A number of issues can contribute to a typical college student's stress levels. From money management to loneliness to academic struggles to new responsibilities, a student has a lot to sort out.
Add on parental expectations and relationship dilemmas.
It is no surprise therefore when students get so stressed out that it begins to affect their physiological and mental well-being. The old-age truism that the college years are the best time of one's life becomes questionable when students experience the symptoms of stress.
Academics - top stressor
The top stressor for college students is predictably academics. Students rush from class to class, attend group meeting after group meeting, and meet deadline after deadline, with each semester bringing more responsibilities than the one before.
Computer engineering student, Taha Farooq from the American University of Sharjah (AUS), says: "When you are a freshman, you take it easier because courses are not as challenging. As you become a senior, the pace is different and you have to grasp the concepts in a shorter time."
The most stressful time period for students, as Farooq explains, is the last two to three weeks of the semester. "It is when all the projects are due and the final exams are just around the corner," he says.
According to him, a senior's constant worry is whether he/she will graduate on time or fall behind. In fact, university studies, says Farooq can be so stressful that there is no time to worry about anything else.
"First, I want to graduate and then I will think about the future; because I have so much work to do, I don't think about that now," he adds.
For AUS mass communications student Farah Al Sharif other issues besides academic concerns stress her out more.
"I usually get stressed about financial issuses, specially when I am broke. Sometimes I get stressed when I think of religion and what I believe in," she says.
Academics is not the sole stress-generating factor among college students. Traffic jams prove a major problem too. Ammar Al Bakri, a business/management major at the American University in Dubai (AUD) says driving causes him great anxiety and tension.
Besides, social situations can also be nerve-wracking.
"It is stressful when people expect something from you and you don't deliver. In this case, some people might expect you to deal with them while they are emotional, but sometimes I can't or don't know how to."
There is evidence that periods of stress can produce physiological and psychological side effects. Whether it is headaches, insomnia, moodiness or a multitude of other stress indicators, each person experiences the symptoms differently.
Al Sharief says that mentally, she becomes more nervous and depressed when she is stressed out.
Also, "I scratch and pick at my skin and lose weight because I lose my appetite. After a few days, I start binge eating and stuff myself with junk food."
Weight fluctuations and sudden loss of appetite are common among students.
Abdul Same Al Qaisi, a computer science student of the American University of Sharjah, relates to Al Sharief saying, "When I am stressed, I do not feel like eating but I do not experience weight loss. There are times when I have not eaten for two to three days and I have had only coffee."
Some students get so stressed that their patience runs out and tempers flare. Al Sharief says: "Sometimes, frustration from stress causes me to become inconsiderate and I start snapping at people."
Farooq describes his mood swings during which he transforms from being calm to angry in seconds. He says, "The smallest things start to bother me. Stupid things that I would not get angry about normally would suddenly get me mad."
Lack of sleep
Sleep has however been the biggest and most traumatising effect among stressed-out college students.
When Mais Gazzal, an MIS/Marketing major at Sharjah Women's College (SWC) is finally able to fall asleep, she says: "I might sleep for eight hours but it honestly feels like 30 minutes. It is the worst sleep ever."
Al Qaisi says he has similar problems with sleeping ... that is when he finds the time to sleep.
"I do not sleep well when I am stressed and even if I do sleep, I am still half awake and thinking about something," he says.
"Stress with no sleep is the worst combination," he adds.
And the nights he does sleep, Farooq says he is prone to nightmares. "All the assignments keep flashing before my eyes."
"When stress gets to you, you feel like you are losing control of everything and that is when you should take a break."
- The writer is a student of the American University of Sharjah
It's important to de-stress
It is important to find ways in which to calm down and take control of your stress. Activities vary depending on a person's individual interests and personalities.
Talking about the problem with a close friend or family member is what Mais Gazzal of Sharjah Women's College, prefers. However, "when it is really bad, I just drop the subject and I try to stop thinking about it for a while and do something else. I only wait and hope things will get better."
Taha Farooq from the American University of Sharjah (AUS), says he goes out for a drive alone. Another stress-buster is tuning into the popular cartoon programme, The Simpsons. "Comedy helps me relax because laughing is the best way to relieve stress."
Religion plays a factor in alleviating stress for some students like Ammar Al Bakri of the American University in Dubai. When he feels tense, he resorts to prayers and recitations of the Holy Quran. "It is the best reliever because it controls my nerves," he says.
The majority of students, however, feel the need to smoke when problems arise and anxiety kicks in. Abdul Same Al Qaisi, a computer science student of the American University of Sharjah, was once a smoker. He says smoking only reduces stress temporarily.
"It is only a waste of time. Every problem that comes up and every time you worry, you end up taking a cigarette break."
This time, he says, could have been used in a more beneficial way.
That is not to say that breaks are not needed when one is stressed. In fact, Farooq says his biggest mistake this semester is not taking a break.
"Every once in a while, you should go out for a movie, or play pool, or go to a party to clear your mind."
We're Not stressed
Some students try not to let the anxieties of life distress them significantly.
Ghazal is comfortable with her stress levels, primarily because of the major she selected. "I chose the MIS major because I have more control over my studies. I can manage even if I miss a class and I am able to cover all the material. I did not want to study engineering, pharmacy, or medicine so now university does not give me major stress."
An MIS/marketing student at SWC, Lara Agha, tries not to let problems and difficulties upset her and always tries to portray a positive attitude.
"I do not like to worry, even if I am not prepared for an exam, I go to class feeling relaxed. People get annoyed with me because I am so calm."
So much so, that Agha feels "not being stressed is harmful".
She says: "Lots of stress is bad and little stress is bad. You should balance the stress."
Despite some students' control over their stress levels, everyone agrees that stress is here to say.
"Stress is an issue now since we live in a time where everything is required to be done at a certain time or things are compromised," says Al Bakri. "[This is why] I believe that more people suffer from stress today than any previous time."
What students have to say
Ammar Al Bakri, 22
Business/ Management, American University in Dubai
"At university, I get stressed by an overload of work and meeting deadlines. Traffic jams are also a problem. It is stressful when people expect something from you and you don't deliver. In this case, some people might expect you to deal with them while they are emotional but sometimes I can't or don't know how to."
Farah Al Sharif, 21
Mass Communications- American University of Sharjah (AUS)
"When I am stressed I scratch and become nervous and down. I also lose weight because I lose my appetite. Then I binge eat and stuff myself with junk food. Usually when I am stressed I cannot sleep because I think too much. Sometimes I become inconsiderate and snap at people."
Lara Agha, 21
MIS/Marketing - Sharjah Women's College
"I don't get stressed often and sometimes that is not good. People get annoyed with me because I am so calm. My mom especially gets mad at me and tells me that I should show more emotion and care about responsibilities. Lots of stress is bad and little stress is bad. You should balance stress in between."
Mais GazZal, 21
MIS/Marketing - Sharjah Women's College
"I have the worst sleep ever when I am stressed. I might sleep eight hours but it feels like 30 minutes. I also get pimples. I get stressed since I never express my anger directly and I like to wait to see if things get better."
Abdul same al Qaisi, 19
Computer Science - AUS
"I am stressed about the future like how I am going to make my own money. I am graduating this year and I am beginning to think about new responsibilities and marriage."
Taha Farooq, 23
Computer Engineering - AUS
"There have been times I have not slept for 48 hours. Stress with no sleep is the worst combination that could happen. When stupid things get to you, you realise that you are losing control of everything and that is when you should stop and take a break."