College stress


College stress


your avatar   Carol, 20-year-old woman

Recently, I've been dealing with the most stress I've ever had in my entire life. Not only have I been experiencing great difficulty in my academic work at school, I've also been having a number of self-esteem issues. In high school, I was a straight-A student, and hardly ever did worse than a C on anything. However, since I entered college three years ago, my grades have been in a steady decline. It's really kind of discouraging, because I'm working and studying harder than ever before. I've never worked so hard for bad grades.

Furthermore, although I know I am not really fat, I have been going through this period where I am very uncomfortable with my weight. I can't eat right all the time due to the selection of food in the cafeteria, which makes the problem even worse. Yesterday was probably the worst day of my life, because I had to spend the entire day locked away in my room studying for a final that I had this morning. I was miserable because I truly had no expectation of doing well on the test, and because I'd had pretty much no interaction with anyone else all day.

What can I do to deal better with the stress I am experiencing from school in addition to my self-image issues?


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Carol,

Your experience happens to many students, and also to many people in other fields, for example, parents watching their children's behavior deteriorate. Things are not going well so you try harder, and they get worse so you try harder still...

Carol, a good rule is:

If something works, do more of it.

If it doesn't work, try something else.

The usual reason for the kind of problem that has you in its grips is that it is actually caused by the imposed attempt at solution. It is not how hard you work that matters, but how effectively.

Think about these two statements, and then you will be able to make changes in your life. I can't give you specific suggestions, given the amount of information I have -- but YOU have all the relevant data, and after three years of tertiary training, are sure to be able to carry out a small, private research project.

A few possibilities are:

  • Study methods. Your high school might have taught you by 'spoonfeeding', so that you didn't have a chance to develop independent study methods. It is not too late. If your College has an Education Department, they should be able to help you. Your Library is bound to have 'how to study' books. You will be surprised at how much helpful information you can get from some of these.

  • Negative expectations. When you arrived at College, it may have been a strange world to you, with few friends, no guidance like you had at school, perhaps with the stresses of dislocation to a new environment. As a result, your first few marks may have been low. You could have responded with 'All this change is upsetting me. I'll settle in.' You may have instead looked at the poor marks as signs of your own failure as a person. Then, once you had this belief, it sabotaged you for the next three years. When you have a 'mental filter' like this, any good result is ignored, dismissed as 'luck' or forgotten, while you focus in on the negatives. The good news is that attitudes are open to change. YOU have control over your attitudes; you needn't be their unresisting victim.

  • Physical health. You mentioned a poor diet. I bet you don't get enough exercise either. How about enough sleep? With your habit of hard work, you might not be getting enough sleep. I suggest you go to your doctor and have a thorough checkup. And the Caf might be convenient, but it doesn't take much time to buy some fruit and veg, make yourself a salad or a sandwich with good, healthy fillings. As for exercise, it takes time, but makes your other activities far more efficient. You have more energy, better concentration and a more positive outlook when you are physically fit.

  • 'Study-itis'. You may simply be working too hard, to the exclusion of other activities like having fun, being creative, just relaxing. A person focused too much on one activity can become stale, so that the more time you spend the less you achieve. Join clubs or groups of people who share one of your interests. Go out. Put on some relaxing music and spend half an hour just listening to it. Then, refreshed, rejuvenated, you will be three times as efficient.

You didn't leave an email address, so I can't forward this through to you. If you read my answer, please email me and let me know what you think about it.

Have a good life,

Bob Rich

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:

Take care of your mind and mental health as you would any other part of you.
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