College Connect: Stress Can Hinder College Students’ Performance

Posted By Crystal Beasley

By Andrew Fisher

College tends to inflict a great deal of stress onto students, but many people do not understand the extent of it.   High levels of stress hinder learning, memory, immune function and more.  Being able to acknowledge stress can help students get a head start on managing it.

Most college students must learn how to live on their own for the first time in their lives, a process that entails planning their schedule, managing their schoolwork and learning to handle money to cover expenses. This occurs against the backdrop of meeting new people and developing new friends and relationships groups, all while struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This is no easy task for an 18-year-old.

“College did not come naturally to me.  I made several slipups my freshman year, and it was very stressful,” said Jake Gussin, a senior risk management major at the University of Georgia. “After a while, I finally realized that I needed to make some changes in my life and I haven’t looked back.”

Gussin has worked 15 to 20-hour weeks while maintaining a full class load for the last three semesters.  He said he was never organized in high school, but college molded him into a young professional with a structured schedule.

“For me, it was learning how to prioritize things,” Gussin said. “I realized what things were most important to get done first and planned ahead so that I was always prepared.  Being prepared definitely made me less stressed.”

It is vital for students to learn what triggers stress, and adapt to it rather than allow it to consume their lives.

Heidi Ewen, an assistant professor in the College of Family and Consumer Science at UGA, said stress has several side effects that cause irregularities. She explained stress occurs when cortisol levels are high.

Cortisol, the stress hormone, helps regulate metabolism and memory and reduces inflammation.  When cortisol levels are elevated, the body struggles to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is the body’s maintenance of stable internal conditions. If the body is not balanced, the cortisol hormone cannot do its job, she explained.

Ewen has studied older adults for the first six months after they moved into senior housing facilities.   This change in environment closely resembles the change college freshmen endure.  Through her housing study, she was able to document some of the irregularities caused by stress.

“Stress causes you to have these carbohydrate cravings… and if you are not burning that off, it tends to go to your midsection. These irregular diet tendencies negatively affect your health, leading to diseases such as diabetes.” Ewen said.

Ewen said stress also causes abnormal sleep cycles.  Sleep helps restore muscle and preserve memories and when sleep is inconsistent, people do not reap the full benefits sleep is supposed to provide.

If students take the necessary steps to alleviate stress, they will live a healthier lifestyle.

“I am a completely different person than I was coming into college,” Gussin said. “I have grasped what it takes to be a productive and successful member of society.  The stress I have endured has taught me a lot about time management, which will transfer over to my professional field.”

Andrew Fisher is a student at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

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