Academic stress is rising: Students define it and offer solutions

By The Spartan staff

ACCORDING to the American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in America report, 87 percent of college students report that their education is a significant source of stress, particularly the uncertainty around what’s to come.

The pandemic has just made things worse. Two-thirds of this age group say the last two years has made planning for the future feel “impossible.” A poll of college students around the country, which took place in fall 2020, found that the majority were concerned about what kinds of jobs they would be able to get after graduating, and many were considering switching majors in order to be more competitive in the job market.

In a survey of graduate students, 23 percent of humanities majors decided to change their career plans as a result of the pandemic.

Spartan reporter Autumn Miller reported in a story published April 28 that a 2020 survey done by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent). She wrote that today’s college students appear to be more agitated and nervous than they have ever been.  

Several students told Miller that they all suffer from anxiety daily. Some days are worse than others. But the anxiety is constantly there and never seems to go away.

Combine that with the stories of an all-star softball player from Pennsylvania and a track star from Wisconsin both committing suicide in the past few weeks and it’s a story that takes on additional relevance.

With that in mind, the staff of The Spartan fanned out on April 27 to interview students around campus. They were seeking answers to these three questions: How much of an issue is academic stress? Is it worse now in college? What are two or three personal things you like to do to cope with stress during the academic year?

Here’s what they found:

Late evening, Humanities and the dorms

Maddy Brown

Studying after dinner has become a norm for Maddy Brown. After finding her in Humanities, she said that, “Yes college is more stressful because we all have specific classes. They are no longer general for everyone.”

The best way for Brown to cool down from school is by watching Netflix.

On the other hand, first-year students Marly Kenawell and Brianna Endy both said that they don’t necessarily feel academic stress. As Endy says, “No to the academic stress, I just vibe.” What stresses them out more are the applications they must use for homework, Pearson and ALEKS being the most frustrating.

Marly Kenawell and Brianna Endy

Kenawell lives like a musical by singing and dancing her stress away.

Endy takes a more destructive approach and lives like a rage room by simply throwing stuff.

While each has different ways of dealing with stress, all three say that hanging out with friends is the best way for them to distress.

– Taryn Cook

Around campus

Dan Shea

Around the York College of Pennsylvania campus, there has been an undeniable uneasiness with a good portion of the student body. Most of this can be attributed to stress that comes from the proximity of the end of the semester. Go to any hot spot on campus and you will almost certainly hear at least one instance of a student talking about feeling bombarded with work. The amount of stress and worry in the air can bring up the topic of mental health, which is a touchy subject among college students.

Ben Dorsey

Two students I found were willing to address it. Freshman Dan Shea says “This time of year is filled with stress we put on ourselves so it is important that I make sure I’m not overloading my mind.” He says just reminding yourself that everything will work out is pivotal, no matter how small it seems. Freshman Ben Dorsey agrees, adding “I treat my mental health with the same care as my physical health.”

Chris Hulsart

Bookstore, afternoon

Kelsey Sheets

The bookstore featured its typical Wednesday afternoon workers with many completing homework while working the registers. 

Kelsey Sheets and Tas Irizarry, both workers at the bookstore, were two of the students present. Both students were asked about their views on academic stress, with consistent responses. 

When asked how much of an issue is academic stress? Is it worse now in college?

Both students responded that academic stress is way more pertinent in college. Irizarry says, “It is definitely worse now, many students are on their own for the first time and that adds to the stress.”. 

Says Sheets, “It’s worse now, because I am paying for it. I have to stress to get better grades now, because it isn’t free.”

Tas Irizarry

When asked what are two or three personal things you like to do to cope with stress during the academic year?

Sheets responds by saying, “I like to do activities that keep my mind off of the stress, sometimes this includes going home to decompress or working at my jobs.”.

“I like to take breaks while studying; sometimes I go on walks. Other times, I enjoy watching TV or playing games to kinda ‘turn off’ my brain.” says Irizarry.

Breanna Hoffner

West Campus, midafternoon

The courtyard between Richland and Brockie lays empty on this windy Wednesday, save for a few people returning to their dorms. The air is filled with palpable anxiety as the upperclassmen prepare themselves for their upcoming finals. 

Dan Cerullo

Daniel Cerullo, a senior sports management student, says that this time of year is always more stressful than any other.

