“From paying for school and taking exams to filling out internship applications, college students can face overwhelming pressure and demands. Some stress can be healthy and even motivating under the proper circumstances, but often stress is overwhelming and can lead to other issues.
“Stress is there for a reason. It’s there to help mobilize you to meet the demands of your day, but you’re also supposed to have times where you do shut down and relax and repair and restore,” says Emma K. Adam, professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University in Illinois.
Chronic and unhealthy levels of stress is at its worst among college-age students and young adults, some research shows. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2022 “Stress in America” report, 46% of adults ages 18 to 35 reported that “most days they are so stressed they can’t function.”
In a Gallup poll that surveyed more than 2,400 college students in March 2023, 66% of reported experiencing stress and 51% reported feelings of worry “during a lot of the day.” And emotional stress was among the top reasons students considered dropping out of college in the fall 2022 semester, according to findings in the State of Higher Education 2023 report, based on a study conducted in 2022 by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation.
As students are navigating a new environment and often living independently for the first time, they encounter numerous opportunities, responsibilities and life changes on top of academic responsibilities. It can be sensory overload for some, experts say.
“Going to college has always been a significant time of transition developmentally with adulthood, but you add to it everything that comes along with that transition and then you put onto it a youth mental health crisis, it’s just compounded in a very different way,” says Jessica Gomez, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Momentous Institute, a researched-based organization that provides mental health services and educational programming to children and families.
Experts say college students have experienced heightened stress since the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend likely to continue for the foreseeable future.