By definition, the notion of testing – which is what exams and coursework are there to do – involves a degree of stress. The use of the word itself as a synonym for ‘difficult’, as in that was a testing half hour, tells us that as students we are taking part in what has always entailed a high degree of stress.
Ordinarily, time spent at university provides ample opportunities to off-set academic worries and concerns with a wealth of recreational and social opportunities – whether that involves sports fields and fresh air or something altogether less energetic as a means of letting off steam. But for some the combined pressures of multiple deadlines, difficult subject areas, being away from home, and having to be self-reliant can feel uncomfortable and even overwhelming.
Help is available
There are a range of agencies, charities and independent advisors that can show you how to deal with stress, some of them more informal than others. In the first instance if you have a sense that stress may be an issue for you – or someone you know – your university is now mandated to take student welfare extremely seriously. The University of Manchester’s concerted and systematic program of welfare and advice is typical of the way that modern universities devote considerable resource to ensuring the wellbeing of the people in their charge.
The need for such services was highlighted last September when the Higher Education Funding Council for England revealed that demand for counselling services was increasing sharply year on year. In an interview with the BBC an across-the-board figure of 10% was quoted by the chair of Universities UK’s mental well-being working group, Ruth Caleb. Some institutions even reported an increase in take up of their services as high as 50%.
There are those who argue that the ‘anxiety culture’ that those numbers reveal is now the defining feature of contemporary student life. The harsh economics of life as a student (and the prospect of what lies beyond) charge the time spent studying with a level of inescapably grave concerns that previous generations were simply not exposed to. There is no shame in admitting to finding life as an undergraduate can be more than a little daunting. Those who pour scorn on students who express those anxieties have little understanding of what it means to be a fee-paying student in 2016.
However you deal with the pressures of student life – whether you are lucky enough to have a close group of friends, or you seek help from someone in a more formal capacity – it is always worth being sensitive to the degree of stress that you are experiencing. Recognising a problem is, of course, the first step in overcoming it – and even avoiding it. Talking through any issues you may have with a sympathetic listener is no less significant a stage in putting yourself in the best shape to enjoy your time as a student. And learning to cope with such pressures is, moreover, a life-skill that will be of benefit well beyond your time at university. Stress is no less a feature of the working environment as it is of student life.