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UWRF students are overly stressed by school, work

October 18, 2007

Jobs, schoolwork and life adjustments keep UW-River Falls students busy — and stressed.

In the 2006 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey of UWRF students, 33.5 percent of respondents said that stress had affected their academic performance at some point in the year, a 6.4 percent increase from the 2003 survey.

Anywhere between one third and one half of students who seek counseling at UWRF do so because of stress, Gretchen Link, UWRF’s lead personal counselor, said.

“Stress is the primary reason students come in,” Link said.

Working to help pay for school is one major source of stress, Link said.

About half of respondents in the 2006 NCHA survey reported working 10 or more hours a week, and close to a quarter worked 20 or more hours weekly.

Judy Wickham, a senior double majoring in art and animal science, currently works eight hours a month for Sara Lee. Wickham worked longer hours in the summer, though. She didn’t have enough time to study for a class she was taking, and this made her feel frustrated, Wickham said.

“If you don’t work, you don’t have money,” Wickham said. “If you work, your grades go down.”

Freshman Nikkole Riley balances schoolwork and two jobs. Every week, Riley works between 20 and 30 hours at Shopko and four hours in the Modern Language Lab on campus. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done, Riley said.

“I’m a bit of a workaholic, perfectionist-type,” Riley said.

Whether or not they have jobs, freshmen are especially likely to experience stress, Link said. First year students have to adjust to managing finances, doing chores, and living by themselves, all while trying to get their homework done and pay for school.

“They kind of don’t know where to begin,” Link said.

Christie Lauer, a freshman journalism major, is looking for a work study job to help pay for college. Lauer spends most of her time now just trying to keep up with all of the reading she has to do for her classes.

This makes her feel “very overwhelmed, worried that I won’t be able to pass the class.”

This overwhelmed feeling can cause insomnia, loss of concentration, withdrawal from friends and a general inability to follow through with anything. Stress also leads students to potentially dangerous behaviors like drinking and overeating, Link said.

J.J. Rivet, a junior who works as a computer technician for FredNet, sometimes eats to cope with stress.

“During the summer, I hardly eat,” Rivet said. “During the school year, I can just put it away.”

Stress can also intensify symptoms of pre-existing mental conditions like anxiety, depression and eating disorders, Link said.

Ruth Wood, a professor in the English department, has had students with stress-related migraines and mood swings.

“I think as we see more and more of that, we’re going to have to find a way to make expectations for ourselves less burdensome,” Wood said.

Sometimes jobs, family expectations and illness keep students busy outside of school and make deadlines unrealistic, Wood said.

Wood also blames cultural factors for the rising level of student stress.

“The whole American system of life expects us to do more,” Wood said. “I feel like us faculty and teaching staff are in the same boat.”

For this reason, Wood allows her students a deadline extension once during the semester-as long as they warn her a few days in advance that their paper will be late.

Students can make some lifestyle changes on their own that will help to reduce stress, Link said.

Students need to learn time management skills so they are able to keep track of everything they need to do and plan when to do things based on due dates and personal priorities, Link said.

Part of time management involves overcoming procrastination. Some students find that they do a better job with schoolwork when they procrastinate, Link said.

“But stresswise, it’s taxing on ones body [to procrastinate],” Link said.

Regular exercise, healthy eating and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night also help students feel better when they are under a lot of stress. Even a change as small as adding a 15-minute walk to their daily routine can make a difference for students, Link said.

If none of these tips helps a student feel better, he or she may be suffering from a mental health condition. Four counselors on campus help UWRF students with mental health issues talk through their problems and make appropriate changes in their lives, Link said.

Student Health Services offers an online self-assessment for mental health for students who are debating whether or not they should talk to a counselor.