“I think the last few weeks of the semester are more stressful because you have to deal with everything all at once,” Cerullo says. “Not only are you worried about your exams and projects, but you have to deal with the stress that comes with the move-out process and graduation, if you’re a senior.”

“Obviously college is stressful enough as is,” he goes on to say, “but it’s at a whole new level down the stretch.”

Alexander Lema, a senior engineering major, agrees with Cerullo’s statements. As an engineering major, Lema will walk during spring graduation, but still has a summer’s worth of classes to take before he’s officially done. 

Because of his major and workload, Lema has made work-life balance a priority. 

Alexander Lema

“When I get time to unwind, I try to get as far away from engineering as I can,” Lema says. “I like to watch YouTube or play soccer or play video games with my friends.” 

“It’s important to take time to yourself so you can alleviate some of the stress, but having hobbies is also important. You don’t want to become one-sided,” he adds. 

College is stressful for everyone, and you should use YCP’s mental health resources if you are feeling more stressed than normal.

Schoolwork is important, but your mental well-being takes precedent. 

Ben Weyman

Library

This afternoon, the library was bustling with students busy preparing for upcoming finals. Many small groups were studying together at tables. Others were focused on their studies alone in quiet areas.

Sophomore students Leah Gorman and Rachel Shum were chatting and studying together in a study room in the basement. As nursing majors, both students said that the issue of academic stress affects them more each year they are in the program.

Leah Gorman and Rachel Shum

When asked if her academic-related stress is higher now than in high school, Gorman replies, “I would say it is much more stressful in college than it was in high school.” Staying active is important to Gorman as she says, “The main way I deal with stress is by going to the gym.”

Besides going to the gym, Gorman says she also “tries to take breaks throughout the day by putting all my school stuff away and taking a little time to relax.”

Rachel Shum has a similar experience, sharing that “the academic school year is very stressful because you don’t want to fail a class that you are paying a lot of money to take.”

Shum agrees with Gorman in that “it is worse in college because professors expect you to study any free chance you get.” She says that she does things that she enjoys doing, like being active, to cope with stress like being active. “It is important to be resilient against stress because it plays a big part in mental health, which can also play a big part on your physical health,” Shum says.

Anna-Grace Rowland

Humanities Lounge/Starbucks, morning 

To a slow start on what seemed to be a cloudy day, a mood set to simmer into a gloomy afternoon. Supervisor Rachel Clark of Starbucks, with a few minutes of free time, was asked how much of an issue is academic stress? Is it worse now in college?

Rachel Clark

She says, “Last December I had a lot of stress and the last few semesters because of COVID, so on top of learning new material I also had to adapt to learning in a different way. Learning how to balance work and maintain schoolwork, with the stress of all of that it is really challenging.”

When COVID hit there was a spike in the decrease of mental health of students. Not only did it become more noticeable in the day-to-day life but when it really counted toward the finals and end of the semesters during those times. Stress levels skyrocketed, which left a lot of students with more problems than before.

“The first transition from high school to college was the initial shockwave; in high school there is a lot of time to do stuff in the classes where as in college you really don’t have that same time,” Clark says. “So, you have to take that extra step when creating classes.”

Clark was asked what are two or three personal things she likes to do to cope with stress during the academic year? “One the ways I cope with the stress from school is to move my body, being into yoga I allow space to myself,” she says. “Whether it be yoga, weightlifting, running or just going outside just giving your body the allowance to move and get that stress out. Another thing is to remind myself that one bad grade isn’t the end of the world, neither are two or three bad grades. There are people who are here to help you, so you aren’t in it alone; also being religious, I rely on God to help me get through the stress.”

Vaughntay Mcgraw

Johnson Dinning Hall, morning

Marlee Groft

While trying to find something to go with an omelet, Marlee Groft was also standing in line and was asked a few questions about mental health. When asked how much of an issue is academic stress and whether it’s worse in college, she replies, “I think academic stress is an issue. Students have a lot of stressors that are activated when in class with all of their different assignments.”

Another student, senior Drew Wright, says, “The level of stress comes in on what year you’re in, so right now being a senior, my stress levels are 8 out of 10. Being a little more stressful than what is used to be in my previous years at York. Worrying about real life it’s going to be a lot more stressful because you not a little kid no more.”

