The College Stress Epidemic: Do I Stand a Chance?

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College is all about balance. Balancing your workload with your social life, boyfriend and internship, all while trying to convince that creepy kid in class that you’re not interested in his study group (which consists of him and his hamster). At some point, shit will hit the fan. No matter how much you prepare yourself for this juggling act, stress will get the best of you. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. We all have those horrible days when we’ve been in the library for 12 hours, but somehow our homework isn’t done, our hair isn’t brushed and our rooms have a record number of clothes on the floor.

Even after years of practice, I still struggle to balance the stressors in my life. I use multiple coping mechanisms—running, cleaning, list-making, but it’s different for everyone. It’s important to find which methods work best to help regain sanity mid-meltdown. And sometimes, when all else fails you need to recognize when your stress level is affecting your quality of life.

During my sophomore year I was taking six classes, one of which was “News Writing and Reporting.” This class is infamous throughout the journalism school as one of the toughest courses. Previous professors referred to it as “journalism bootcamp.” Most students just knew it as the class from hell. For whatever reason, I took on this course, despite my already heavy workload.

As the semester progressed and my assignments became more difficult, I felt like I was starting to lose it. The articles I submitted were rushed, I had no time to dedicate to the demanding assignments and my other classes were beginning to suffer. I would stay up all night doing homework for other classes, only to wake up for my journalism class the next day feeling exhausted and defeated.

Finally, one night after a tearful phone call with my dad, I knew I had to drop the class. My sanity was waning and I was perpetually exhausted. My dad thought I should nix it from my schedule and take it the following semester when I would have a lighter course load.

I imagined myself withdrawing from the class and the massive red “W” that would be emblazoned on my clean transcript. To me, this was admitting defeat—admitting I wasn’t smart enough or a good enough writer. I hated the thought of withdrawing more than anything, but I knew the stress wasn’t worth it.

However, giving up tends to be my last resort. When I just need to let off a little steam, there are some less drastic techniques I’ve found helpful when dealing with stress. One method that pretty much always works is the “drop everything and run” technique. Usually, for me, this is when the words on my screen are blurring together and I’m on venti iced-coffee number eight.

This method has a couple levels of intensity. I can drop everything and leave the state—maybe a weekend home to regroup–or I just leave the library, hoping a 20 minute break will work a miracle. Fresh air is key in this situation—I’m never afraid to look like the crazy person sprawled out in the grass mid-finals week circa 2 a.m.

The phone a friend (or parent) technique is another valuable tool I have in my arsenal. Sometimes I just need someone to talk me down and help me reassess the situation. Believe me, my dad has received countless panicked calls at ungodly hours and sometimes this gets the job done, even if he just listens to me rant about my workload.

Something else I’ve found to be helpful when I’m stressed is working out. I know this sounds crazy. I mean how can you possibly find time to workout when your schedule is already out of control? It’s tough, but I’ve seen a 30-minute run work miracles for putting things into perspective, clearing my mind and getting a better handle on what I have to do.

But sometimes it does take more extreme measures to get back on track. When dealing with college stress sometimes you have to know when to quit. After I withdrew from the class my grades improved immensely, I had more free time and I was happier and healthier than I’d been all semester. Though, I’m never entirely satisfied with giving up, it’s important to be able to admit defeat when necessary.

Kaitlin Nizolek is a University of Maryland senior studying Print Journalism and Sociology. She admits her journalistic inspiration stems from watching Sex and the City in the eighth grade, but even after realizing Carrie Bradshaw’s unrealistic lifestyle, Kaitlin has continued to fuel her passion for writing. When she’s not writing she enjoys working out, re-watching every season of Girls on HBO and making to-do lists. Although a chronic procrastinator and frequent party-goer, she always makes time for schoolwork and secretly loves studying (as long as there’s coffee).

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