Stress: A Student Nightmare

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It’s no secret that students deal with stress. It’s become the social norm to be stressed, sleepless, hopeless and overwhelmed. Of course, it’s normal to have stress in life; if there was someone who didn’t have a single stress in their life, I would like to know what kind of life they were leading! That said, the degree to which today’s students feel stress is unbelievable. In 2013, The Globe and Mail published an article discussing a study about Canadian students and stress. In a survey of 30,000 students, 90% said they were overwhelmed, 63% said they were lonely (I’m extrapolating that they feel this way because of work keeping them from socializing for fear of failure), and 50% said they felt hopeless. Even more shocking: of those 30,000 students, 9.5% said that they had seriously considered taking their own lives as a result of stress. Imagine if that study had’ve been done here at Glendon, with our small population of around 2,700 students, if 9.5% were suicidal that would equate to roughly one in ten students.

According to Dr. Su-Ting Teo, a student health and wellness director at Ryerson University, the brunt of these struggles come from relationships, health, academics and finances. Many students still struggle with family issues, others struggle at balancing employment and academics. Teo’s research suggests that as much as 55% of students juggle all three of these issues at the same time. Now, I’m not saying that parents should come to the rescue. And in some cases, parents simply can’t come to the rescue. What I am saying is that stress is an epidemic that weighs heavily on students. You might be saying “Okay, but stress isn’t all that bad. I mean, like you said at the start, everyone has it. It isn’t such a big deal.” Yes, I did say that at some point, everyone experiences stress in their lives. Some stress is good stress, but most of the stress that students feel is of the negative variety. This kind of stress is a silent, invisible killer, lurking in the house that is your body and mind.

So, what can stress do? Well, stress can disrupt the menstrual cycle, wreaking havoc in the lives of those who have periods. Stress can weaken the immune system and make it easier for bacteria and viruses to make you sick; it can cause sexual dysfunction; and it can lead to anxiety and depression. Stress also leads to sleep loss and causes muscle tension and pain. And that’s just naming a few of the many results of stress.

Further complicating matters, in modern day universities, many students struggle with gender identity and sexual orientation. According to Our Bodies, Ourselves, research shows that women who conceal their sexual identity for a long time (and experience extreme stress as a result), are more likely to have: higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, lower life satisfaction, lower self esteem, higher rates of depression and suicide, and increased risk of (general) illness. As most medical problems do, these symptoms worsen and make life harder. As an example, stress can lead to lack of sleep or disturbed sleep, which can lead to depression and/or anxiety. Lack of sleep also causes a weakened immune system, which allows bacteria and viruses to make you sick… I think you get the picture.

Most students have this idea in their heads that they need to finish their studies in four years with the best degree possible and the highest marks, and that they need to be bilingual or trilingual while at the same time feeling the need to keep up with social lives, family and financial demands, as well as somehow finding time to be able to shower and eat three square meals a day (though if you live on residence, you might hesitate to eat three full meals at the Glendon cafeteria….)

What we, as students, need to realize, is that we are not cakes: we don’t have perfect directions. We will spill batter in the process of baking; we will get the directions wrong and need to find a new way to get the job done. The fact is there is no timer that rings at the end of four years to tell you your time’s up and you’re ready to be taken out. Continuing with this silly metaphor: we are all different types of cakes. Some will be ready sooner than expected, while others won’t even know where to even buy flour or eggs. My point is, students can’t be treated like homogenous, factory-made cakes. Everyone has a different path in life — or shall I say, different directions. We all need to take our own time and forget about what others are doing. So, Glendon, I urge you to follow your own directions, and don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.