to animal lovers, but pets have also been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety. While on-campus liability for pets was once an issue, the number of pet therapy programs available to universities worldwide today is staggering. Once college counsellors and administrators realized the untapped value of pets as a vital tool in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions and disorders, ‘pet therapy programs’ became a real thing, and today they can be seen in hospitals, care homes, and treatment centers as well as universities. Patients suffering emotional and behavioral disorders, depression, autism, substance abuse, and dementia can benefit from pet therapy, and so it is worth checking out your university student service center to see whether they offer a similar type of therapy.
This next one may be obvious, but don’t ever be afraid to turn to specialist university counselling services or a private specialist such as Naya Clinics. At university campuses right around the world, these dedicated teams work hard every day to provide advice and guidance to students experiencing anxiety and other mental health problems. Should students require more specialist care, including psychiatric services, these teams can even connect you to the appropriate providers to ensure you are looked after every step of the way.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, know that you’re not alone – you are one of the majority of university students feeling overwhelmed with the pressures of modern day student life. Laugh, learn, cry, talk, let it out. The worst possible thing you can do is bundle up your angst and feelings inside. Speak to your friends, first and foremost, as they too may be feeling similar pressures and knowing this may help you to realize you are not alone.
Byline – Anton Lucanus is the Director of Neliti. During his college years, he maintained a perfect GPA, was published in a top cancer journal, and received many of his country’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarships. Anton writes for The College Puzzle as a means to guide current students to achieve personal and academic goals.