Overloading of homework can cause a student’s mental health to decrease drastically, especially with deadline approaching. So what are two or three personal things they like to do to cope with stress during the academic year? Says Groft, “To deal with my academic stress I plan out all my assignments and to make sure I have down time for my friends and family.”

Adds Wright, “Other than personal activities, getting good sleep, and exercise are good ways to help maintain my stress.”

Vaughntay Mcgraw

Humanities / Library, late afternoon

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, York College held a Mental Health Awareness Day for students on April 25. Students could register for a full day of activities like petting animals and panel discussions centered around refocusing the conversation on stress-induced mental illnesses that affect college students personally.

According to americanaddictioncenters.org, 88% of college students reported high levels of stress in their academic life. A majority of the stress can be linked to exams, major of choice, and financial hardship.

York College emphasizes the use of the resources on campus to help combat similar issues like anxiety and depression. Campus counselors are available by registered appointments.

But recognizing these kinds of issues and having the courage to get help may be a challenge for some and lead to students adopting their ways to cope with the intensity during the school year. I posed the following questions to these two students.

How much of an issue is academic stress? Is it worse now in college?

What are two or three personal things you like to do to cope with stress during the academic year?

Rayven Dickson, sophomore  public relations major:

“Academic stress is a serious issue, especially when in college. It’s a continuous loop of worrying about not performing well enough although you’re trying to do your absolute best. It’s a suffocating repetitive cycle that only beats you down without knowing when it will finally end because by the time the semester is over you realize just how little time you were able to spend having fun.”

Rayven Dickson

“Probably hanging out with my friends watching movies–cooking because I’m a chef if y’all didn’t know. And spending time with my family and my boyfriend.”

Sarah Goodman, sophomore, treasurer for Owning My Blackness Organization

“Academic stress is a major issue. On a scale of 1-10, I would honestly give it a 7 or 8. Maybe even higher at times. Academic stressors have always been my trigger for anxiety or depressive episodes. It is the one thing that I know without a doubt will have a negative effect on my day, mood, week, month, etc. I don’t think that what I have done and or learned in school has been beneficial to getting to where I am in life so far.

“Let me explain. The information I have ‘learned’ in school really has not made me who I am today. I could have learned all this information without the stress and pressure of getting and maintaining good grades [studying for tests, doing papers, doing homework]. All of that is meaningless to me and just a pile of busy work. None of it accurately depicts what has a quote on quote learned. It’s all just information I have memorized to get a good grade and regurgitate on paper just to forget moments after I hit submit or turn in my test to my professor. School and academic stress is the main problem in my life to the point that I am debating taking off a semester from school before my health continues to decline further to a point where I am unable to function at all without supervision or assistance.

Sarah Goodman

“For me, I would say it is about the same as it was in high school as it is for me in college. It’s a little bit more because there’s more at stake [thousands of dollars that have been used to pay for tuition, housing, books, etc]. It may be more pressure for say a first-generation college student to get good grades and graduate from college because no one else in their family has done it before. I don’t have that pressure because everyone in my family has gone to and graduated from college. So I don’t feel the pressure of ‘I have to do this or that because no one else has done it before, so I have to be the first one.’ But I do feel the pressures in the college like, well, I have to make my parents proud and everyone else finished college and got their degrees so I have to as well. But compared to high school and middle school, I still feel the same amount of academic stress as I did back then. I’ve always had a lot of academic stress and I don’t see it ever lessening – or at least not anytime soon.

“Usually, I like to watch movies with my friends and my roommates, and hang out with my brother. Try out new restaurants in the area, Um–do like self-care days, and also I like to go home on the weekends. “

Karisma Boyd

Dorms, Evening

Ashlee Maney and Morgan Benner are two senior roommates who made their voices heard on the topic. Both were very adamant on how they felt.

“Academic stress is probably my biggest stressor,” Benner says.

Maney adds that “balancing sorority responsibility and academic responsibility can get hectic.”

Morgan Benner
Ashley Maney

Maney is a nursing major and Benner is an early education major. Both are sisters of Sigma Delta Tau and are very active members of their chapter.

When extremely stressed, Maney enjoys a quiet moment alone while Benner enjoys working out and hanging out with friends.

