University City

College brings stress, but UNCC workshops can help

Around time for midterms or final exams, it's not unusual to hear shouts and hollers echo among the dormitories of college campuses.

Students open their windows during an agreed-upon time and purge into the night air all the stress from months of test cramming, paper writing and lecture listening.

It's a longstanding tradition. Many older adults can remember lending their voices to the outpouring during their college years.

But according to statistics, today's college students report feeling more stressed than those of the past, even more than the generation that attended college during the Great Depression.

Grownup stresses

Many of the reasons are the same now as then: Academic struggles, financial strain and relationships still top the list of stress triggers.

When Vi Alexander, 20, graduated from high school and began attending UNC Charlotte last year to pursue a biology degree, she quickly realized her old teenage worries were small potatoes compared to the new ones that come with grownup implications.

"Just paying for it," she said of college. "How am I going to pay all of this back after I graduate?"

Others, such as David Potter, 20, a physics major, can't find enough time in the day to finish all the work required for each course.

"Every single class considers you to have nothing else going on," said Potter. "Trying to find time for all the different classes, trying to juggle everything, is very difficult."

Mattie Harvey, a graduate student working toward a degree in community mental health and counseling, said undergraduates often feel an additional shock from stress because of new responsibilities they're facing for the first time.

"They're really like fish out of water," she said.

Three times a month, Harvey, along with other graduate students in her program, takes turns holding stress workshops for anxiety-ridden students at UNCC.

What's stressing you?

The first key to managing stress, said Harvey, is to understand where it's coming from.

"How can you combat stress if you don't really know what its causes are?" she said.

Sometimes those reasons are not obvious.

"Are they eating well? Are they pushed from their parents to be in the particular program they're in? Are they trying to study all night, and four hours at a time?" said Harvey. Once they figure that out, students can create a goal and begin breaking it down into small, manageable tasks.

Harvey also recommends activities to take a break from stress. In her workshop, with dimmed lights and soft music, she demonstrates guided imagery.

Imagine being in a place where you would rather be, she tells students. "What you're trying to do is get them to be somewhere else."

A mental vacation can go a long way, said Harvey.

"I distract myself," said Potter, who uses technology to escape. "I spend a lot of the time on the computer when I'm trying to get away."