College students are no strangers to stress and trying to manage it. Between studying for classes, having a job, extra curricular activities and trying to manage a social life, stress is an ever present factor of college life.
When looking at the stress levels of freshmen in college, freshmen aremore likely to be stressed because they are trying to find the healthy balance in their lives.
“Since it was my first semester, everything was stressful,” freshman Nilou Kazemzadeh said. “I didn’t know how to study for my classes. I started studying differently for each class and I got scared that I wasn’t studying enough and I wasn’t studying the right way.”
It’s easy to say that the stress levels college students experience are normal, however, these days they might not actually be and not just for college students, but for the entire Millennial Generation.
According to the study titled Stress in America, released on Feb 7 by the America Psychological Association, the Millennial Generation (ages 18-33) are experiencing increasingly high levels of stress with 39 percent of Millennials reporting an increase of stress from the previous year.
Compared to the other generations survey in this study, Generation X (ages 34-47) Boomers (ages 48-66) and Matures (ages 67 and older) Millennials and Generation X have reported the highest levels of stress.
Compared on a scale ranging from one to 10 (10 being the highest level of stress) the average Millennial and Gen X reported an average stress level of 5.4, far higher than the Boomers’ (4.7) and the Matures’ 3.7 stress levels.
The study, taken each year since 2007 measured the stress levels by regions, major cities and gender. According to the study, adults in the eastern U.S. report higher levels of stress than those in the other regions and they are also more likely than people in other regions to say that their stress levels have increased or that they experience extreme stress.
“Part of it is that there are different cultures in our country,” said Dr. Robin Haight, a practicing clinical psychologist in Northern Virginia who has worked as the Public Education Coordinator for the state of Virginia for the last three years. “There are different cultures in the east, west and mid coast and different cultures in terms of your family and job mobility.”
For those who work and live on the east coast, the lack of support and stability that some of the other regions have, might be a reason for increased stress in daily life.
“I think that it is more unstable on the east coast, in the bigger cities like D.C., Philly and Boston, so you don’t end up having the social support and stability when you end up dealing with life stresses,” Haight said.
Despite the fact D.C. has high levels of stress they have decreased in the last couple of years. “The Washington, D.C. sub group is showing that their stress levels are declining even though they are still stressed. Because work, economy and money are the primary stress factors for the D.C. residents, those are the three things that are going to be stressed over the most,” Haight said.
However, despite living in one of the most highly stressed regions in America, there are other factors that could be increasing the Millennials’ stress levels and why the generation is having great difficulty managing their stress compared to others.
One reason includes the factor that genders process stress differently. The study shows that 43 percent of women and 33 percent of men say their stress level has increased from last year. However, women continue to report higher stress levels than men on a ten point scale and more women report experiencing extreme stress than men.
Despite women reporting higher levels of stress, something to note is that women and men prioritize things like relationships, healthy eating and getting enough sleep differently. In the study, it was reported that women are more likely than men to rank having good relationships with friends as important to them. They also tend to place more importance on healthy living goals.
“Women tend to place a higher importance on their relationships and the stress of their relationships,” Haight said. “The data captured that women also mange their stress in ways that are not always healthy.”
Women are on par with men when it comes to the ability to achieve these goals, which demonstrates a disconnection for women between what they think is important and what they are able to achieve.
Looking beyond the basic reasons for increased stress levels like gender and region, the study notes whether or not the Baby Boomers and their way of raising their children are to blame for the increased stress levels of the Millennial Generation. With the focus put on making sure every child has self-esteem, some believe that the focus point has given the Millennial Generation false expectations.
“It’s probably the convergence of several things,” said Dr. John H. Riskind, professor of clinical psychology at Mason who specializes in cognitive behavioral research, treatment and theory of anxiety, mood and related disorders. “In five years there has been the recession and all these problems, so you have fewer opportunities with higher expectations that have been bred into people. When you have a stress and a vulnerability at the same time you are going to get the maximal anxiety level.”
Whether the stress increase is due to the Baby Boomers’ effect, a result of the last five years or a combination of both, when it comes to stress the most important thing to known is how to handle it.
“Exercise is a big important component to staying healthy and having good mental health, it helps with depression and anxiety and physical activity is really important on a regular basis,” Haight said. “ If someone feels like they’ve been stressed out for more than a couple of weeks they should reach out for the support of a friend and if it continues, reach out to a mental help professional.”
Because the younger generation lacks the ability to mange their stress levels, it is impor- tant to emphasize learning how to manage and recognize triggers.
“It is an extremely important life skill to learn how to manage stress and to learn what your stress triggers are. Understanding your own family and personal history can help you from getting too stressed,” Haight said. “It fascinates me that the younger generation is having a hard time with this and I think it is a call to arms for psychologists to help the younger generation.”