Both girls are graduating this semester and are glad to trade the stress of college for the stress of working.

Zach Siegel

Johnson Dining hall, afternoon

Marina Foursevitch

Johnson Dining Hall was filled with students getting ready to sit down and enjoy a nice dinner in between classes.

Marina Foursevitch and Tate Miller were two of the students walking through. Both students say academic stress is an important issue that they are dealing with every day and that both of their stress levels went up ever since entering college.

“I never experienced academic stress in high school actually. For the most part, I just skated through high school without no worries,” Foursevitch says. “Now I feel completely overwhelmed all the time.”

Tate Miller

When asked what personal things they like to do to cope with stress during the academic year, both Foursevitch and Miller had similar but yet different answers.

They both like to wind down by hanging out with close friends and simply just relaxing.

“Anything that can get my mind off my classes for just even an hour is always great,” Miller says. “I also enjoy going playing baseball, even though I get stressed out about baseball, I still enjoy playing that to get my mind off of my academics” Miller adds.

Foursevitch agrees, saying that she also enjoys going out with her friends, especially to Murphs Study Hall.

“I love going to Murphs to get a few drinks with friends, it helps me to forget what’s going on in my classes.

“But I also love just hanging out at home with my friends and boyfriend, just simply watching a movie or having a game night.”

Autumn Miller

Campbell Hall, afternoon

With finals coming up and graduation around the corner for others, Campbell Hall was a passage for many students. With the days passing quickly the amount of work and worries for York College students begins to creep up. 

Matthew Rohrbaugh, a senior integrated marketing communications major, and Susie Martinez, a senior human services major with a Spanish minor, both commented on mental health in college. 

Matthew Rohrbaugh

Both shared similar answers to the question of how much of an issue is academic stress and whether it has gotten worse in college.

Says Rohrbaugh, “ Most students would agree that academic stress is a constant struggle throughout the school year. It is something I experience every semester.” 

Martinez answers the questions in terms of how it has changed during her years at college. “I would say that my academic stress is average,” she says. “When I first came to college I was definitely more stressed about the transition in terms of the workload and autonomy, but over time I was able to handle it by focusing on time management and prioritizing tasks.”

Susie Martinez

Rohrbaugh would later add to his response. “In my experience, my academic stress did increase from high school to college, he says. “The more specialized classes and lengthier assignments led to more anxiety.”

To understand how students cope with stress, both students were asked about personal things they like to do to cope with stress during the academic year. 

Says Rohrbaugh, “For me, I find that listening to music I enjoy while doing coursework lowers my anxiety levels. Also, I know when to take a break when I feel an impending burnout. Distracting myself for a couple minutes usually helps me collect myself, allowing me to put my best work out there.”

Martinez answers by describing her different ways of coping. “ Personally I like to relieve stress by going to the gym, relaxing with a good TV show and talking about what is stressing me out,” she says.

Ulices Samaniego

Soccer field

Taking a trip to the soccer field today in the early afternoon, I stopped a student on his way to class for a quick interview on his take on mental health. I asked Tyler Ratley, a freshman studying sports media, to share his feelings on mental health.

Tyler Ratley

“Academic stress as a teen is hard enough, and when you add college to it, it can bring a whole new meaning to stress,” he says. “Whether that means meeting new people or finding ways to get assignments in on time.”

He adds what he thinks you should do to help cope with stress and mental health.

“Some things I do to cope with stress is to make sure to take time out of your day to have you time. Doing activities that you love is one stress reliever to help cope. Some other stress relievers for me include taking a drive or listening to music.”   

I then went over near the Grumbacher later toward the early evening and talked to Jon Habermann, a senior in sports management and double majoring in mass communication. He was asked the same questions as Ratley and he says that he feels the same way.

Jon Habermann

“Academic stress can be an issue, psyching yourself out, and I do believe it is worse in college because it’s getting to the
point of being ready to go out into the real world,” he says.

When asked how he copes with his stress, he tells me, “I find my time to relax, even if it comes at the expense of pushing a project off for an hour or two. If you don’t take time to relax it’s only going to make things worse.”

Andrew Reever

ALSO READ: Why are we so anxious? Mental health concerns increasingly becoming an issue among students

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ALSO READ: April 25 is Mental Health Awareness Day on campus: Here’s what is planned

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