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Mental health remains a priority

Posted on 12.13.2017
Graphic by Sophie Watson

Graphic by Sophie Watson

Upon reaching the halfway point of the academic year, students sometimes sacrifice their well-being in a last-minute bid to finish the semester strong. Some students balance classes, projects, extra-curricular activities and work. However, being ‘stressed out’ can mean different things for different students, and the ways they cope vary as well.

Stress is a natural response for individuals experiencing change. In college, students are continuously bombarded with change and responsibilities to which they may not be accustomed. It is natural for students to experience stress, but it is important not to let the stress overwhelm them or consume their day-to-day life.

Coping with stress is second nature to senior business administration and management major Mikayla Kleinpeter, who said that she deals with anxiety and depression. Kleinpeter has firsthand knowledge of the struggles students can face and the importance of finding coping mechanisms.

“My anxiety heightens depending on what’s going on in my classes,” Kleinpeter said. “If I have seven projects all due in one week and three exams [my anxiety will be worse]… If I have nothing due in that week [my anxiety will not be as bad], so it really fluctuates. ”

Kleinpeter said that when coping with stress and anxiety, one must understand that not everyone deals with stress in the same way, and there is no one proper method. She said that using a day-to-day planner helps her keep the stress of college life at bay.

“I strictly live with this planner,” Kleinpeter said. “I learned what works best for me. Granted, what works best for me is not going to work best for you, so you might not be able to be such a planner… but it definitely helps me and keeps my anxiety and depression in check.”

Freshman sports management major Jason Tillage—who has returned to school after a 20-year hiatus—agreed with Kleinpeter, saying that for him, managing his schedule is the most stressful aspect of college. He also said that college really has not changed much in terms of stress and anxiety since he first attended, despite technological advances.

“I kind of had an idea of what I was going to get into now coming back. Times have changed. Technology’s changed, but I anticipated that, so it’s exactly what I kind of expected with the age difference between me and other students,” Tillage said. “The first few weeks [of school], it was hard. Even being in the Navy, I’m used to having a [strict] schedule. But even then you go through anxiety in the military, changing your schedule, which you do in the civilian world as well. ”

Although Tillage agrees with Kleinpeter about the challenges of time management, he has a slightly different perspective regarding the struggles with stress. Tillage said that enduring times of hardship is necessary to learning to deal with stressful situations and reaping the benefits of hard work.

“Really, just stick to it. Stick to what your plan was. If your plan was to graduate from college, stick to that plan. Understand it’s going to get tough. It’s going to get hard. The road is not meant to be smooth. So just stick with that plan in the system, and in three-and-a-half, four years, sometimes six for some of them, you’ll be done. It’s that simple,” Tillage said. “You’re 24, 25 years old, and you’ve completed everything. You’re not like me, 38, coming back to do it all over again. So use that, get your degree, and then move on with the next step you want to take.”

UIndy has a counseling center located in the Health Pavilion, Room 109, that offers up to eight free sessions of individual counseling per semester for full-time undergraduate and graduate students. The center also provides information on the positive and negative stress college students face and how to handle both types.

The human body needs stress known as eustress, according to handouts provided by the counseling center. But not too much stress for too long, known as distress.

The body is designed to react to both types of stress. Eustress helps keep the mind alert, motivated to face challenges, and drives to solve problems. Distress results when our bodies overreact to events. It leads to what is known as a ‘flight or fight’ reaction.

UIndy’s counseling center also provides a list of techniques for students to cope better with the stress college brings, including stress management and exercise techniques students can use every day.  Students can call and make an appointment Mon. through Fri. between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Kleinpeter said she uses campus resources, as well as resources off campus,  to help deal with the stress of college. She said that students who are considering visiting the counseling center should try it, even if the experience may seem intimidating.

“I was honestly really nervous [visiting the counseling center], because going to a new counseling center, they don’t know anything about you or what your past is,” Kleinpeter said. “So when I went there, they were very understanding. I was able to tell my counselor a short snippet of my life story.”

Kleinpeter said that venting her frustrations to an outside party helped her release stress. She also said that she valued the advice given to her by her counselor about how to manage her responsibilities in a healthy manner.

“She was just more there as a sounding board and at the end of the session she’d be like, ‘OK, these are the problems I identified that you have. You need more time for homework and sleep. And this is how you should go about doing that,” Kleinpeter said.

Kleinpeter’s advice for students, whether they are incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, is to understand that time management is a big part of the college experience. She said understanding reward and goal-oriented ways to handle stress and knowing the type of resources UIndy offers to facilitate that knowledge is just as important because students can easily get overwhelmed.

“[So] I definitely say time management is a huge thing. It’s taken me four years to learn time management,” Kleinpeter said. “For the longest time, I didn’t know that UIndy had a counseling center. It seems like, especially in our society, that anxiety and depression are something that we don’t talk about. We think that if we sweep it under the rug, it’ll go away, or if someone is acting depressed, that they’re just wanting attention. So I feel like, not just UIndy in general, but college campuses across [the country] just need to be more open [about students’ stress and anxiety].”

Freshman music education major Kourtney Christensen also said that self-motivation is important when handling college stress. Christensen said that those who feel stressed by the pressure of college should try to stay focused and get their work done.

“Always remember to treat yourself and remember to take care of yourself as well as your school work,” Christensen said. “We are all going to feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. But if we calm down, think things through one step at a time, and remember to give ourselves a break and take care of ourselves, it will be a lot easier, and things should fall into place.”

Senior criminal justice major Sarah Debes said that when she experiences stress and anxiety, she tends to think about her upbringing. Debes said that she remembers how she was brought up and how tough going to college was for her because neither of her parents did.

“I do not want history to repeat itself,” Debes said. “Which is what I think of every time I need a reality check or a reason to keep pushing myself to be the best I can be.”

Debes also said that when studying for stressful exams, make sure to take plenty of study breaks and try not to pull all-nighters. She explained how she made those same mistakes during her first semester in college, but what helped her deal with the stress of everything was making time for herself.

“I understand you all want A’s on your finals. I did, too. But you’ve still got to make time for yourself, too,” Debes said. “Ultimately, staying up for 48 hours and studying nonstop is going to make you do worse on your finals.”

Debes emphasized the importance of  not allowing stress to dominate students’ college years. She said that students should enjoy their time at UIndy while it is going on.

“I promise you’re going to do great on your exams and papers, but you’re not going to if you’re a big ball of stress and exhaustion,” Debes said. “You’ve just got a few short more years until you’re finished with your undergrad and moving on. Enjoy every minute, because it goes fast. Go out of your comfort zone. This is the time to try something new. Don’t be afraid to make new choices. You never know where you might end up.”


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